How do you teach a horse to lay down so a person in a wheel chair can get in the saddle?

“How do you teach a horse to lay down so a person in a wheel chair can get in the saddle? The reason I am asking is because the end of August 2014 my boyfriend came down with west nile virus. As of the end of April 2015 he is still in a wheel chair and he wants to be able to ride again. Thanks for your time”, Angie E.

This question got me thinking in several ways. First, let me say I am sorry that both of you are going through this. Years ago a good friend’s husband nearly died from West Nile and has struggled ever since so I have an idea of the challenges you are going through. My heart and prayers go out to you both. I love that he wants to ride again. Setting goals is important for everyone because it keeps us looking forward.

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Michael Richardson gives amazing demos and trains from his wheel chair.

My second thought is that I am not sure if teaching a horse to lie down to mount is the best option for people in a wheelchair to mount. If it was a great method then therapeutic programs would teach horses to lie down. My guess is that there are several reasons why it isn’t the best choice.

  1. Awkward -I have taught horses to lie down and I have mounted while they are down. It is more awkward than I would have guessed from watching it. If you see a horse with a saddle on while lying down you will notice that the saddle is facing sideways.
  2. Difficulty -A horse standing up is a big motion. It is similar in a way to riding a horse going over a small jump as quickly raise their front end upward followed quickly by the hind end.
  3. Challenge- An unbalanced rider would make standing up more of a challenge for the horse

If I do mount my horse while he is down I prefer to do so bareback. This makes it easier for both of us because it solves most of the issues listed above but makes it a less appealing method in a therapeutic setting.

I would suggest finding a local therapy barn to become accustom to riding again. Just as learning to be in the wheel chair has been a learning curve, learning to ride again will also be a new learning curve. The people I have met that are involved in therapy have been extremely caring and will be in the best position to be able to help you guys with this transition, including the discussion about his ability to mount from a horse that is lying down.


  1. johanna on September 11, 2015 at 1:33 am

    hi Stacy-

    …continuing with the theme of getting on and off a horse in alternative ways…

    i just came across this video:

    French horse woman, Alicia Dosogne: i love the way she has trained all 3-4 of her horses and ponies to get up and lie down with her on them…in addition to some awesome freestyle dressage as well!!
    i think this could be applied well for someone in a chair! the small size of her horses/ponies helps probably and the saddle used is beneficial for this too, i think.

  2. Janette on May 10, 2015 at 7:26 am

    I agree with your professional advice Stacy. It can also be physically damaging to the horse to get up with the weight of a rider on it’s back.

    Having said that, I have personly witnessed a young lady struggle with physical and mental disabilitys from a horse riding accident. The independents and pure joy that has been achieved by lying her own horse down to mount has outweighed the cons. I think the key to helping an intelligent inderpended person cope with their injures is all about thier self esteem and dignity. A good balance of practical horse knowledge and alternative thinking is required to help someone with life changing injurys, regain the joy.

    Loved reading your post Johanna.

  3. Jennifer Hodas on May 1, 2015 at 7:46 am

    My mom broke her back and is in a wheelchair. She has a horse and rides at therapeutic riding. There are two different ways she mounts. At first they would lead the horse up to a ramp they built where she could transfer from her chair onto the horse’s back. Then they raised enough money to buy a lift. Now she uses that. My dad has thought about doing some kind of pulley system at home or hanging off the trailer so she could go places to ride. Good luck, I hope it all works out for you and your boyfriend.

  4. christian gloetzer on May 1, 2015 at 6:15 am

    hi stacy does the wheelchair cowboy has a homepage. I’d like to learn more about training horses out of a wheelchair

  5. Vicki on April 30, 2015 at 11:20 pm

    Hi Stacey, Love your pages – Thank you for all your insights. I am a paraplegic of ‘many years’ now, and riding. Getting on an off has always been the challenge and I have researched many ways. Being a bit of a worrier, the lying down didn’t give me confidence and I developed a system of instructing people (sometimes complete strangers) to safely put me on. However it was still frustrating – so ‘Mother of invention…’ and all that, i have designed a hoist on my float. My rationale is that generally where the horse is, the float will be. I only need one (even unskilled) person for minimal assist. Braver people, maybe will not require even one. I did a ‘rough’ video for youtube of the hoist, and thought I would share it here in this discussion.
    Hope it might be of interest and use to some.

    • Stacy on May 1, 2015 at 1:23 pm

      Vicki….THAT IS AWESOME! Thank you so much for the video! I love it. Let me know when you have the one with your horse, I want to watch that one also. Thank you for sharing 🙂

    • johanna on May 1, 2015 at 8:06 pm

      that is very cool vicki!

