How to Mount a Horse to Ride

Horse-riding through bluebell wood, Brecon Beacons National Park, Powys, Wales, UK, model released
Nick Turner / Getty Images

Your very first step to learning to ride is learning to get on the horse. The first few times you get on a horse, whether you have a saddle or are riding bareback, have someone hold the horse's head so that it stands quietly.

You can and should be able to get on from the ground. However, a mounting block is easier for you, gentler on the horse's back, and better for your saddle. Make sure the mounting aide is sturdy and safe. Rickety fence rails, old chairs, and thin plastic buckets can be hazardous when used as a mounting block.

If you don't have a mounting block, and your horse is tall and your legs are short, you can drop the stirrup a few holes so that you can reach it with your toe. You can also use a stirrup extender. Don't forget to readjust the stirrup leather to the proper length once mounted.

It is traditional to mount a horse from the near side (the left). But you should be able to mount from the offside as well.

Start Safely

Lead your horse out of the stable. It is unsafe to get on a horse in a confined area with low roofs or narrow doorways. If you are riding an English saddle, run the stirrups down the leathers to hang free.

Getting on isn’t all about strength. The first few times, it will feel like getting on is a struggle. Soon, you will learn to use your balance to help you spring into the saddle.

Check Your Equipment Before You Get On

Before you get on, check to see if your girth or cinch is snug. Do a last-minute check to see if all your bridle buckles are fastened. Check that your stirrups are the correct length. Make sure you have a helmet on. In your excitement to ride, small details are easy to overlook.

girl checking the girth of a saddle.
Check your cinch or girth before mounting.

The Spruce Pets / Katherine Blocksdorf

Stand Beside the Horse

Hold both reins in your left hand and gather them with a tuft of mane. Hold the off or right-side rein a tad tighter to help prevent the horse from swinging away from you as you get on. Turn the stirrup with your right hand so that the leather or fender lies flat when you are sitting in the saddle. Many people face more forward when mounting. This foot placement makes it less likely that you will poke your left toe into the horse as you are rising. Many people learned to face towards the back. In this picture, the rider is standing so that she's facing slightly to the front. Face whichever way you prefer.

If you face backward, turn the stirrup clockwise towards you. If you face front, turn the stirrup a half a turn counter-clockwise. Taking a moment to position the stirrup ensures you do not end up with the leather or fender uncomfortably twisted under your leg once you are seated.

Girl preparing to mount a horse.
Run the stirrups down on an English saddle.

The Spruce Pets / Katherine Blocksdorf

Get in Position to Get On

Lift your left foot into the stirrup, so the ball of your foot is resting comfortably on the bottom of the stirrup. You should have the reins and tuft of mane grasped in your left hand; your right hand will now grab the cantle of your saddle. Your right leg will be balancing your weight and ready to spring.

Girl putting foot in saddle stirrup.
Face to the rear or forward.

The Spruce Pets / Katherine Blocksdorf

Lift Off

Use your right leg to push you up. You won't be pulling yourself up with your arms. Your hands and arms are only there for balance. The spring of your leg should propel you upwards. It sometimes helps to do a few tentative springs to gain upward momentum.

As you become balanced over the horse's withers, let go with your right hand, moving it up to grasp the reins. At the same time, swing your free leg (right leg, if you're mounting on the traditional side) up and over the saddle's cantle. Lift your leg high enough that you don't kick your horse in the haunch or hit your leg on the back of the saddle. Settle gently into the saddle. Coming down with a thud is uncomfortable for your horse and may even startle it.

Girl halfway on a horse.
Spring with your right leg.

The Spruce Pets / Katherine Blocksdorf

Arrange Your Reins and Stirrups

Arrange the reins so that you are holding them properly. Some people like to use their right hand to turn the stirrup leather, so finding the stirrup is easier. Or, use your toe to find the offside stirrup and place your foot in the stirrup, so the ball of the foot is resting comfortably. You are now ready to ask your horse to walk.

If at any time the horse starts to move off while you're trying to get into the saddle, slide off. Stop the horse, quiet it, and start over. It is safer to be either fully on the ground or in the saddle when dealing with an anxious horse. Next, learn to dismount properly.

Girl mounted on a horse.
Ready to ride.

The Spruce Pets / Katherine Blocksdorf