Even small horses are quite high up
It doesn’t matter how big the horse is, whether it’s 13 or 19 hands, you’re still technically sitting considerably higher up than you normally would. And given the other factor, that you’re sitting on a live animal with a mind of its own (and please never let anyone tell you that horses are just dumb animals who do what they’re told. Honestly!), that can be a little intimidating if you’re easily scared. Which I’m not. Obviously.
Getting on is only the first hurdle. Sometimes, quite literally. Many horses are an absolute bloody nightmare when it comes to standing at a mounting block. At college we have some who won’t stand still unless the angle is juuuuust right. Others like to walk backwards as soon as you set your first foot in the stirrup. Some just swing their quarters sideways so that you have to really streeeeeeeetch to get anywhere. Ouch. The odd one or two will stand there calmly and let you get on, shift your bum around, sort your hands out and then set off when you ask them to. But not many.
My favourite horses for getting on; no let me correct that; my favourite horses to watch other people get on, are Jack and Bryn.
Jack, the 14hh at a push little fat cob, likes to swing his bum round as soon as you’re close to getting your foot in the stirrup. Also, many people think it would be easy to get on such a small pony. Not so. Trying to get on him from the top of the mounting block is ridiculous, you may as well just jump seeing as it’s all at the same level. To do it properly, you’d have to go from the bottom step, but of course what with him moving around, that’s just a tripping hazard. Silly pony.
Bryn, on the other hand entirely, is a 19hh shire. Oh yes. Getting on him is like, well, climbing a mountain. You need seriously flexible hips to reach your leg up that far. But before you can even attempt that you have to corner him, get him parallel to the fence so he can’t swing out and facing the other fence so he can’t walk off. Usually someone has to hold him too. He’s fun. Then, once you finally have him standing still and you stretch that leg up you have to give a monumental push and throw yourself up in the air. You can only hope that he’ll still be there to catch you when you come down again.
Once you’re up there, nice and snug in the saddle, you have fun little things like the girth and stirrups to check and adjust. That’s the most fun when your horse doesn’t like standing still or thinks you leaning forwards to reach the girth is a signal for “jump in the air like a cat on a hot tin roof“. Not mentioning any names, cough*Rambo*cough, but sometimes doing up a girth can be more tiring than actually riding.
I found it never took long for any anxiety I might have had about being up in the air to go away. Usually by the time you’ve walked a circuit, you know whether or not you’re happy on the horse. It’s also very easy to forget how high up you are and how much trust you’re putting in that animal once you get going. Which I think is a wonderful thing. That’s how I find it anyway.
The second my bum lands in the saddle, I don’t worry about anything if I can help it. Any time I have caught myself feeling a little stressed, like today, I’m able to keep it in check, work out why I feel like that and do something to make it go away. It really is one of the best feelings, walking, trotting, cantering around without even realising that at any second that animal could have a change of heart and chuck you.
Today I had the experience of riding the lovely Bryn properly, for the first time. So I had to leap in the air like an acrobat to get on, stretch my body out completely to do up the girth, and my god did I use some leg. But he went beautifully. I also completely forgot that I was 19hh (6’4″) above ground until I passed either of the other two riders; one was on Jack and the other on a cob of 14.2hh. I had a sudden realisation more than once during the ride of “oh jeebus, this is a big horse”.
Then I had to dismount…