  6. johanna on April 30, 2015 at 5:40 pm

    Therapeutic riding association is great, and in my experience essential for new balance issues etc, and for learning all over again to ride in the way most beneficial for all involved.

    however, please don’t discount the need and desire to be able to get back on your horse alone, without help. some people in wheelchairs still have the desire to go out on a trail ride, and, to go out alone on a horse outside of a ring in general. a helper and elevated stand in a riding ring aren’t always available. (with a great ”bomb-proof” horse, of course, not a flighty one, and a well re-eduated rider).

    it is a GREAT skill to be able to get on your horse while it is lying down–it can be life-saving actually–and this doesn’t necessarily apply to only people in wheelchairs. falling off your horse for whatever reason, out on a (long or short) wilderness trail ride or endurance trail ride, and breaking your leg, hurting one’s arm, etc can mean that getting back on a standing horse is impossible. it is just another ‘back-up’ skill to have in you and your horse’s arsenal.

    although it may be difficult to get on a horse lying down, it is far easier for someone injured or in a wheelchair (who has been re-educated in riding), to get onto a horse lying down, than getting onto a standing horse. someone in a wheelchair would also have a special, lighter saddle that has extra, stabilizing hand holds in the front of the saddle and this, with practice, provides a good way to counteract and stay on @ the extreme angle of the horse getting up off the ground.

    before anyone says ”but people in wheelchairs shouldn’t go out on trail rides alone”, that may be true in your opinion, but truly, where there is a will, there is a way. it is often difficult for someone who is NOT in a wheelchair to imagine a scenario that either hasn’t been done or has not been thought about for someone who doesn’t have full use of their body. however, that does not mean it can’t be done, or, that isn’t important to do. you might as well tell an avid rock climber that climbing the matterhorn is dangerous. or, to a mother: don’t have kids, they’ll break your heart or you might die in pregnancy. sure, but that isn’t the point.

    if i had listened to all the thousands of people and vet school deans who told me that i couldn’t go to vet school in a wheelchair, or palpate a horse or cow for pregnancy, or train an American Pitbull Terrier to be a personal dog, because i was in a wheelchair, i would have stayed home and at best, not had a complete veterinary education. but instead, i found ways to accomplish the same goals in simply different ways. and i have been a practicing vet, and surgeon, for 20 years, with several perfectly trained APBT’s :).

    i think it is also important not to underestimate horses, and all domestic animals. they do not have the restrictive thinking of humans, and truly don’t see certain things as a problem or barrier, like humans do. they can often be of help in these kinds of scenarios, believe it or not.

    it is certainly hard to get on a horse alone when one can’t use one’s legs, yet has the desire to ride. i do think that exploring other than standard alternatives, perhaps some we haven’t thought of yet, is a productive and important exercise– for anyone.

    • Stacy on May 1, 2015 at 1:26 pm

      Thank you for posting. I completely agree with you. I hope my blog didn’t sound restrictive or discouraging…I tend to like to have lots of ‘steps’ in any process that I do. I was actually thinking that some of the ‘traditional’ steps could act as springboards for over coming the challenges in a unique way in the future. Did you see the other comment on here from Vicki where she included a video of the lift that she has? Perfect example of the independence you spoke of. You guys are so inspiring!

      • johanna on May 1, 2015 at 8:07 pm

        no worries, i always appreciate the ‘steps’ and the great thought processes you have, and post here for our benefit.

    • Angie on June 13, 2015 at 11:57 pm

      Thanks to everyone for their advice and ideas. His legs are starting to move but are still to weak to be any use. He is very determined to get back to all the activies he did before. The doctor said this is a “marathon not a sprint”!

    • Kevin Coker on January 23, 2017 at 10:55 pm

      I finally hear a voice that makes sense. People without injuries or disabilities while well wishing are not the ones that need to “take care of me” . There is training for both rider and horse, that does not constitute an impossibility. Limited thinking says why I can’t, creative thinking says how can I.

  7. Wendy satara on April 30, 2015 at 5:40 pm

    Great advice,Stacy. I think asking the local high school or men’s group, in Australia it’s called the men’s shed organisation, who would make a ramp for him. A ramp would build confidence for both.

  8. LadybugFarm on April 30, 2015 at 3:32 pm

    i have often wondered about getting on my boy when he is laying down. he has been laying down on cue since he was a yearling, however he gets up BUTT first, just like a cow, so i am reluctant to be on him when he does this 😉 he is a different kind of guy, but i love him just the same!

  9. Judy Shockey on April 30, 2015 at 11:53 am

    As well you can check with your local High School Ag department and there is a huge possibility
    they can and will design a ramp for the wheel chair!

  10. Pat on April 30, 2015 at 11:18 am

    The program in our area uses a ramp system. The ramps level out at the top. There are 2 (so the horse can’t move sideways), & the horse is led between them & steadied by a ground person. You can modify this to suit your own situation. Hope this helps. My best to you & your boyfriend.

  11. Carol Stirrat on April 30, 2015 at 11:10 am

    Absolutely the best advice. Program may even be subsidized. Ask questions about the needed paper work, and whether referrals are needed.

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