Bolting is a progressive habit. What starts out as a bit of a spook can soon get out of control. Horses bolt when you’re schooling for one reason. Because they can!
We all love our horses but there’s a line they mustn’t cross. They’re bigger and stronger than us. They can’t be allowed to believe they’re the boss. Once they do life can become frustrating and nerve wracking.
Be prepared to make a stand. Backing down isn’t an option. This is a habit which will only get worse so if you’re determined that this is the horse of your dreams and you’ve tried every other option read on!
A horse can be stopped but you have to get him before he takes hold. You have to be one step ahead. There are probably places and situations which create this problem. Think ahead and don’t be too proud to avoid them! Don’t think you have to tackle everything head on. You don’t. Not at the start. Get your confidence first.
Certain bits can help. If your horse tips his head up as he runs try a hanging cheek snaffle. If he drops a shoulder or spins to the inside first then try a snaffle with cheeks. Avoid all straight bar bits including pelhams because they give your horse the perfect thing to lean on or worse flip his tongue over. Use a flash noseband, with the top part done as tight as you can. For schooling only use a standing martingale which will stop him getting his head too high and will stop him pulling on you.
Ban yourself from cantering for the next few weeks. Even in your warm up. It won’t make any difference to your horse’s fitness but it will do an awful lot for your confidence.
Don’t treat him gently, thinking you can avoid the problem or dare to think he’s doing it because he’s frightened! He’s doing it because he’s a bully. Treat him like we should treat all bullies. Stand up to him.
Take up your reins, have a good strong contact and kick as hard as you can to put him into your hand. This gives you somewhere to channel that pent up nervousness and it will shock the life out of him!
It’s important to use your weight. Sit back and keep your head above your seat. Clamp your thighs and your knees around him. This upright position is secure and strong. You’ll feel and sit through everything he’s going to throw at you. Tip an inch too far forward and he’ll be able to nip out from underneath you.
It’s easier to be brave when you’re going slowly. Stay in walk until you’re happy to trot. It doesn’t matter if you don’t trot at all. It’s your decision.
Keep hold of your outside rein. Without it he’ll know he can drop his inside shoulder and shoot off to the inside. Keeping a firm contact means you’ll feel him before he tries to go.
He’s going to try but this time you’re going to be ready. Here’s your plan.
The minute he goes you’re going to turn him. Tight. He can only get away from you if he gets straight. To do it you’re going to have to sit back, anchor your outside rein on his withers and lift your inside rein as high as you can. Give short, sharp tugs on it to swing him round. Don’t give in. You can do it.
When he gives in relax your inside rein and return to the track. Walk on as if you haven’t a care in the world. He’ll try a couple more times, just to make sure you really can stop him, and then he’ll give in. When you trot he’ll try again. He won’t be able to help himself. You can always rely on horses to be predictable, even when they’re being unpredictable!
When you do trot keep him busy. Don’t look for a fight but be ready. Use 10m circles, three loop serpentines and turns up and down the centre line. Move from a circle to a serpentine, throw in a transition to halt and then trot again. Don’t cover more than half the school without doing something.
All the time you’re doing this your legs should be kicking. Forget about looking refined. This is war! You are up there to prove a point. You have made a decision to crack this habit and you need to kick on through it.
When you’ve established control and you’re feeling brave – after you’ve won a few times – then have a go at the canter. There’s a saying don’t run before you can walk. In your case it’s don’t canter before you can walk!
Remember that brute force will never work but for all problems there is always a solution. WE just haven’t found it yet.