Bolting horse - The Horse Forum
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post #1 of 9 Old 01-02-2020, 12:27 PM Thread Starter
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Bolting horse

I've had a horse for a little over 2 years which has a problem with occasionally bolting. He is 8 yrs old and being used for dressage. He is a high energy guy and the bolting tends to happen mostly in times when I have not been able to work him consistently. His most recent bolt came after he had to be stall rested for a few days. Yesterday, as I was leading him between barns, he saw a tractor moving around the farm and in a split second, he took off and I was completely unable to hang onto him. If I had hung on, I would have been dragged. He had a chain over his nose but was oblivious to that. Over the past 2 years, he has gone into training a couple of times...once for 4 months, another time for 6 weeks. Both trainers experienced his bolting episodes, both under saddle and on the ground. He has had extensive ground work, and 90-95% of the time he is a nice, willing, sweet horse. During ground work in the arena, we have no trouble with him. He is perfectly amenable to moving his feet wherever you want, lowering his head, etc. He can be good outside of the arena, but most of his bolting episodes do happen out of the arena. Because of this, I feel that I cannot trail ride him, altho I'd like to. I was very interested in Cherie's thread about training a trail horse to go where you point them. She said they must be trained to be obedient no matter what. My question is, how exactly do you train that obedience? What are the exact steps? How do I make it more difficult for him to bolt than to behave? I have alot of experience with horses--50 some years--but have not run into one that is so explosive that I cannot hold onto him...nor could his trainers! I've seen lip chains used on racehorses--really hate that option, but is that what I am left with? He mostly focuses on me during work--in fact, someone just the other day was commenting about how tuned in to me he was and always turning his ear to me and listening. She was very impressed. And he is like that most of the time, until something sets him off and then I don't exist. Also, these episodes are very infrequent...usually months apart. Any thoughts about what I might do to remove this from his bag of tricks?
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post #2 of 9 Old 01-02-2020, 01:06 PM
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Quote:
She said they must be trained to be obedient no matter what.
There is a huge amount of discussion over this statement. HUGE. I am in the camp of riders saying, "Um, no, not really." To get a feel for this discussion, I recommend @gottatrot 's journal and @bsms 's journal. If you want to read about a horse that is NEVER going to be 'obedient no matter what', you can read my journal which my horse Isabeau wrote. It is called "Isabeau, the Psychomare Diva Queen". There are a lot of thoughtful replies about this exact issue on many of the posts in this forum.
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post #3 of 9 Old 01-02-2020, 01:19 PM
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Originally Posted by knightrider View Post
There is a huge amount of discussion over this statement. HUGE. I am in the camp of riders saying, "Um, no, not really." To get a feel for this discussion, I recommend @gottatrot 's journal and @bsms 's journal. If you want to read about a horse that is NEVER going to be 'obedient no matter what', you can read my journal which my horse Isabeau wrote. It is called "Isabeau, the Psychomare Diva Queen". There are a lot of thoughtful replies about this exact issue on many of the posts in this forum.

Ah, another topic of discussion while riding yesterday. I feel sorry for people who believe that about horses. And I feel sorry for their horses. If I wanted a mindless machine, with no mind or opinion, or emotions of its own, I'd be riding a four wheeler.

I think it was here I saw someone advise someone new seeking help to focus on being a partner, not so much effort into being a leader. Yes, being a leader is also important but of equal importance is being a partner, someone your horse WANTS to be with. Being a partner means accepting they're going to have their moments of feeling a little 'extra'... or a lot extra, and knowing how to handle it without breaking their soul. I firmly believe Trigger was done this way in the past... and seeing the lights come back on in his eyes, seeing the soul in there, not just blind fear and distrust, was one of the most rewarding things I've ever experienced.

"We are here to laugh at the odds and live our lives so well that death will tremble to take us."
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post #4 of 9 Old 01-02-2020, 01:27 PM
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Oh, and OP. My best trail horse was a hot mess, reactive, and a bolter and a runner off-er at one time. I was told 1000 ways to 'break' him of that, and every bit of it made him worse and it was making him dangerous. Most of that advice had the same underlying thread: they must be trained to be obedient no matter what.

Well. I call that baloney.

Trigger's old rotting halter that he had to wear for 18 months because we couldn't catch him to get it off, now hangs on the pen to remind me there's a better way. It will hang there till it rots off, and then I'll find another way to hang it up. We.. usually.... make our trail decisions together, though sometimes we have a difference of opinion. I'd much rather listen to his opinion than overrule it and demand absolute mindless obedience.

PS: I've found that in the past, when I DID overrule his opinion and demanded he go somewhere he didn't want to go - I should have listened to him and it upset him terribly that I didn't.... and I had to apologize, profusely to him. He is STILL a hot, reactive mess... but he doesn't run off with me, and he doesn't bolt... because we trust one another enough to discuss our course of action. I couldn't have asked for a more sure footed trail horse - he takes care of me because he takes care of himself and he's not shy about telling me a certain thing could get him hurt and possibly me too.

