Mounting horses from the left

When I was little & learning to ride my bike, my father told me to always get on it from the left. There is, of course, a practical reason for this - the chain is on the right and you’re less likely to get grease on you if you mount from the left.

However, why is the chain on the right? Is it because people are used to getting on things like horses from the left?

I wonder if the two things are related. Does anyone know?


Years ago I read that the practice of mounting horses from the left led to pilots in WWI boarding their 'planes from the left (many of them having been trained as cavalrymen). In turn, this tradition became established and is the reason we board airliners on the left-hand side. Where I read this, I don’t recall.

A link to the Staff Report in question is helpful. Why are horses traditionally mounted from the left side?

i heard that "the eye of the needle "was in fact a very small doorway in castle or city walls ,made small for defensive purposes when the main gates were closed ,so perhaps they really did mean camel,getting a real live camel through a doorway would be pretty tricky!

TP Wombat, I’m not sure what the heck needles and camels have to do with mounting horses from the left, but what you heard is just plain wrong. See:What’s the meaning of Jesus’ teaching about the camel going through the eye of a needle?
More on camels passing through the eyes of needles

…and, EddyTeddyFreddy, congrats and thanks on your first guest Staff Report!!

Strange that no one has thought of what, to me anyway, seems to be the obvious reason. The majority of us naked apes are right-handed and right-footed. This means that the natural way to mount a horse is to swing the right leg across its back. It just feels awkward to do it the other way.

Ah, but Floater, consider: Wouldn’t a right-sided person find it easier to support their weight upon their right leg, rather than their left, as they spring upward? Also, mounting from the right would put the reins in the rider’s right hand – more effective for control than having them in the left as one mounts. So there must be another reason, surely, to mount from the left side?

The dominance of right-sidedness is why swords would be hung from the left side of the rider’s belt to begin with – thus requiring mounting from the left to avoid pranging either horse or rider with the scabbard. I remain convinced that the sword theory is the basis of this custom. But you make a good argument for your theory.

Have you ever tried long jump or high jump. Right-footed persons, and I am very much so, usually take off with their right foot, and when I just think of mounting a horse it seems very unnatural for me to do it from the right side. Also, you should keep in mind that using the left foot, holding the reins with the right hand and carrying the sword on the left side are all unconnected secondary effects of our right-sidedness.

I think the right-handedness is more important than right-footedness here. You want to hold on to the horse/bike with your right hand as you mount it.

Those that are right footed most often leap (push off) with the left foot. A right footed soccer player kicks strongest with his right foot, which means he is pushing off and balancing using his left foot. A right footed basketball player, long jumper, high jumper, etc, will usually push off with the left foot, not the right.

But why is it a natural feeling for you? Is it because you have always seen people mount from the left?

Humans, biologically speaking, do not have instincts. So how can you explain a feeling that causes you to always mount from one side or the other?

What theR said. Also, picture yourself climbing a fence or mounting/dismounting a bicycle. It’s the dominant foot that you swing over it, with the other foot on the ground. I am also willing to wager that when you start walking from a standstill you more often than not take the first step with it too.

As far as I know we do have instincts, but we are able to supress them and it’s not a feeling that causes me to always mount from the same side. It’s in the nature of handedness.

Sure we have instincts! We just don’t have instincts about things we’ve invented, like horseback riding and bicycles. Instincts were established in humans long before customs and inventions. Nobody mounts their horse or bike from the left side by instinct, but rather, by habit, or custom.

Nice Report, EddyTeddyFreddy !

Well I lead of with my right foot because of Boot Camp :slight_smile:

Before that, I never could recall which foot I lead with, but I don’t think I always lead with my right. Though I’m sure I mostly lead with my right.

As for instincts, the idea of an instinct is that it is unavoidable, applies to all members of the species and something else I can’t recall at this moment. I remember I had this similiar discussion with my Soc 101 teacher at the George Washington Univ. At the time, I thought, as you do, that we had instincts and that we merely supressed them. The professor said as I said above, from a biological standpoint, we do not.

If you change the definition of instincts to mean what most people accept it nowadays to mean, then yes we do. That is an urge that we can suppress. Kind of like not eating that big piece of cheesecake even though you want too b/c you know it’s not healthy.

