Friday, June 12, 2009


If you've ever been on a horse that has bolted on you, it can be one of the scariest scenarios to occur on a horse. The most recent bolting experience to my memory was while riding someone else's horse out on a trail ride with the horse's owner (on another horse). The other rider had taken off on the mare she was riding, which of course caused the horse I was riding to grow increasingly agitated. Of course eventually I had to make the choice between holding her back and therefore causing her to grow increasingly agitated and likely rear or buck, or to let her out and try to rate or guide her somehow. I voted for the latter, and she bolted like heck. There was no controlling her direction, there was no rating her speed. Pretty soon we were coming up on a barbed wire fence and I wasn't sure if she was thinking enough to turn or slow. Despite trying my best to somehow get her back under control, there was no doing so. We reached the fence at breath-taking speed until she made a sudden turn to join her herdmate.

One word of advice I seem to hear often in regards to a bolting horse is to go back and teach the horse the basics, to teach it to woah. The horse isn't failing to stop from bolting because it doesn't know the basics, it's failing to stop because it's afraid! She's not even thinking anymore! When a horse full out bolts, she's reacting - purely instinctively. She is no longer thinking logically and is instead fleeing blindly. To her, it's a matter of life-and-death. So going back to the basics, and re-teaching her to woah, is not going to enable you to stop her when she's afraid and not thinking.

Another word of advice I often hear, probably the most common, is to put a bigger bit - a harsher bit, in the horse's mouth - the bigger bit theory. Well if the horse isn't thinking, causing her more pain with a more extreme bit is not going to suddenly switch her from reactive, flight mode, to thinking, calm and relaxed mode.

The last word of advice I'm going to throw up here is as it pertains to bending the horse's head to your knee. Somehow people seem to think that if a horse's neck is bent, that he can no longer run. Well if you've ever been on any sort of athletic horse, like my Quarab, you know better. In the past, I could have him bent up like a pretzel if he bolted, and he'd still run - sideways. Didn't think it was possible, but it most certainly is! Of course some horses, like the mare I mentioned above, you can't even get their head bent around to your knee! They're locked and loaded and ready to run. What you can do however, is teach your horse part of a three-part maneuver and use it before the actual bolt, as you feel the bolt building or just as it starts to occur. Bend to a stop (teaching them to be light and responsive and to relax when they bend to the stop and thus creating a pattern or habit), turn on the forehand, then turn on the hindquarter. You start by teaching the horse each maneuver one-by-one, then combine all three maneuvers (eventually) into one entire, combined, smooth maneuver. If you can teach your horse to turn on the forehand and therefore disengage her hindquarters, you are therefore robbing the horse of all power - a horse cannot run forwards with its hind legs crossed. So with prior and proper preparation, in the event of a bolt-about-to-happen, your best bet is to bend your horse's neck with her nose to your foot, then ask her to disengage her hindquarters, resulting in an effective halt. If your horse is hyped up though (pretty likely), this could be hard, if not impossible, to do. Which is why your even safest bet is to prepare the horse in such a way where it is not going to bolt in the first place, effectively halting the bolt before it ever happens.

Once in the actual bolt, your best bet might be to hold onto the horn or some mane, and to gradually try to influence the horse into a large circle that you gradually decrease in size. Once the horse has slowed sufficiently, ask them to bend their head to your knee, ask for that disengagement of the haunches, then keep their minds thinking and focused by giving them specific tasks to do. Take caution that you do not unbalance the horse and tip them over throughout your attempt at re-obtaining control.

The horse might be fleeing from one of two extrinsic factors: something that spooked her in the environment, or from the rider on her back. When the rider stays with her, she reacts even more, trying to outrun the predator on her back. The horse could also be fleeing due to an intrinsic (internal) factor, such as herdboundness (such as in the example I used above). Either way, the horse is running out of fear (with perhaps other factors thrown in) and has no consideration for the rider on its back. Some horses, such as right-brain horses, have more of a tendency to bolt than say a left-brained horse, who is more inclined to buck or simply refuse to move. This is therefore something to take into consideration when considering a horse to purchase. Some left-brain horses will bolt to get their way, however this is rare. The solution to this type of horse is the same as with any other horse - develop a partnership where your horse does not want to bolt from/with you.

A relaxed, calm horse that is confident in the leadership of her rider is not going to bolt. So the key to stopping a bolting horse is to stop the bolt before it happens. Start on the ground with establishing a strong partnership with your horse, then take that partnership up into the saddle. Teach your horse to be relaxed and to think through situations, and earn her trust in your leadership. The Parelli 7 games are what I have found to be the best tool to earning a horse's partnership and trust in my leadership. I start out on the ground, then in the saddle in a hackamore and we progress to liberty work. If you can ride your horse at liberty, you can certainly ride him in a simple rope hackamore or in a bit! Also, by doing some groundwork before you get on each ride, you can see what side of the pasture your horse woke up on. Maybe she's having a bad day and it's best to simply increase your level of groundwork with her today, or maybe she's having a fabulous day and it's time for that first ride out on the trails!

Prior and proper preparation is key - I have since to have a horse of my own, or one whom I've started or worked with, bolt on me when I put in the prior and proper preparation.

No comments: