During the Summer of Rain, when my parents were running a local livery, there was a lot of training that had to go on with our horses. We'd leased ranch horses, who were impeccably trained as ranch horses, but had some holes in their training for livery horses. One of the holes was mounting blocks. They'd never seen one. They had no idea what the heck a human would want them for. After all, their owners could mount them on the fly, they never needed a stairway to nowhere, which is exactly what our mounting block looked like.
Guests sometimes needed a little help up onto the horse, so we had, literally, a stairway to nowhere. It was a platform about stirrup-height, three feet square, with stairs up one side. Each of the horses had snorted at the mounting block when they saw it, so we knew that they'd need some training. The training began with just leading them by it until they no longer snorted at it. Then we left them tied to the rail next to it. Eventually, they just didn't care about it. Great, step one taken care of, now on to step two; people on the platform.
They didn't really like that so much, as it puts the human in predator position. As prey animals, the horses understandably were nervous having predators (humans are the ultimate predator) poised in an attack position. Again, we lead them back and forth near the platform and let them stand tied. So far, so good. After a while, they didn't even notice my kids scrambling up and down the stairs, sitting on it, swinging their legs, even jumping off of it. Great! Time to move to the next step, having someone step from the platform to their backs.
By the time we got to this point, it was just my son, Digger, and me at the livery. One of us had to lead the horses to the mounting block and one of us had to step on. Digger was twelve years old at the time; I opted to let him be the one to mount up, so that I could control the horse.
You know what they say about best laid plans.
The first couple of horses were astounding. They walked right up to the mounting block with Digger standing there and stood patiently while he slung a leg over and mounted up. I walked them around the pen and back to the mounting block so that he could step off. They acted as though they'd been doing it their whole lives. Not a problem at all. We were getting pretty cocky, Digger and I. We were horse trainers extraordinaires, just ask us. We'd started a project and were having great luck with it. Mom and Bill were going to be so thrilled to see the progress we'd made with the horses!
And then we got to Peanut. Or P-knucklehead as I began to call him. Peanut lead up to the mounting block calmly, didn't even twitch his ear. He let Digger swing a leg over and get settled. And then the rodeo started. Peanut acted like we'd just opened the gate to the bucking chute. He started with a little crow hop away from the mounting block, followed with a snort and a little half-rear. When that didn't work, he charged forward a few steps, throwing a buck or two in for good luck. I played out a little lead rope, so that I wouldn't have those flying hooves so close to me, but I was going to be damned if I let go while my son was still aboard. Digger seated himself deep in the saddle, with both hands on the saddle horn, since I hadn't bothered to bridle up any of the horses. He rode like his butt had been Super-glued to the saddle. His face initially went white, but as he realized that he was riding out P-knucklehead, a grin broke through.
Peanut's temper tantrum only lasted a few seconds and a handful of bucks, but it made an impression. His tantrum ended as quickly as it started and he walked nicely around the pen. Digger opted to dismount the traditional way, rather than go back to the mounting block, and I can't blame him. We tied Peanut to the rail to let him think about it while we worked with the other horses.
We had to come back to him, though with a bit of trepidation. I wasn't thrilled about putting Digger back up on him, but I couldn't have Digger on the end of the lead if Peanut thought to have another tantrum. I lead Peanut back to the mounting block, Digger took a deep breath and swung his leg across. Peanut didn't twitch, he just walked away from the block as though nothing had ever happened. Knucklehead.
I thought that Digger's wild ride would maybe shake his confidence and decrease his desire to ride, but it had just the opposite effect. Being able to ride out the temper tantrum gave him a boost of confidence - probably too much - but at least he wasn't afraid to get back on.