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to park or not to park...

From: Elisabet

I'm a new subscriber and I want to thank you for the wonderful service you provide! You help make the world a better place. I have a question about "parking" (I don't know if I'm using the term correctly). I've taught both my arabian geldings to park before I mount. They are now so used to it that as soon as I go to their side to get on, they automatically stretch out and stand still for mounting. This makes it easier for me to get on as it lowers their backs by a couple of inches (everything helps when you are "vertically challenged"!). I've heard that this "parked" position is better for the horse's back, and more comfortable for mounting...judging by the ease of training, and the fact that they have not resisted it, I think it's true. Do you have any information that would point to the contrary? I ride mostly endurance and trail rides, and I want to make sure my "boys" are as comfortable as possible. Thanks, and happy '98!

Hi Elisabet, welcome to horse-sense! This is an interesting question. "Parking out" was first developed as a safety factor for carriage horses. The horses were asked to stretch this way and stand when asked, as a way to ensure that they would be unable to move off suddenly as people were climbing in and out of carriages. It's popular in some types of showing, as it is supposed to make the horse's croup appear flat and the top of his back shorter. It's gotten very exaggerated, and although it probably doesn't cause lasting harm if it's only done for a moment or two in the show ring, in-hand, it isn't good for the horses when it's used for mounting.

If you can, find something to use as a mounting block instead of asking the horses to park out. The problem with parking out is that the horses are no longer balanced over their legs; their hind legs are far out behind their bodies, and their front legs are forward, which DOES make their backs lower and thus make them easier to mount, but which puts strain on structures that don't need it. Mounting when the horse is in this position puts weight on the horse's spine instead of on his back muscles -- when the horse has his legs under him, and is using his belly muscles to lift his back, the rider's weight is on the muscles of the back. It's better to let the horse be balanced in his own body, standing square with his legs underneath him, BEFORE you mount, since the act of mounting puts extra stress on the horse's back anyway.

I don't think you've hurt your horses -- and if you're ever stuck out in the middle of a field with nothing to climb on and no low place to put the horse, asking him to park so that you can mount would be a perfectly reasonable alternative to walking home leading him. ;-)


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