Ok so using your mount as cover (taken from WOTC website) says
Get Cover from Your Mount: Because you and your mount share a space on the battlefield, you normally cannot claim cover from your mount. Whenever someone attacks you, however, you can attempt a DC 15 Ride check to claim cover from your mount. If you succeed, you get the benefit of cover (+4 to AC). According to the D&D FAQ, the cover benefit applies to all attacks made against you during the same place in the initiative order. If foes attack you several different times during a round, you must make a new Ride check to get cover from your mount against those attacks. You cannot claim cover while you're casting a spell or making any kind of attack.
Using your mount for cover isn't an action, and you can do so anytime you're attacked (subject to the limits noted previously). The rules don't say so, but using your mount for cover represents you actively avoiding attacks, and it's reasonable to assume that you cannot do so when you are denied your Dexterity bonus (if any) to Armor Class.
So it is apparent you cannot use your mount as cover while flat footed, but what about this, "cannot attack or cast a spell while using your mount as cover" it says the action "takes no action" so when attacked can a rider attempt to use the mount as cover and then on his turn attack as usual? When would the "inability to attack" apply?