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How to get in the saddle : focus on the mount

Scientific articles


The world is changing, equestrian practices are changing too! More and more enthusiasts (passionate) are questioning the relationship between their riding and animal welfare, and fortunately so !  First of all, before practicing a discipline, it's necessary in any case to get on a horse... Yes, but in what way? We are going to talk about the mount, it's use and it's consequences. This method of riding is well known, but it is not always used.  It consists of placing oneself a few dozen centimetres above the ground, in order to get on one's mount more easily. Generally, the mounts are made of plastic or wood in the shape of stairs. If you don't have one, a block or a bench can be used!

A tool for lazy people who lack flexibility? Only useful when you have a very tall horse? Or is it really good for the horse's back? We tell you all about it with the help of the measurements recorded by the pressure sensor mat! 

Thanks to the data collected during the tests, we will be able to analyse the impact of the different techniques for getting into the saddle. 

Technological data for well-being

1) Saddling up from the ground :

The first method observed is to get into the saddle from the ground. To do this, the rider must put one foot in the stirrup and propel himself with the other leg. This induces pressures such as those observed below :

There is a high pressure peak on both sides of the saddle. It's caused by leaning on the left stirrup to ride, which then pulls the right padding of the saddle to the left and thus against the withers. Although short-lived, this spike is not insignificant given its high value and repetitiveness with each ride.

2) Saddling up from the ground with counterweight on the right side :

 We are going to test the same technique as the previous one except this time we add a factor with the counterweight being exerted on the right side. One person holds the right stirrup to prevent the saddle from leaning to the left when mounting. 

There is a lower pressure peak compared to the previous image. This peak is still on both sides, but is slightly reduced on the right due to the right stirrup hold. It again remains short-lived but the aim is to try to get into the saddle with as little pressure as possible.

3) Saddling up from a mount :

The last technique studied was the mount. We used a classic 50 centimetre plastic mount. We will see the pressure points induced by this one : 

There is a much lower peak pressure. The pressures are now slightly higher on the left side, in contrast to the two previous saddling techniques. The difference between right/left pressures is negligible (about 8%), compared to the other two methods (32% from the ground, 29% with counterweight). In terms of the pressures exerted by the body on the saddle and thus on the horse, this method is therefore to be preferred. 

The graph below illustrates the comparison of the pressures obtained during the 3 different saddling techniques analysed. 

Back problems

Most horses stop growing at around 5 years of age, but it can grow up to 8 years for the spine to fully mature.** The anatomy of the horse's spine can carry about 20% of the horse's weight, but it does not appreciate being pulled from the side when saddling. The withers consist of about 8 dorsal vertebrae, extended upwards by the spines, which can be up to 20 centimetres high. Each spine acts as a lever arm, which increases the pressure on the spine on the mount. We can therefore imagine that with a lever arm of, say, 15 centimetres, the horse would suffer a strong torsion at the withers. This type of torsion, repeated regularly, can cause significant back pain. The injuries can be multiple, for example :

  • Thoracic subluxation (limited back movement),
  • Asymmetry of the scapula (shoulder blades),
  • Contractures of the thoracic and paraspinal muscles (around the spine). 

To go further, when a horse is ridden from the ground, it will often compensate and relieve its back by contracting its muscles and spreading its feet. Over time, this compensation can be reflected elsewhere in the horse's body and reduce its proper functioning.

Damage to the material 

Pressure on the horse's back also puts pressure on the material and more specifically on the saddle. Riding from the ground damages the strength and configuration of the saddle. For example, if you have a saddle with wool padding, it will be pressed against the withers and the wool panel will be compressed there.The padding will become asymmetrical, which is neither good for the pressure on the horse's back nor good for the rider's balance in his posture. Foam padding can also settle as a result of use (depending on the quality and density of the foam) and become asymmetrical too. This damage, sometimes visible to the eye, can also be seen in the aesthetics of leather or synthetic materials.

As for the stirrup leathers, they tend to stretch, weaken, and also become asymmetrical. An irreversible damage would be to twist the saddle tree, i.e. to have a twisted tree (the tree being the skeleton of the saddle). Pommels are designed to be relatively flexible to accommodate movement, however, if it becomes twisted, the saddle is unusable as it will not distribute the weight symmetrically.


In conclusion, we can see that of the three techniques, the mount induces the least pressure on the horse's back. The average pressures observed are almost twice as high when people ride from the ground than when using a mount. This is why it is strongly recommended to use this method of riding.

Tip : Don't hesitate to practice riding from both sides (always with a mount). Not only will it benefit your horses and your equipment, it will also improve your flexibility on both sides! 

** Source : Posture and Performance, Gillian Higgins and Stephanie Martin, 2017






Pauline Vanpeperstraete

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