|California 6 year old Icelandic with Professional
Training ridden in split snaffle with nose band in arena, round pen, trails
by advanced rider.
Question: This is the second time my horse has spooked in the same spot.
Now bolting is in her repertoire. What to do? She took off and I couldn't
get her attention back.
From Panelist Lee
A run away is a scary thing. I hope you were wearing a helmet? As for the horse's behavior, it sounds like a combination of factors -- horse having lots of extra energy, horse not being able to bend, maybe not heavy enough tack! (thicker reins might be a good idea) Yes, some more arena work will help, but so will teaching her to give her neck and pay attention when she is thinking of running off.
What I would do: If she is really stiff in the neck, practice
from the ground, with her standing still, bending her neck (both
directions) so that her nose touches the girth area or near to it,
using light pulls/slacks on the rein or lead rope to bend her neck.. When
she can bend on the ground, put her in a full cheek snaffle, with good
stout reins, get on, and at a
Now, after some work riding in an arena first, to get the "edge" off, go on back to the place where she spooked. If she does it again, before she gets up a full head of steam running off, double her and ask her to stand quietly. If she continues to dance or shy or try to take off, double again, give her a chance to stand on a slack rein, and if she continues to act up, continue doubling, stopping, doubling, stopping, until she wises up. Do not circle her in small circles or try to spin her around. Do just one quick 180 degree turn and then slack ... Offer her the chance to stand still and if she takes it, reward her by talking softly and using no rein pressure on her to "hold" her still. Then go on by the spooky area.
Good luck, this may take some time, but if you can teach the "double" you will have a safer ride in the future.
From Panelist Jonathan
Sounds like you did all that could be done and more . I'm afraid what you also did is teach your horse that it can overpower you . Not a good thing ! Other than getting a weak horse ;) or you working out to improve your strength ;) , there is only one solution I can offer . BTW , This is the main reason I refuse to ride elephants ;) .
On a more serious note . First , throw that snaffle and all your split bits into the corner of the tack shed . Get yourself a "quick stop" or a "mechanical Hackamore" one or the other with a soft , wide leather nose band . Next , work your way back to the trail via round pen first , then arena . Be thankful you have access to both on this problem . Your statement of attempting the turn is one solution , proper stop is another . I prefer your choice of turning and will tell you how I teach it , but getting a good stop in the future should be on your list of things to do . Just remember good stops can lead to other little tricks like rearing up . Another not good thing ;) which is why I prefer the turn . As far as I'm concerned they can run as fast as they wish in a circle ;) .
Now starting in the round pen , work on the walk . Walk and walk and walk her until she is tired . Break it up with stopping backing up and close / tight circles . Neck rein or split rein makes on difference .
Now for the important cue sequences . Picture you are on and about to
ask for a turn . Slightly tilt you head and shoulder while applying easy
leg/spur/heel/rein pressure to the inside of the turn . Do this until you
are able to achieve the turn without question on her part . Work both left
and right but not on the same day . Then continue until you can
Basically , lets face it , you know she is stronger . I find the only answer in this situation is to work the animals brain to the point that she will answer a cue so automatically that the danger is over before she realizes and just has a quizzical stance to her posture ;) LoL's . You can't beat her physical strength so out-smarting her is your only option .
Above all else make it fun . I mean really make it fun . Set a adjustable time limit to accomplishing your goal and don't rush . Taking a month to start with , it's not a lot of time. Enjoy !
From Panelist Lukka
Use less leg, and give and take with the reins.
If that doesn't work:
Reasons for bolting:
A very common reason, maybe the most common reason, is that the rider
is using too much leg. Riding fast in a big group. The horse is frightened,
seeing a still object, or the horse is scared of a movement of a hand or
a raincoat, or anything else moving. Pain in the back of the horse, in
the mouth of the horse, or elsewhere. The horse is stubborn, trying to
get's it's way. It is for example rather common, when lazy horses
are being asked to do fast work, that they run 2-3 seconds out of the road.
Mental problems, neurotic horses.
Are you using too much leg?:
Another response from a nervous rider is (at the same time as a lot of leg is used) to take the reins with a lot of force, and holding the reins. The horse is still pressed forward with the legs, so it braces itself against the bit and goes faster (as it thinks it's supposed to do). So, what the rider has to do, is to give the rein, take it, give it again, take it again, and so on untill the horse stops.
