Sunday, May 24, 2009

Riding a Runaway Horse

Hi Rick,
I have a fourteen year old gelding that i purchased a few months back. He is very well behaved but i have a problem, when we go out riding he listens well but on the way back home he takes over and starts galloping and i can't stop him; i have no control what so ever. Can you please give me some advice on what i could do to fix this problem?

Hi JH,
Many horses are obedient when they don't have strong feelings about what you're doing. But heading home is another matter. Home is a place of comfort and safety and most horses feel a strong desire to get there as quickly as possible. A good rider can keep this under control and might actually enjoy the extra life in the horse, the extra spring in his step, the extra willingness to move out. For the less experienced rider, this can easily turn into a terrifying and life-threatening experience. We need to get this under control immediately.

I will give you two suggestions, one that will help you regain control when this happens and one that will make it less likely to happen in the first place.

The instant your horse starts going faster than you want, do not pull on both reins. Pull on one rein only to bend the horse’s head as far to one side as you can. Try to bring his nose to the toe of your boot. This will cause the horse to go around in a circle and finally come to a stop. This is called a one-rein stop. Keep the horse’s nose on your boot until he stops moving his feet and relaxes completely. Then release the rein and praise the horse. Keep yourself as relaxed as possible through all of this. After giving him a minute or so, begin pulling his head first to one side, then the other, again trying to touch his nose to your boot. Hold each time until the horse “gives” or creates a little slack in the rein. This exercise is called lateral flexion. By doing these things you prove to the horse that you can control his movement and his straightness, and are thus worthy of his respect. Doing these things without hurting him or getting angry helps earn his trust.

When your horse is relaxed and quiet, you can resume your ride. He may do the same thing again. If so, repeat the one-rein stop and the lateral flexion. You may have to do this several times before your horse realizes that speeding up only makes more work for him.

It’s important to understand that the one-rein stop is not a foolproof emergency brake. But for most riders, it’s the best option available. It works better if you practice it ahead of time in a controlled setting, such as an arena. Ask the horse to move out and then bring him to a stop with one rein. Do this many times, at the walk, trot, and canter. Having practiced it ahead of time will make its use in an emergency much more effective.

As for preventing this from happening in the first place, I will give you a general strategy for any situation in which a horse is drawn to a particular place, whether it’s the barn, a gate, the trail back home, or other horses on a ride. The strategy is to make that place less appealing to the horse by allowing him to go there but making him work when he gets there. By work I mean trotting circles and figure eights, doing lots of rollbacks, and plenty of backing. These exercises use a horse’s energy and air supply. Some horses are just lazy and don’t like to work, but all horses become concerned when they start getting winded. When the horse is huffing and puffing, take him away from the barn (or gate or other horses) and allow him to rest. Do this a few times, increasing the distance and finally just continue with your ride at a nice, slow pace. so it is genuine relief for him to be away from the place he thought he wanted to be. If you do this a few times, he will soon lose his fixation on being elsewhere because it always means more work for him.

Another little tip: try not to feed your horse or unsaddle him immediately upon getting back to the barn. Loosen his cinch and let him stand tied for a minimum of 15 minutes. An hour is even better. When the horse knows all these good things are going to happen as soon as he gets back to the barn, it’s harder to keep his mind on you. By the way, drinking is another matter. Allow your horse to drink at every opportunity. It’s very important that he not become dehydrated.

Final thought: there is nothing wrong with your gelding. He is just being a horse. These tips will help, but as you become a better leader to your horse, these kinds of things seem to disappear on your own. Every horse is happy to be a follower if he gets the right leader. You will become a better leader as you continue on your journey.



Kiwi Connection said...

