|Oregon 5 year old Missouri Fox Trotter, with
90 days professional training, ridden in Myler Kimberwicke and Desto custom
enduranace saddle by intermediate rider
Question: This horse is very quiet personable horse most of the
time. However he can all of a sudden leap in the air and kick out
or try and bolt. No warning just does this. Does this out on
the trail. He stops when I pull on the reins or say whoa firmly.
He then resumes walking quietly down the trail. There never
seems to be any reason for this behavior. It does not seem to matter
whether he is first or following another horse. He is kept in a 80
X60 foot pen with a run in stall. He is fed 20 lbs grass hay
and 2oz. wheat bran with his supplements added to that. He also gets
2 or 3 carrots daily. Lounging first before riding does not
seem to make any difference. I thought this behavior would cease
with wet saddle blankets but it seems to be on going. He does not
do this in the arena. He has had chiropractic and dental work and
has a custom saddle made for him.
From Panelist Laura
Wow, this is a tough one. Sounds like you have already hit all
the bases on
Are there insects bothering him when this happens? Some horses
are very sensitive to fly bites. If so, use a stronger insecticide
on him before riding. If not, this may be what I call a "brain
fart." You are using the right correction for this and you
may have to just continue being ready for his occasional outburst and just
keep letting him know it is not appreciated. Eventually, he may figure
out that this behaviour doesn't get him anything
From Panelist Lukka
"It's not what's in the horse's mouth so much as it is what is happening at the other end of the reins!"
As I'm not a trainer of other breeds than Icelandics, and there's only
one breed of horses in Iceland, I'm going to answer this as you were on
an Icelandic. But much of it applies to horses of all breeds.
See if some of this applies to your horse:
Rule number one if your horse is going faster than you want him to go: Use less leg, and give and take with the reins (if you just hold the reins, the horse can brace against them, instead of stopping).
If that doesn't work:
Reasons for bolting:
A very common reason, maybe the most common reason, is that the rider
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 again for the first time on his back. So, the first time, the rider tries to stop everything that could upset the horse, such as horses running by, unstable seat (because of too long stirrups), using legs or unconfidence in mounting the horse. Besides at first you have to ride in an area where the horse can run without hurting himself or others. Then the pen is the best choice.
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 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 now, not take 10 seconds from when you
ask untill it stops. If the horse obeys well, allow it to walk relaxed
for a few seconds as a reward, if clicker training works that is good,
but stubborn horses do often not fall for bribes.
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:
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
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.
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.