If you are riding with other riders, and you see a scared rider on a horse that's going too fast, call and remind the rider: "Give and take" and "No leg". When you're scared, so often your mind goes into a freeze, and you don't remember that this is what you were going to do, and then it can help tremendously to have a friend helping.
If the horse is bolting because his sides are sensitive, get him used to it. Ride him in the pen, and squeeze the sides, first a little, later more, untill you can squeeze the sides as you like and he doesn't react.
Re-training the stop:
First help for horsemen with bolting horses: The rider must sense if
the horse wants to bolt. Then he still has some oppurtunity to stop it.
When sensing this, the rider turns the horse to the side and up to a wall,
fence, or ditch, and speaks softly to him. Sometimes it can be enough simply
to turn the horse to the side of the road or other such "imaginary" barrier,
because then the horse starts to think, and might also be able to see a
Bevare of bending the horse to a wall, when he's bolting at full speed, the horse could turn and you end on the wall, very dangerous. This is the best way if you can hang on, but if you can't, it's very dangerous.
You have to teach the horse to stop. He must know what stopping means, under all conditions, and have a SOFT mouth. Teaching a horse that is stiff in the mouth and does not listen to soft "whooa" (stop) or another word, takes time. At least you can count on work for 1 month, if you ride the horse 5 times per week.
You teach him walking by his side, teaching him to listen to the bit. You teach him in longeing with two reins. You teach him inside a small, secure wooden fence.
Here I am speaking about very difficult bolting horses, so often, with less dire problems, you can start by riding in a pen. The more inexperienced rider, and the less "tools" (pen, longeing reins etc.), the more often you have to do these exerzises. You have to stop the horse so many times you can't count the number of them, because a new reflex can only be learned by repetition, besides letting the horse forget the bad habit.
In spite of good preparings, the horse could possibly run when you go
Do not go into open area until the horse is settled, walks with long
reins without hurrying, and you can stop him anytime you want. Also, try
to avoid everything that upsets the horse and gives him a reason to run,
especially other riders. Also the horse should be a bit tired (work first
in longeing or riding for 10-15 minutes inside a fence). You have to have
lots of time, and energy, to mend a bolting horse. The best solutions do
not work if you do not
The horse must also learn to divide his energy down to longer distances.
If you ride him for 10 miles in 2 hours, he'll learn that he does not gain
anything by bolting, there is still a long way ahead.
The frightened horse:
If the horse sees something scary, it can get frightened. Some seem to have nerves of steel and spook once a year at most. Others can't get through a whole ride without spooking.
Many icelandics, when they see something scary, stop and stare.
If the horse gets a whip in it's behind then, it has no option but
to run past or away from the scary object. Try to notice the signs
of this behaviour and learn to recognise it. Then if the horse stops,
allow it to watch the scary object for maybe 10 seconds, before asking
it to walk past. If you see something ahead that might be scary,
slow the horse to a walk and let it walk past.
If there are sertain objects that often scare the horse, take some time
to introduce it to them. If the horse is scared of you wearing a raincoat,
lead the horse and put the
If you know clicker training, it is a wonderful method to use to help the frightened horse.
If you are out on the trail, and the horse sees something really terrifying, and you manage to stop him, but the totally terrifying thing is still there, get off the horse, immediately. Do not wait to see if you have to, or can, stop him again.
The stubborn horse:
Some horses, we have to face it, are simply stubborn. They feel that they don't have to obey the man if they bolt. When a stubborn horse bolts and there is no way to stop him it breaks one of the most important rule: The horse must think that the man has endless power and is always stronger than the man (unfortunately horses often learn to see through this "acting" of ours). Both when a horse bolts, and when a horse refuses completely to move, the horse sees how helpless the man is, however experienced.
Teach the horse the stop... always, untill it obeys. Teach it
to stop in the pen. Teach it to back in the ben. If the horse
hurries, let it stop and back, as a reprimand, and to get it to think.
Let it stop from the walk, from the trot and tolt, and from the canter.
Let it stop
Teach the horse to bend in the poll, so it doesn't brace itself against the rein. Take care to have a soft hand, so as not to encourage the horse to brace itself.
Then, start riding it outside the pen, first at walk, and consentrate on the stop. Teach the horse to stop and stand with relaxed reins, count to 30 or 100, and let the horse stand still.
