Do You Really Need to Mount a Horse From the Left Side?
by Parelli Natural Horsemanship on Mar 08, 2023
One of the first things you learn when you begin horseback riding is how to mount and dismount safely. Most beginner riders are instructed to mount on the left. Now with a few years of riding experience, you naturally go to the left side of your horse to mount. You might be curious why most riders mount on the left and looking for a better answer than, "it's just how it's done" or “it’s how I learned to mount.” As horse owners, we are constantly learning and looking for more education about our favorite topic, horses, so we wanted to share with you some history of mounting on the left and whether you need to always mount from that side.
The Biological Component
Some early horse trainers noted horses preferred to be approached and worked from the left. Many people believe this was one of the elements that led to mounting on the left becoming a standard practice. Now we know the horse's left eye responds faster than the right eye, so it makes sense that your horse prefers the left side. Many horseback riders will refer to the left as the "near" side, while the right side is the "off" side. This terminology also reinforced the mindset of the rider.
Mounting from the Right
But mounting from the left was only sometimes general practice. The cavalry of Alexander the Great and Samurai warriors mounted from the right. Napoleon Bonaparte also mounted from the right because he was left-handed and wore his sword on the right.
Mounting from the Left
Wearing swords on the left hip began in Rome, and the practice continued into the Middle Ages. Since most people are right-handed, they carried swords on the left side. Mounting from the horse's left side reduced the chance of a rider entangling himself in his weaponry.
Interestingly, an Athenian historian and philosopher, Xenophon, in The Art of Horsemanship, written in 350 BC, said a true horseman should be able to mount on both sides to be prepared for whatever he might face in battle. Unfortunately, no one listened at the time.
But we no longer ride horses into battle, so why are we still mounting on the left?
The practice stayed in place because horses are one-sided. When they learn something on one side, it is not immediately translated to doing it on the other. This is why you do everything on both sides during training. If you have seen someone try to mount on the right side, it may have even caused some confusion for the horse or even a spook. Most horses today are not trained to be mounted on both sides.
Tacking Up on the Left
The traditionally accepted practice for horses is handling them, haltering, bridling them, etc., on the left. Think about when you tack your horse up. Do you stand on the left or right side when you put the saddle on? Where do you stand when you walk your horse out to the pasture? Why is that? The short answer is because most riders mount on the left, it is easier and more efficient to tack up on the same side. The same applies to dismounting and untacking. However, we recommend tacking up from both sides of your horse's body to keep yourself, your horse and your training balanced.
As we mentioned, horses are one-sided. They have minimal communication between the right and left hemispheres of their brain. This means if you train something on the left, it's entirely new on the right side. So, if a horse is only trained to be mounted on the left, and someone tries to mount it on the right, it is like they have never been mounted before. Most trainers prefer the consistency of training horses to be mounted and dismounted on the left side for safety because they are not trained to be mounted on both sides.
What About Mounting a Horse from Either Side?
Every chiropractor or bone-related practitioner will repeatedly tell you the risks of mounting your horse from the same side. So, ultimately, Xenophon was right. There are many benefits of mounting horses from both sides. Mounting from one side puts a lot of pressure on the horse's withers and can cause sore backs. Training your horse to be mounted from either side can help equalize the pressure and keep them more balanced. This can also have positive impacts on your saddle. Mounting from both sides will reduce the chances of your saddle tree twisting and from one stirrup leather from over-stretching.
Mounting from both sides can also come in handy for the rider. If you are trail riding or in an area where mounting on the left isn't an option, knowing you can mount on both sides can save you and your horse a lot of stress. Being able to mount from both sides can also increase your flexibility mentally and physically.
Teaching Your Horse to Be Mounted on Either Side
Training should be balanced with your horse. Whatever you do on one side, you need to repeat on the other side. If your horse has only been mounted from the left, getting them confident being mounted on both sides will take some time. Before you start mounting on the right side, start working more on the horse's right side. Lead them from the right and tack them up on the right side first. Be sure all your yields work equally on both the left and right side when you’re playing the Parelli Seven Games. Once your horse is confident with both sides, change up which side you mount on frequently to keep their bodies balanced.
Which side should you mount on?
Mounting on the left has been a tradition since ancient times when warriors went into battle with swords. However, now we know mounting from one side significantly impacts your horse's body, mental soundness, saddle, and rider and location flexibility. We recommend training your horse to be confident with mounting from both sides to encourage physical, mental, emotional and psychological balance.