Your blog about the runaway horse reminded me of the many times I have been in that situation.Pretty scary even for an experienced rider.A horse can "bolt" for many reasons,not just to get home quickly. A sudden honest scare can cause the best horse to return to its instinctive nature,that is, to run away.The one rein stop is a great answer for the runaway, the trick is to initiate it before the horse is in a full gallop. The rider must stop the behaviour before it has time to start. Stay wake during the ride,a rider has to be watchful all the times for what the horse may see as a serious threat.Most horses who habitually bolt for home usually start their run at the same place on the trail.As soon as the horse starts to speed up and trys to ignore you, do the one rein stop and then ride in the opposite direction back down the trail. When the horse settles down, turn around and try again.It may make for a long ride that day, but the horse will figure it out and start remaining calm during the entire ride.Also try finishing the ride at different location on the trail and leading the horse the rest of the way;try trailering to another trail and returning to the trailer instead of the barn.(also a good way to practise trailering skills.) Riding with a friend who has a well behaved horse can infuence your horse.Most horses like company and not as likely to take off running on their own leaving their buddy behind. Variation can also be the answer in many cases. Riding the same trail with the same starting and ending points can result in such habitual problems as bolting for the barn.

lindseyhagen_61 said...

thanks so much i will try some of these things mentioned.

American Horse said...

My ol' Grand-dad used to say when asked if he had ever had a horse run away with him, "No, i can ride as fast as they can run." That said, remember to keep your wits and keep in the middle of the horse till you get him under control again. All this one rein stop advice is great if you are on top of it right away but once the horse has lost all thought of you back there it's a bit late.

Okay, start taking this horse to school. Every time you feel him make a decision to change speed without your permission, tell him "NO", stop him and make him back up three steps, every time. He'll get the idea soon enough that you can stop him and that the decision to walk, trot or lope is yours not his. this has to be forceful and consistent till you are back in charge.

Rick said...

Thanks to everyone for adding to this. AmericanHorse, excellent suggestion about backing. Backing is one of the "magic bullets" of riding. It helps in almost every situation. I also like the assertive "NO" you suggest. We need to use effective corrections with horses instead of picking at them. Lester Buckley put it very well this weekend at Light Hands, "one good correction is better than a thousand bad ones."
Regarding riding out a runaway horse, this only works for good riders. I've heard it said to large groups of people before and I cringe every time. So what if the speaker can ride that well? The statement is just an empty boast and is totally inappropriate for beginners. A novice rider cannot ride the horse as fast as it can run. Novices need specific exercises they can do in advance that will help them regain control and stay level-headed in this sort of situation. The one-rein stop, even with the limitations I've already acknowledged, is the best tool I know of.

GlendaleGal said...

Rick is right! Lateral flexion will soften the horses neck, so everytime you are with your horse, practice flexing him with the halter, 30 or 40 or 100 times each side. When riding your horse, if he changes gaits without your consent, then pick up one rein and flex him 10 more times! Before long, he'll realize that once he kicks it up a notch, you're gonna "shut him down" when he feels you pick up on the one rein! I've been doing the lateral flexion since last summer, and my rides have dramatically improved!

Rachel I said...

Great post, Rick. My horse, Cody, and I practice one-rein stops frequently (as you recommend) and in both directions, and I've used it on him a couple times when he's gotten fast. The fact that we'd already practiced it made it safer for us when it came time to actually use it--he knew what I was doing and responded immediately. Lateral flexion is such a great tool. The only limiting factor for me with the one-rein stop is terrain. If we're on a very narrow trail or wet grass, the stop becomes dangerous. In those instances I use a calvary stop, which we've also practiced.
Most of the time when we get back home from the trails, Cody knows there's at least ten minutes of riding in the barnyard before we call it a day. He's definitely not in a hurry to get home anymore!

countrypunkin said...

I just wanted to let you know that I feel so much better after reading this. My sister and I are horse lovers and we have had horses all our life. The other day I was having a conversation with my sister about getting ready to take some of our horses on a trail ride. She mentioned that she had one that she wasn't going to take because he likes to run a way with her when they head back to the camp site or home. She said that she has taken different trails back and he still will run a way with her. I told her to work on a one rein stop before going out on the trail, and when he starts picking up the pace, apply the one rein stop. The last time she took him, he broke her rein and she said that she had no way of stopping or turning him at all. She was just there for the ride. I told her that if she works on the on rein stop before going out on the trail, he will know what she wants and I told her not to grain or hay him when she get back to camp. To work him a little bit after she gets back to camp. That way he won't see it as a treat or resting place anymore. Thank you for all the great information that you pass onto all of us horse lovers. And I do hope to see you on the trails.