Am I Overmounted?

Please help!? I’ve read many of your articles and could really use some feedback from someone experienced in teaching new and/ or intermediate riders.


– exchanging barn work for riding time @ stable where sales, not lessons, are the focus

– am on my own (but not riding alone) where riding practice/ development are concerned

– reading voraciously btwn weekly rides in an effort to focus practice time/ better my skills

– lessons not possible ’til autumn 2005

– receiving occasional pointers + general supervision from barn staff

– thrilled about the chance to ride again and throwing myself into it happily and whole-heartedly : ) I’ve ridden before but years ago. I’d place myself at the high-beginner or bottom-rung-of-intermediate level in terms of awareness and use of basic seat, aids and general horsemanship. I’m in my early 30’s; confident and fit but definitely less willing to take risks I may have taken as a teen, when bones healed up better.


I can ride a number of quiet, old horses at the barn but have been working lots with a tall, forward mare. Well-schooled in terms of her aids, she’s sensitive, intelligent and energetic; very forward but also quite headstrong. Allowed too much down time between rides and work in the arena, I think she’s developing some bad habits and tricks to avoid being worked- and controlled, at all. That said, she can be a joy to ride and I come away from most practices having learned a great deal. I want to continue working with her but I also don’t want to hurt myself or to shake my newly emerging confidence with an unnecessary and punishing fall. So… how does one know when one is over-mounting??? What principles can I use to judge whether I’m on a horse pushing me (positively) forward at the top end of my skill level or on a horse that’s pushing me into unsafe territory?


1. This mare bucked thrice under me in arena practice last month. I stayed on and worked in circles ’til I had her head again. We worked well together in control and collection for a further 40min. that day.

2. She refused to slow from a fast, off-the-bit canter in the snow two weeks ago. Having read your article, I know my aids weren’t all in agreement and she chose flying around the outdoor arena over paying me any heed. I panicked a little, and tensed up, which then compromised my seat and scared me. She slowed when I asked much harder. I finished w/ something simple and direct that I knew I could expect her to do in order to end the ride on a good note for both of us.

3. She’s been dancing at the mount; refusing to stand still. I’ve learned to collect the outside rein which forces her movement to carry me into the saddle but her behaviour is unmannerly and speaks to a larger issue of respect, I think. How can I teach her to stand quietly for me when I mount? Resorting to tricks doesn’t seem a great idea.

I don’t want to get hurt but I don’t want to avoid the challenges of riding either. I really want to improve. I’ve thought about working with this mare from the ground, in complement to riding.

P.S. The horse has also frequently been lunged under saddle, during which she’s allowed to buck her “sillies” out, just before a ride. I’ll be asking other staff not to do this anymore. It’s probably not helping things… : )


If you are having feelings of nervousness that INTERFERE with riding that particular horse, I would say that is one one good indication that a person is overmounted. Of course, we all have feelings of nervousness at times about particular horses, but when overmounted, these feelings get out of control to the point that a person freezes, clutches up constantly when on the horse, or, sometimes, they can become overly aggressive with that horse to compensate. On the ground, they often experience feelings of panic as they are saddling, are very quick to temper when dealing with the horse, and often find themselves coming up with perfectly logical reasons NOT to ride that horse that day. From your description, this does not sound like what you are experiencing, even when you’ve had some problems, you’ve seemed to have kept your wits and worked through it, continuing on to work some more. Bringing the horse back to an exercise or activity that you KNOW you could accomplish correctly was exactly the right thing to do. Even if you have to walk a pattern, just insisting your horse do the exercise YOUR way is getting the point across to the horse.

However, you are right to be concerned and seeking advice. One of the things that can be a very real problem in your situation is that an unsupervised, less experienced person riding a somewhat strong horse can very quickly develop bad habits that will follow them for years and can be extremely hard to get rid of. Even if that person is not particularly afraid of the horse, these habits develop because the rider becomes a “defensive” rider. To guard against this, you could video tape yourself and see if a trainer would be willing to go over the tape with you at their convenience and give you some pointers. Many will do this, you just have to ask around. Or, if you feel the people at that barn are good enough riders, you could ask them if they see you doing something that should be worked on. When something is pointed out, use the older, experienced, quiet horses to practice your form, technique, or work on eliminating a bad habit.