If the horse has been stiff in the mouth for a long time, the clues may have to be harch sometimes, but short. You pull the rein, for 1 seconds, the give the horse the rein again. Repeat again and again if the horse does not listen. Long pulling at the rein do things worse, even though the horse maybe listens in the end.
Old advice, like letting the horse run for miles untill it stops, or letting the horse run in big sircles untill it stops, requires in my opinion space similar to the Sahara desert, and are hardly practical in most places.
The horse that can't be in a group: If you have a good horse for ponying (leading) the horse on, pony the horse very often. If you go for a long way that way (in tölt or trot), the horse learns that there is nothing to be afraid of in riding with another horse. Then, get a helper to ride on a horse with you. If the horse gets very exited, ride on a track or in a pen with the other horse. Gradually introduce the horse to more horses an to being on the road with a horse/horses.
The horse that is in pain: You can't expect a horse to be sensible if it is in pain. At best, it becomes grumpy and disobedient, at worst it becomes a blind runaway.
Be sure that the horse has floated teeth and a bit that prevents him from putting the tongue over the bit, if that could be the problem-starter. Have a vet or someone knowledgeable check whether the back hurts, or the withers. If the pain can't be solved, don't ride the horse.
When horses bolt, there are some that run and keep their senses, while others totally loose it, run blindly. Those blind runaways are, thank goodness, extremely rare in the icelandic breed, but they are a lot more dangerous. The first type of horse will stop if there is a fence in front of it, the other not. Blind runaways should not be ridden, the reason is usually a pain somewhere (or in rare cases a mental problem), the horse is running away from the pain, but it can't get away, so it looses it and runs and runs.
The best tools are training. Tie-downs, icelandic bit, tteam bit, all this can be tried, but a horse that isn't changed mentally usually braces itself against artificial helpers sooner or later. But if the problem isn't big, these can be enough, and are worth a try, but I advice against them.
A harsh bit only helps for a short while. For example rubber bit, that seems soft, is hard on bolting horses, because the mouth is often dry, so the bit is as wiping-rubber and hurts. The icelandic bit can end up in a horse that is more hard-mouthed than ever.
Everything good takes time. More about the shortening of one rein: With many horses and riders, it's enough to say as in the first sentence in this webpage: Shorten one of the reins a lot when the horse runs, so the head of the horse is bent to the side, give and take. For others it doesn't work. So, here is a more accurate version of how to use this one rein, if simply shortening the rein a lot doesn't work: It is best if you've found which of his side is stronger. When you ride him normally, which side is he more willing to turn to? And which side does he brace more against.
Okay, let's say you're out on the road and your horse takes off with
you. Most horses will then pull harder against one rein than
the other. It is the most common reaction and also the easiest
to deal with. So assume that that is what he is doing, first. If
you aren't sure which rein he is pulling against experiment first
on one side, then the other. What you are going to do is pull steadily
against the rein that feels soft, while releasing and pulling the rein
that feels hard. (reread that a couple of times to make sure you understand
What if your horse has no obvious weaker side, as you pull on them he sticks his head out and pulls against you equally against both reins? Then use the same technique as you did first, but just swap hands every few strides to keep him from setting up too much on your steady hand.
The emergency stop. What I've written here on this page has always
been enough, and given me the best results. There is though one method
that has become more and more popular in USA lately, and even though I
have been able to stop problem horses with the
Now you've got the horse listening to your hand at a stop. Do the same thing again while you ask him to move his feet, another hundred times each side at least. You might have been working for an hour now. If you can't do it in one session, do it in several sessions. As you ask him to move his feet it will be harder for him to listen to your rein. Don't alternate right and left, do 25 right and then 25 left.
Now, you are going to want his hind feet to take a big step to one side. If you work on the left him first, you walk the horse forward, and turn around in the saddle until you can see the left hip. Then bend his neck around to the left. You're probably going to have to exaggerate your body position and his body position for the first time or two, and give him big release when he is actually in the process of stepping over. Do this another hundred times, now you are disengaging the hind quarters.
Now he's stopping really nicely as soon as he feels your body shift. Now you want him to take a big step to the side and then back up, all by just pressure from the one rein. Get the step over, releasing the rein as he steps, put pressure back in the rein, straighten out your body (stop looking at his hip) and think back. If you get stuck here, ask for it from the ground a few times or get somebody to help you from the ground to get the first step back.
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