Coping with a bolter

  • One minute you’re jogging along with your horse, admiring the scenery, and the next, with a buck and a squeal, you are being tanked off with.

    Sadly, a horse that has put his head down, galloped off, and got away with it more than once will remember the moment when he gained the upper hand. The trick, according to international dressage rider, trainer and producer, Jennie Loriston-Clarke, is to avoid the problem by being one step ahead.

    Jennie says: “When a horse runs away or the rider loses control, it can be through freshness or because something has frightened the horse. Such situations can normally be averted by applying common sense and going back to basics in the school.”

    She adds that many riders fail to tune into their horse’s temperament or judge the circumstances of the day.

    “It is a question of seeing any dangers and being sufficiently quick-witted to deal with them. Allowing horses to canter alongside each other can cause some horses to become competitive and gallop off. Getting a horse into the habit of cantering the minute he puts his feet on grass is also a common cause of problems.”

    Poor riding can also cause a horse to run away. “Riders with an insecure seat and unsympathetic hands can cause horses to run away from the discomfort. Stirrups which are short enough for the rider to adopt a jumping style seat with the hands low against the horse’s neck and knees closed against his sides will help avoid discomfort for the horse.”

    Bolting tactics

    • If a horse is being consistently strong, go back to basics in the school to ensure that he is respecting and listening to your aids.
    • Working a fresh horse in the school before hacking out will make him less likely to spook and play about.
    • Hack out in company if you think it will encourage your horse to settle.
    • Hack out alone if your horse gets over competitive when cantered in company.
    • Vary your horse’s work on grass, so that he knows it’s not only a signal to canter.
    • Decide carefully where and when you are going to canter or gallop.

    Taking action

    When you are going flat out and battling for control, staying calm is difficult but vital if you are to regain control. If the horse is running away with its head in the air, then the bit won’t be acting on the correct places in the mouth.

    “The rider needs to get the horse to drop his head into a position where the bit has the correct action,” says Jennie. “Shorten the reins if they are too long and bridge them low against the horse’s neck to help bring him back to a controllable pace.

    “Turning a horse that is going too fast is also a good way of slowing up but should be used carefully so he doesn’t lose his footing. A running martingale may also help prevent the horse from raising its head too high.”

    Horses which put their heads down and take off are often more difficult to control than those who raise their heads above the bit.

    “This is often the case with ex-racehorses,” says Jennie. “This can be the most frightening situation when you are on a big striding, strong horse. A gag snaffle or cherry roller gag can help teach these horses to gallop in a more controlled way.”

    When a horse has taken flight through fear, Jennie stresses that it is vital to establish control without being rough. “When it is caused by fear, whatever you do, don’t tell the horse off. He will associate whatever is frightening him with your anger.

    “When a horse has been naughty and is running off for fun, once you have stopped him, you should turn him round in a small circle two or three times to give him the clear message ‘if you are going to mess about, this is the consequence’,” says Jennie.

    If you have been “run away with” Jennie recommends riding out with a sensible companion and, if the rider has started to lose their nerve, she suggests a stronger more confident rider hacks the horse out next time to avoid bad habits from becoming established.

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