Mounting blocks became popular in the late 18th century when women needed a dignified means to mount the side-saddle. These days, unless your horse is particularly tall, you are particularly short, or there is something hindering your mobility, many riders will mount from the ground.
That said, the value of mounting blocks is often talked about in terms of reducing pressure on the horse’s spine, particularly at the withers. When a rider mounts from the ground, asymmetrical pressure is applied, pulling the left stirrup downwards, twisting the saddle and generally making it uncomfortable for the horse. While it is important to be able to mount from the ground should you fall off when out hacking, when possible, using a mounting block could really benefit your horse.
Besides this, mounting from the ground can unbalance the horse, making it harder for him to stand still. This is confounded by the fact that horses are flight animals and would naturally much rather be on-the-move! Mounting from the ground also leaves you vulnerable to saddle slipping as your weight is applied on one side (particularly if the horse’s withers are wide and flat).
Researchers in Michigan measured the pressure exertions on a horse’s back when mounted by 10 different riders, first of all from the ground, and then from a mounting block. Those that were heavier naturally exerted more pressure at the withers whichever way they mounted, yet the amount of pressure was far greater when they mounted from the ground compared with when they used the block.
Although the total amount of pressure exerted was less than during walking, trotting and cantering, the pressure was entirely localised, rather than being distributed as it is when a horse is ridden. It is this uneven exertion of pressure that is likely to contribute to back problems in the future.
However, using a mounting block isn’t plain sailing for everyone. If you are thinking about using one for the first time, consistency and calmness are key. Some horses need training to stand still at the block and it is worth having someone on hand to help as you start introducing one.
Tips for using a mounting block:
- Although some people will try mounting their horses from just about anything - an upturned bucket, a step-ladder or even a plastic lawn chair, is it important to only use a mounting block built for purpose. Relying on anything else is unsafe and unadvised.
- Get the position right. Try not to place the mounting block too close to or too far from your horse, as this will make getting into the saddle impossible. The more you use your mounting block, the easier you'll find it to get the position right. The angle is also worth considering and is very much dependent on your preferences and your horse's size.
- Move the mounting block to your horse, rather than trying to manoeuvre your horse to the block. Some trainers believe your horse should go to the mounting block and stand but if you struggle to get your horse to do this, a moveable mounting block may be easier.
- Don't forget the mounting block when in the saddle as moving off safely is just as important as mounting safely. Either position it so that your horse isn't penned in on the other side and can easily walk around it, or ask someone to move it away once you've mounted.
- Never dismount to a mounting block as your horse could move away and send you flying. It is a lot to expect your horse to stand still while you swing your leg over and tentatively dismount to an exact location. In most situations, dismounting to a block is unsafe and unadvised but, if you must do this, have someone on hand to assist you, even if they just hold the reins or steady your leg as you dismount.
What are your experiences of using a mounting block? Do you think it is more comfortable for your horse? If you have any thoughts on this topic, please share them with us! For further queries, feel free to contact Verity, our Equine Marketing Manager: firstname.lastname@example.org.