Running out of control is a serious problem in a horse. Here, I’ll stress three key concepts. 1.) How to prevent a horse from learning to bolt. 2.) How to deter a horse that’s thinking of running off. 3.) How to stop a runaway horse in an emergency…in the event 1 and 2 haven’t done the trick.
With this information, you can inoculate yourself against one of riding’s scariest events: the runaway.
1.) Prevention. This topic is addressed in depth in a feature by John Lyons and daughter Brandi Lyons in the May 2018 issue of Horse&Rider (on newsstands now). John explains how letting your horse get away with small disobediences—such as walking off when you’re trying to mount—can lead to a mindset that lets him think someday about running off.
Then Brandi details a step-by-step method to “bake in” the solid stopping response you want in your horse. This training begins in a quiet environment conducive to learning, then adds distractions and challenges so your horse learns that your stopping cue must be heeded no matter what.
Followed religiously, this approach makes your horse into a willing partner that’s always under your control, regardless of what’s going on around him.
2.) Deterrence. If unexpected influences are overwhelming your horse’s training and you fear he is about to take off with you (or rear or buck, for that matter), a one-rein stop is your best friend. Pulling back on both reins just makes an excited horse hotter. The solution is to draw his head around as you disengage his “motor” (that is, you “disable” his hind legs by stepping them to the side).
The one-rein stop should be part of your regular training, so that your horse learns it so well he can respond automatically in a tight spot.
Please note that the one-rein stop is not the maneuver to use if your horse is already at a full gallop, as it can pull him off balance. In a genuine runaway situation (which 1 and 2 are designed to help you avoid!), what you need instead is…
3.) Emergency action. If your galloping horse is ignoring your cues, the emergency pulley-rein stop can safely bring him to a halt. To execute it, shorten both reins, then brace one hand on your horse’s neck, holding the rein tightly and grabbing mane. Then raise the other rein up and back, pulling toward your shoulder (not your hip). The braced rein keeps your horse from bending his neck, while the pulley rein exerts leveraged pressure in a way guaranteed to get his attention.
Watch the pulley rein in action to understand how it works. Then use it only in an emergency, as it exerts severe pressure on sensitive parts of your horse’s mouth. Ideally, if you’ve followed concepts 1 and 2, you’ll never have need for it.
A final caveat: If your horse already has a confirmed running-away habit, seek professional help. An expert can diagnose what’s at the root of your horse’s behavior, find a way to train him away from it, and teach you how to keep him from relapsing.
It’s all about finding the right solution for the problem at hand.
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