I got an interesting question from a reader I’d like to open up to everyone…
Refusal to Mount
Do you have any articles or references related to getting a highly anxious ASD rider to mount the horse? We have a 15 year old who refuses to mount but stays close to the horse and appears to want to ride and in fact has ridden before. We have tried many tactics but can not get him on the horse. Any references would be greatly appreciated.
I have not had a situation exactly like this, but I have had a few experiences I can share about the few riders we’ve had trouble mounting.
The first one was very anxious and scared but wanted to do it so badly that with MUCH patience and help she finally got on. Her parents helped encourage her and talk her through it. We tried several different heights of the block until we found one she felt the most comfortable with, and went real slow at her own pace, while her parents knew when to push her to push herself to get on. It probably took 15 minutes, but she did it, and within a few lessons was mounting with less anxiety.
The second one did not like the gap between the block and the horse, she felt like she was going to fall through. We took it slow and rearranged the horse until she felt safe to mount. Her mom was a trained volunteer and was the off side sidewalker and helped encourage her and knew when to push her. When she got too upset we took the horse away to give her space to calm down, then tried again. The next week her mom psyched her up in the car ride over to get her ready to mount right away, and she was much better and faster about mounting.
And the third one is nonverbal, tactile sensitive, and very anxious. We do not do a normal mount with him, since he does not want to put his hands on the pommel and is too sensitive for us to hold his hands there, and too anxious to get his leg over the horse himself (I know because I tried to do this with him and it did not go well). We have his dad help, get up high on the lift, I support his upper body by putting my hand under his arm and over his shoulder, while his dad picks his foot up and puts it over the horse (I mount him this way because it’s how his instructor before me mounted him and it worked). The faster the better. As soon as we are on we get going because walking on the horse relaxes him, and spend several laps just walking until he relaxes. After that he’s fine.
In all these situations I see a pattern that helped:
- use their parent to help – they know their kid and know when to push them and how much help to give (make sure they have a signed liability release and have been trained)
- ask the parent to prepare their kid before arriving, get them psyched up to mount
- don’t require the typical mount (at first), experiment with safe adaptations that make them feel comfortable (like changing the height of the block, or giving physical assistance)
- try to find out what would make them feel safer (such as the height of the block, or using a smaller horse, or having the saddle pad a certain color, or having less or more people helping, etc.)
- find out what calms them down (such as walking off right away, or listening to music, or having their parent there)
- determine how fast to go (ask their parent) – it’s a fine line: for some people the longer you wait the more anxious they get, for others the longer you wait the calmer they get – it depends on the individual
- practice on a fake horse first, or on a barrel – perhaps it is the action of balancing on one leg that they are nervous about, or they are nervous about something else you can practice on the ground first in a place they feel safer
What do you think, readers? I haven’t had as many years of experience as many of you, and would love your thoughts on this. Please feel free to agree or disagree and add your own ideas in the comments section below!
Note: This is not professional advice, this is a blog. I am not liable for what you do with or how you use this information. The activities explained in this blog may not be fit for every rider, riding instructor, or riding center depending on their current condition and resources. Use your best personal judgment!