One thing that we insist on when we train a horse is that it learns how to stand square.  Showmanship classes require it, dressage requires it, but, we find it is more than a requirement that we need to comply with.  It is an integral part of  safety for our program.

Squaring Slick on leadlineStarting on the lead line, the young (or not so young) horse, is taught to square up whenever the leader stops.  We use the words “square up” and turn – leader’s toes to the horses left shoulder.  Then manipulate the horse until the front feet are square.  Following our tradition of slow is fast and less is more, we found that starting with only two feet was less confusing for the horses than trying to square up all four feet.  Once the horse has the habit of stopping and squaring the two front feet we move to squaring the back feet as well.  We work with the horse until he is square every time he stops.

One of the problems we see with our handlers is they pull or push too hard with the leadline when squaring a horse.  Most horses are very sensitive to the movement of the leadline and just a little movement will cause the horse to shift its weight and move a leg.  Once the leg moves, stop pulling or pushing.  Handlers and horses can get very frustated when the leg in question moves too far back, then too far forward over and over again.  Easy and light  makes it right and keeps everyone happy.

Mounting Slick ChickNext step is the mounting block.  Our horses never move when a rider mounts if they are standing square.  Why? Because when they stand square, they are balanced.  A horse moves when someone mounts because he is trying to get under and balance the rider – unless the horse has never been taught good ground manners.  But that is another topic.

With the leader in position – toes to the left shoulder, the horse squares up at the mounting block and the rider mounts.  If you look at this picture, you will see that the rider isn’t holding the reins.  Many of our riders cannot manipulate reins and mounting, so we teach our horses to stand for the mount without any pressure from the reins holding the horse back.  Any pressure, if necessary, comes from the leader.  Once mounted, the horse must stand still for any adjustments, taking up the reins, etc. until the command “walk on” is given by the rider.

Mounting a horse that is moving, is neither easy nor pleasant.  The time it takes to teach a horse to stand still with worth it…whether it takes minutes or hours.  We find it’s the safe way to mount.