But sometimes, he decides he wants to run and it's not always in a place where I can allow it.
As soon as we left our usual trail to go on this new one, he started to trot, then canter.
So as he took off, I did the usual fruitless attempts to stop him.
Ok, so lots of things to clarify here. He doesn't decide what gait we go on a trail. He decides to take off on me, and I pull him back in. In other words, I correct it. Twice, I was unable to correct it immediately, and this last time I used a barrier to stop him. Granted, maybe not the best barrier, but I didn't think he'd actually hit it - I figured he'd stop. But to be clear, at NO POINT do I just let him go whatever speed he wishes. I do let him walk fast as opposed to walking slow, but as long as he walks, I'm ok with that.
Okay, good clarification but still: Regarding the most recent incident, in my mind, he should have never gotten to the canter at all. You said he started to trot FIRST and then canter. What did you do when he started to trot? Were you asking him to slow down and he just ignored you anyway? Or did you wait to do anything until he was cantering?
Or..... did you feel him *think* about start to trot? Really, that's
where it should begin by recognizing that he's about to go faster. You don't describe that he is suddenly bolting (which is different) but that he slowly increases his speed. You should immediately be giving him that half-halt slow-down cue before he really gets going much at the trot. If at this point in a time, a "bigger bit" is going to accomplish that for you so that he can't ignore you, so be it. If you prefer a snaffle you can move back down to that later on.
I get that you are taking a relaxing ride on the trail, but with an issue such as this, it really is important to pay attention at all times. Because no one wants to be cloth-lined off their horse by a tree!!!
You are absolutely right that he needs to respond to leg cues better. He's really hard to steer. Getting better, but still, if riding Harley is like driving a Ferrarri, riding Rusty is more like a 4 x 4 without power steering. Yes, I know training can improve that, but he's just a far less sensitive horse. So while I don't nag him endlessly, when I ask for something and he doesn't cooperate, I am not afraid to lose my cool and go bananas on him
Shotgun is also a "less sensitive horse" (AKA lazy!!!!) but with training, you can easily make that type of horse into a sensitive horse too. Just remember to NEVER nag him. Give him one chance
to be asked nicely, and if you do not get a prompt response to your request, use the crop. (if it applies for what you were asking for) Every single time. (And of course, never "end" with the crop being your cue. Always re-ask and give him a chance again to respond to the aid properly.)
If you are totally consistent with this, you can now make him into a responsive horse that listens the first time every time.
I get it - I'm totally guilty of being too nice to Shotgun most of the time. But when I get my bananas on a branch, he's really a nice and light responsive horse and he can be that way no problem.