"We are here to laugh at the odds and live our lives so well that death will tremble to take us."
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post #5 of 9 Old 01-02-2020, 02:00 PM
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If you are leading a horse and the horse explodes to the north, do NOT pull to the south. Instead, throw all your weight to the east or west and spin the horse around.

In saddle, it can take a long time to teach some horses not to bolt. And the horse may always be reactive with a violent startle reaction. You cannot teach a horse not to startle. You can only learn to stay on during the startle reaction and hope it eventually becomes less violent.

Looking back on my 7 years with Mia, she needed wide open spaces to be ridden safely. I didn't have any. If I had a hundred acres of Sonoran Desert where she could have learned better reactions on her own, maybe. But I didn't. Sending her to live and ride on the Navajo Nation versus here was the kindest thing I did for her. The horse I traded her for had his own issues when he moved south and found himself surrounded by brush and cactus. The difference is that he is emotionally much calmer & saner than Mia. He has largely learned to behave safely in the desert - but we had some pretty wild times while he learned.

Neither Mia nor Bandit would ever become totally obedient. I wasted a lot of time and probably harmed Mia by trying, for years, to make her obedient. What helped was learning it was OK to search for "mutually acceptable compromises". That helped her learn to control herself. She became calmer and saner, but her startle reaction was a 180-720 degree violent spin...which was really tough.

Bandit needed to learn how to compromise with a human because he also won't give anyone total control. Trail rides are a continuous negotiation. He will never, ever, be "point & go". But if he agrees that going from A to B is the right decision, he is a very brave horse between A & B.

People say a horse is "just a trail horse". I don't think every horse is capable of being "just a trail horse". Some just don't have the potential. And many good trail horses will not be totally obedient. Most trail riders I've met consider totally obedient dangerous. The truth is that sometimes Bandit is a better judge of what can or cannot be done than I am, and I need him to tell me no - or we'll get in big trouble.

Mia now out with her babies...notice how far she can see:


Bandit being Bandit...sane, but very aware and very involved:




As @gottatrot has put it, "To other people, once I accept horse, they see excuses. They don't realize how much time and energy I spent trying to make horse not horse before finally giving in to the idea that horse is horse."

Riders ask "How?" Horsemen ask "Why?"
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post #6 of 9 Old 01-02-2020, 02:08 PM
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I'm sorry to say, there may not be an answer to this except time. They do tend to mellow over time, and with regular work by one person (their rider). It also, IME, seems to help if their rider is also the one who feeds them and grooms them, i.e. gives their daily care.

I have seen some extremely reactive horses in the upper levels of Dressage. My instructor, for instance, had a stallion that Karl Mikolka said (in a clinic) he would not get on. Gelding him changed his attitude a bit from a 10/10 hot to maybe a 9.5/10


As he aged, he got down to maybe a 8.5/10 but still way more than most can handle, especially warmblood size.

One key element, IME, is to keep the horse moving, in other words, do not expect the horse to remain still when spooked. Lead him with a lunge line, so you can let it out but still find him again.

There is a reason most hot young racehorses are led out by two strong grooms to keep some sort of control.
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post #7 of 9 Old 01-02-2020, 03:27 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by bsms View Post
Most trail riders I've met consider totally obedient dangerous. The truth is that sometimes Bandit is a better judge of what can or cannot be done than I am, and I need him to tell me no - or we'll get in big trouble.

I absolutely ADORE Oops, our 4 year old filly, but she gets herself in trouble by having ZERO sense of self preservation, and because she's too smart and too curious for her own good. She also has a hard time telling humans no, not because she's a compliant sort, but because she trusts humans absolutely and because she wants to adventure with humans. I worry that when my granbaby is old enough to ride with us, Oops won't tell her no and Oops is her horse. That means we'll have to be extra vigilant in teaching her (Gbaby) to not ask a horse to go in places horses shouldn't be asked to go... because Oops won't say no.

"We are here to laugh at the odds and live our lives so well that death will tremble to take us."
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post #8 of 9 Old 01-02-2020, 05:05 PM
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Honestly horses weigh over a thousand pounds or 400-500kg, they are MUCH stronger than us. It is an illusion if we think we can over power a horse, especially one that knows how to get away. Im not sure that you can ever really train it out, I think you can make it better but I think it's always in there. So I dont know that it is possible to make it go completely away. They're still a prey animal and rely on instinct and impulse.

