Otherwise known as mounting a horse or climbing in the saddle. For me,the thought of settling down into a saddle with a live horse beneath it, picking up the reins and fingering them through my fingers is something close to heaven. But getting up there can be everything from grace to a comedy which is what feeds our stories. And mounting has a history of its own.
Prehistoric horses were small, dog-size and over eons grew to the ones we see today. So, once upon a time, mounting wasn’t so difficult. The early rider simply jumped on board by throwing a leg over a bare back. It wasn’t long before he figured out that a blanket held down with a rope, strap or whatever held the blanket in place was a great idea. After all, horses sweat and lather where rubbed as under the rider. But no stirrups were needed or even thought of. Regardless of what you may see in movies of Romans using stirrups did not happen. Yes they had a saddle but no stirrups until the Middle Ages. Until then they vaulted onto the horse or used a mounting block. In fact this feat was part of the schooling of the cavalry. However officers could use a slave or grunt soldier kneel down as a mounting block.
If you’ve ever tried to vault onto a horse, you know this can be tricky. I would recommend starting with a pony. However if you are clutzy like me even that can be difficult. This is the graceful way your hero would mount without a stirrup. While standing at the horse’s shoulder, he would grab a hank of mane, , step back, hop a few times, and in one fail swoop, fling his leg over the horse’s back and voila…he’s on.
Now, for your town mayor, secondary character you want to look like a clutz, when this character tries to mount, his leg will come short of the horse’s back and he will broadside the horse, fall flat on the ground, the horse would panic and bolt, leaving this character very embarrassed because the heroine and a crowd just saw this and can’t restrain the laughter.
Another way to board a horse is to face the horse and simply jump up, lay over the horse’s back, swing your leg over and voila, you are on board. However, your clutzy mayor may attempt this, continue on over to the other side, and land on his head on the ground. And there is every ungraceful moment imaginable between of struggling to keep on board a horse that is intent on turning the wrong way to keep the character off-balance. (Horses do this, you know.)
You may also note that I haven’t mentioned mounting on the left side of the horse. First of all, horses would rather you forget about mounting them at al and leave them grazing in the pasture. They don’t have a preference to left or right. This mounting on the left is a military thing that, I believe, originated or was formalized in the Roman legion. It could date earlier simply because swords were worn long before the legions.
Swords were usually worn on the left side, dangling down the left leg. Now try this….get a yard stick and slide it under a belt you are wearing, find a footstool or chair and try to swing your left leg over the object. Yardstick kinda gets in the way doesn’t it? Now imagine vaulting onto a horse with the left leg. The sword would and could poke the horse, hamper the vault, cause the horse to suddenly move aside and down you go. Don’t move the yardstick sword and try the same movement with the right leg….easy isn’t it. So is mounting. Sword stays out of the way, leg is free to move, horse isn’t poked. Since so much is modeled after the Roman legion I believe this is where mounting a horse on the left side began. But if the horse is always mounted on the left, he comes to prefer it as we do driving on the right or left side of a road.
Now there are other ways to mount as dropping down from a brothel balcony in a form of escape. This is no way for a Cowboy Studly to mount any horse. Think of the horse’s back. ouch. However, if he must escape this way, maybe Cowboy Studly could simply drop down beside his trusty stallion and, as the horse bolts off, he uses the momentum to swing up into the saddle. The trick here is a western saddle though. Thanks to the horn, the cowboy can do this. If, and I repeat, if our Baron von Hero grabs a hank of mane as his trusty stallion bolts off, he may be able to swing up into an English saddle but that’s pushing it. Just think of the plot twists, complications etc that you can drum up for our Baron here.
The traditional and formal way to mount is to gather the reins in the left hand, place the left foot in the stirrup, hop slightly for momentum and step into the stirrup and lift up, swing right leg over, and settle softly in the saddle. That’s the right way to do it. However, what if the horse is tall, the stirrup is long, the horse moves out, you don’t hop right? Oh the fun you can create…
Here’s another one, what if the girth is loose and the saddle comes down to you? Every rider has had this happen many times. And the reaction of your rider/hero can be very character revealing. He explodes on the groom for not tightening the girth enough. He kicks the horse. Or he could laugh at himself and simply undo the saddle, carefully slide the saddle back into place, sliding it from mane toward tail–not heaving the saddle back up the horse’s side and twisting the back hair. Our hero then tightens the girth , knowing the horse has once again taken a deep breath . He waits until the horse breathes and tightens the girth again. Up he goes this time. Or our hero could have the groom hold the far stirrup while he mounts.
Here’s another senario…the Mayor Clutz gathers the reins, places his foot in the stirrup, starts his little hop and the horse steps aside. He has to hop with him, and the horse moves and he hops, and the horse circles and he hops, hangs his foot, slips and falls and the horse stops to stare down at him, eyes gleaming with glee. (Horses do that too.)
And there is the horse that steps backward and Mayor Clutz lands on the horse’s neck that suddenly lowers and our mayor slides to the ground, horse grinning this time (They do that, I swear.) However, if the horse steps forward, the mayor gains a bit momentum and up he may go (if you want him to that is). Or the mayor simply could use a car fender, fence, stump, or the handy-dandy mounting block usually used by the ladies to mount that nag.
Ah yes, the ladies who wish to ride. The lady simply climbs the few steps as the horse is brought along side. She gathers the reins, slides into the side saddle, adjusts her skirts, straightens her bonnet, fixes the whip on her free side and nods to the groom. If this is not the heroine is less pretentious as maybe an Indian princess, Celtic warrioress, etc, she’ll show the hero how to mount a horse like air itself.
So getting on board a horse is an art that offers unlimited choices to the writer to use. Trust me , every combination that you can imagine for your hero or heroine to mount a horse has happened sometime somewhere.
Here’s a video showing the basics
Now for a few odd ways to mount: I read once where horses were trained to lay down and be quiet (probably blindfolded) for a surprise attack somewhere. On signal, the horses would rise up from the ground like specters with riders on board. Would scare me if I saw this. Lots of training going on here. Native American Indians come to mind as well as ancient Egyptians, but I’m sure others did this as well.
The one that makes me grin is when Sir Hangsalot is hoisted up in a tree and hangs there for his page to bring his charger beneath him and then lowers the knight into the saddle because the early medieval armor was just too heavy for any traditional mounting. I can still see him hanging there when an attack suddenly causes the charger to charge off with the page. And the attacking knights arrive with their long lances and just poke Sir Hangsalot until he is swinging and twirling around and around. Poor guy. But I still have to grin at the image that goes through my mind.
So, you see mounting a horse isn’t as simple as it seems. But it sure is worth the effort.