But in the pure sense of the word we do not have instincts. Two people who are ‘procreating’, can stop during the process for no reason. Two animals that are going at it, must have some reason to stop ‘procreating’ during the process, ie:like the sudden appearance of a predator, otherwise they are hardwired to continue the process until the end result is achieved.

Instincts are a hard-wired set of actions that the creature cannot turn-off. As the author of the column stated, most horses react poorly if you try to climb up on the right side. Because it’s instincts tells it you might be a predator. But the question arises, why then can a horse be taught to allow a handler to get up on any side if the hard wire response is there? Thus is the beauty of such techniques like operant conditioning.

Either way, I think I’ve gotten a bit off topic.

Humans do indeed have instincts, including one that makes each of us want to pivot on our “weak” foot. As a righty, I instinctively turn counter-clockwise when doing a 180 to return to where I came from. This is also the natural direction that I like to rotate when climbing onto a horse. Swords may apply here, but realistically, it’s just more natural for right-handers to get on from the left.

So you’re saying that instincts can’t be overcome, unless there’s operant conditioning at work? And I would dispute the claim that people can stop procreating for no reason whatsoever. For trivial reasons, maybe, but I’ll warrent there’s some reason, and I’ll further bet that for any such reason in humans, an analogue reason can be found in other animals.

Instinct is merely an urge towards behavior – a rabbit has an instinct to eat a head of cabbage, but if there is a fence in the way it eventually moves on. Similarly, I have an urge to turn counter-clockwise, but at times on the soccer field it makes more sense to turn clockwise to cover the other player. So I turn clockwise. Instincts are impetuses, not overwhelming compulsions.

While this is interesting, we’re getting a bit far-afield. (Notice how I didn’t say “off the track.”) A debate of instinct vs learned behaviors probably belongs in the Great Debates Forum. Let’s try to keep his a wee more focused on hopping atop horses, eh?

I never said it wasn’t natural for people to mount from the left.

I was not challenging the naturalness of doing anything in context to which is more comfortable. I was challenging that this is based off of an instinct. What hand you use and what leg you lead off with are greatly influenced with which part of the brain is dominant. This is not an instinct, it’s how your body works.

Chronos, I’m not sure I understand you properly. You are saying that it is not possible for a man and a women to simply stop because they choose to discontinue? Albeit, in a practical situation there surely is some reason…way to many to list. However, humans have the ability to stop for no reason.

For lack of a better way to explain it, a ‘want’ to stop is the reason. A desire to discontinue procreating. Humans need no greater reason then merely “I do not want to”. I believe humans could stop at anytime during procreation, I’d however concede that this might not be possible as an orgasm occurs–but this is based of an effect produced by the body. I do not know enough about the biology behind an orgasm to know whether humans still have the ability for rational thought during/as it occurs. I know i’d find it difficult to say the least, and I think most others would too. But animals do not have this choice. They must have some reason to stop procreating.

Also, I admit I do not have enough knowledge to say that instincts cannot be overcome by other means then psychological effects like operant conditioning. However, I do not see how.

Sagrilarus but you would have made a rational choice to turn clockwise. Either way, as I said above, that is based off of which part of the brain is dominant.

And yes, obviously the rabbit would move on or natural selection would take over. But what does the rabbit move on to? Does it choose some other action or if it was hungry does it continue to search out food? If it were hungry, it would turn and continue seeking food. If it werent hungry then likely it would not have tried to eat the cabbage anyway. There might be some animals that eat just for the sack of eating, I’m not aware of any, other then humans of course.

Also, as I said, if you wish to alter the meaning of an instinct to how it is popularly viewed, “an urge towards behavior” then yes Humans have instincts. However for animals it is not “an urge towards behavior”, it is an unavoidable set of actions/activiities/reponses.

Someone answer me this? If an animal sees food and is hungry, and there are no factors that would raise an alarm or scare of the animal basically nothing to prevent the animal from eating, would it eat the food or could it choose not to?

Now, if a human sees food and is hungry and there are no factors to prevent the human from eating, must the human eat it or can it choose not to?

I have no doubt that people have urges, but people do not have instincts, from a biological point of view.