I also avoid trainers who say a horse is trained to be obedient no matter what. Absolute arrogance and total non sense. A horse is not a machine where you insert the right code and get the right output. This is not math where the right algorithm gets the right result. A horse is not a machine, there are many-many right ways of working with horses and many wrong ways but the point is the system needs to fit the horse. I find a lot of dressage trainers have "systems" and the horse either fits in their system or doesnt and often times, if a horse doesn't fit their system they pass it on and aren't willing to think outside the box or amend their system/riding to fit the horse they're working with. The system of training changes horse to horse, it isnt the same formula for every one. When I hear people make claims like that, I'm like you clearly havent worked with a large enough data set to know what youre talking about. For every person who thinks they know it all and have it all figured out, there comes a horse to show you why that isnt true.

The horse I own is a bit like what you describe but more extreme. 17h 600kg, very strong, very willful, very hot, very clever. Bit unpredictable but a good soul and very sweet. I think sometimes you have to accept the horse you're working with and accept what you can change and what you can't. I have not had a rider on him, even a friend of mine who was a GP show jumper that has not been ran off with by him. I had a while where I got ran off with probably 10 times a ride, now it still happens but rarely. I've had people tell me I'm sick in the head for owning a horse like him and people always think they know how to do it better until they actually work with him. Even very experienced, big male handlers, if he wants loose he's gone. He can drag almost anyone at the walk, non chalant, easy walk. Only horse I know who does that, you stand your ground and he uses his neck and is like well Im going this way, you can come or not I've learned I have to have a sense of humor about it and just not put him in a position where he can do that. His nature is to push into pressure which is tricky. If I take him for walks in hand, always in a lip chain. I have tried over the nose and he just pulls loose. It is possible that you walk him in a lip chain for a while, maybe he'll stop thinking to run away? But not a guarantee.

He was a bad bolter outdoors, he stills bolts on occasion indoors but much much less. I usually think of a Buddhist temple and singing bowls when I ride him because he can go from a nice relaxed walk to extended canter in a heartbeat. I was the type who could usually take the spooky, nervous, "dangerous" horse and not have any problems hacking or out in the fields but that one was scary. Not sure how I fixed that but I waited until it was really hot and he was exhausted and just started taking him out to cool out and made it as relaxing as possible to re-train associating the field with relaxation. I also took him for walks in a lip chain and tried to encourage grass eating and relaxation. He still bolts, sometimes he jigs and can be a handful but Im not scared to take him hacking anymore. I'll take him out on the road for walks when the fields are too wet. However I almost never go above a trot and NEVER EVER gallop him in the fields or he quickly goes back to just over powering me, taking over and bolting. I can never ever let him be in control, I always have to keep him to my seat and not over power, no matter what even in the arena. I cannot let him push his shoulders out because the moment he takes his shoulders, he takes control and goes. I always have to keep him to me or he's gone. He is always a breath away from a bolt in the canter. I think it'll become easier to ride but never really go away and that your horse is more sporadic about it. I actually think it's a harder equation to solve. With mine, I just look at it as brick by brick, day to day, hope, have a sense of humor about it and accept it as is day by day and it has gotten much better.

I also have a list of priorities with him that are hard to explain but basically I prioritize safety and keeping him with my seat at all times, so there are things I'll do with him that I wouldnt do with another. I think with some questions there is only the daily work and going at it day by day. I think with a lot of things, there isnt necessarily a quick fix or a solution but a long term plan and a maybe.

I worked for a driving trainer for a while and the ground training, in hand and breaking on those horses is pretty extensive. We had a PRE that I rode dressage on and she drove that he was a bolter for a little bit then suddenly it stopped. He was very green at the time. Im not sure what we did that made the change but I think just day to day, brick by brick type work. But I rode him dressage through flag waving, electric light up toys, umbrellas, blue tarps and all kinds of things to get him to stop having that reaction. He was smart so he knew the difference. I remember we took him out in the snow for a walk and he bolted, I was bareback and just like well, at least he's too lazy to go far. Im not sure what clicked but he stopped doing it *shrugs* however I think his lazy nature was an asset.
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post #9 of 9 Old 01-03-2020, 10:57 AM Thread Starter
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Thanks for the responses! Much food for thought. DanteDressageNerd, glad I don't have your horse! :) I commend you for sticking with him! I certainly wouldn't expect my horse to be so obedient that it would take me into a dangerous situation, but it sure would be nice to be able to trust that a horse won't go bonkers over everyday situations like leading through areas that he goes daily, being able to handle the things that he sees every day over and over again! Interesting, DanteDressageNerd that you mention the PRE who also drove. My horse's background before me was that he was driven. He was sold to me as being safe and could be driven anywhere...through fields, on roads, etc. After working with him for over 2 years, it's hard for me to accept this as having been possible. Unless he was driven in blinkers and that made all the difference. Possible, I suppose. I guess I just need to take it day by day and see if it improves with further maturity (and maybe a lip chain!). Thanks everyone!
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