Working with the horse on the ground and longeing would be a great help to both you and the horse, so do as much ground work as you can. There are many things that can be taught from the ground, not the least of which are respect and trust. You will also become much more familiar with how she reacts (both in movement and temperament), to certain situations. For instance, does her way of moving change when she is nervous or angry (do her steps get choppy and more elevated)? Does her tail swish a certain way when she is getting silly or annoyed? How does she move her head when she feels nervous or silly or excited? How does she move and hold herself when she is relaxed and happy and concentrating? When you can tell what is normal for her in different situations and you have a good idea of how she will react (does she tend to spin and bolt, or jump in place when startled, does she want to stop and look at something, or does she do better if you distract her? ect.) you will feel more confident when riding her and better able to deal with her reactions most appropriately.

The dancing around when mounting is often the first thing that the horse tries to disrespect the rider about. If you let this continue, you will begin to see other areas of disrespect, like during grooming or tacking, leading, ect. In my Article, “Training for the Trail,” there are sections that describe some great exercised for ground training. The specific ways of leading would be good exercises and there is a description of the technique I have found to be very successful for teaching a horse to stand quietly and patiently.

Here are some leading exercises that can be a lot of fun. Make obstacles in the ring using poles, barrels, tarps, rain coats, brush, whatever. Work on the horse’s head staying level at your shoulder when teaching her to work out to the side, gradually increasing the distance to the end of a lead rope. Work on the horse staying a set distance behind your back when teaching her to lead behind you and playing “follow the leader.”

Teaching her to back from the ground (if she does not know how to back) is helpful, and eventually work on it under saddle. Knowing how to back in both situations teaches the horse to have confidence and trust in you, and to “give” to you and the bit when asked. You could also work on turns on the forehand from the ground and eventually the saddle. I would not advise working on the turn on the haunches from the saddle without supervision, though, it is much more difficult for the horse to do and very easy to teach a horse to do it incorrectly. With the longeing, I, personally, have found it better to either let the horse work off the sillies on the line with just the halter and lead (using a chain over the nose if necessary) AND THEN tack up and longe for 20 minutes or so to be serious and work, or to let them goof around in a paddock (if they are coming out of a stall). I NEVER allow bucking when a saddle is on. I have found it to be much less “open to interpretation” to the horse if I am consistent with insisting that if that saddle and bridle is on, there is NO BUCKING, whatever the circumstances or the work is. If you feel she is too silly to work yet, then longe with only the halter and chain until she settles, then tack up and WORK on the longeline. The more ground work you do with her, the more of a relationship you will develop with her.

Finally, pick your riding times carefully. Cold, crisp, windy days are going to make a more sensitive horse spooky and silly and flighty. Riding on days like that are probably setting yourself and the horse up for frustration and even injury. Even if you don’t come off, she could over-strain something acting silly before you could get her under control. Ground work or longeing on these days would be best. Longeing can be a great workout if you have a plan. Set up poles on the ground, changing the distances occasionally to keep her interest and make her work. Work on changing the stride within gaits from extended to collected. Work on proper balanced, quiet transitions. Make sure she is reaching nicely with her hind legs and not leaning on the bit (especially if using sidereins). If all you are going to be doing is longeing that day, you could do about an hour of it, including the warming up and cooling down. Spend the majority of the time at the walk and trot, with smaller amounts of cantering. Done properly, a good longeing session can be a real workout and extremely helpful to the horse’s manners and way of going and understanding of what you want when under saddle. And if you want to ride, ride one of the older horses.

One last thought, check into her feeding, if you haven’t already. If she is not being worked hard, she should get very little cereal grains, if any. Lots of hay and a good vitamin/mineral product. If she is a hard keeper, a fat source like beet pulp, rice bran, black oil sunflower seeds or whole flax seed is best. These will provide FAT, not ENERGY. Lots of cereal grains and sugar, like sweet feeds (added molasses) that contain corn, oats, barley provide ENERGY, not FAT, and can make it not only HARDER to keep weight on a horse, but harder for you to ride the horse.