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Friday, 28 January 2011

Can't Stop, Won't Stop.

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.

Try this.

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.


  1. Hi I have a 13 yr old welsh pony, 13hh and I have had her since she was 4. She has always been a handful but over the years I have got to know her so well I can predict and manage most of her 'quirks'. However, just in the last couple of months she has started to bolt with me- not out of fear but when we canter on a hack she will stick her head down, drag the reins through my hands and gallop flat out. I have tried to stop using half halts but she will just pull harder. She will stop at obstacles or when she feels like it but I have absolutely no control over her! I am a very slight build and feel literally powerless. I have just changed her from a straight bar to a french link but am reluctant to use a harsher bit as she doesn't respond well to pain and force. Do you have any advice? I would like to nip this in the bud before it becomes a real habit.
    Thanks, Alex

  2. Hi, Alex. You’re so right to nip this in the bud before it gets out of hand! I also agree with you that you don’t need to resort to stronger bits etc before you take a closer look at the problem.

    My first thought was - is there something wrong? Because you’ve had her for such a long time and this is a relatively recent problem I’d take a look at three things first. Most importantly her diet. Have you changed anything at all? Hay, feed or even grazing? It may sound trivial but a change onto richer grazing or newer hay can increase the energy levels and cause problems. If you have either reduce or change back to what you had before if you can. Give it a couple of days to get out of her system too.

    Another concern when a problem surfaces, especially in canter, is teeth. It tends to happen in canter because of the motion and the movement of the horse’s head. If there is something niggling her in her mouth it may well cause enough discomfort to make her try and avoid the bit in this way. If there is a sharp edge on one of her teeth, a wolf tooth (which lies just above where her bit will lie) that has gone unnoticed in the past or even an ulcer it can really cause no end of problems. If you haven’t had her teeth checked in the last year I’d definitely get them looked at.

    I’m assuming you changed bit after the trouble started. If you didn’t obviously I’d suggest you tried going back to the straight bar again. Some horses have very flat roofs to their mouth and can find jointed – or doubled jointed bits more uncomfortable.

    She may well have learnt to get her tongue over the bit by opening her mouth and dropping her head in this way. That leaves you with very little control! I like to ride all my horses in a snaffle with a flash noseband. I find a flash well fitted is more effective than a strong bit. Make sure the top strap is only one finger below your pony’s cheek bone and fitted so it’s tight enough to stay straight round her face. Then the drop goes around her face above her nostrils. If her mouth is kept closed around the bit you should find you have far more control.

    All this aside then and assuming your saddle fits and nothing has changed it’s time to change the way you do things on a ride.

    First of all I’d avoid canter for a couple of rides completely. Break this habit by taking the possibility out of the equation. There’s no cowardice in this – it’s intelligent! Often removing the problem is enough to let the horse forget it was ever an issue.

    In a typical canter place ride from trot to walk and trot to halt before you even think of cantering. Get into her head – and yours! – that you are the boss and you’re the one in control. Do rides in the opposite direction too so you don’t always start and finish in the same place.

    When you do canter make sure it’s in short bursts. Stay sat in the saddle and treat it as you would in an arena. Ask for the transition sat up, with a good contact and make sure you keep your hands in front of you and your elbows bent.

    If your arms are straight then she’ll be able to lean down and pull against you. Bend your elbows and move your fingers and she can’t. That is harder than it seems to do when a horse is hell bent on pulling at you but practise in trot. Move your fingers as if you were typing or texting on your palm. Keep your thumb firmly on the top of your reins so they can’t slip longer. Long reins invite this kind of habit.

    If you ride out with others make sure you go first so that you’re always in control of the pace. There’s nothing worse than having to follow when you’re struggling with brakes!

    So these are my first thoughts. If you have any other questions – or you want to chat about this further do come back and say. Feel free to join the forum at my new site too. You can post a video link on there if you have one which can be really useful too.

    I hope you find this helpful. Keep me posted! Lorraine.

  3. Hi there, I have a 13'2 Connemara, she is quite stubborn, she will ride to gate fast in walk as she knows she is done as she plays up and won't move from gate. She has a full cheek bit and in canter and trot she won't stop or slow down and it scares me,help!!!

    1. Hi Niamh, sorry to hear you're having problems. I have put many suggestions in the previous answer which could help you so do give it a read.
      Check out my website's Q&As too because this is a really common problem - you are definitely not alone! You'll find it here!/q-a/ (If the link doesn't work go to and click on the Q&A link at the top of the page.
      I would stay in walk and trot for a week or two to give you a chance to feel in control again. Stay on a circle at the gate end so you won't have to worry about her tanking off to the gate when she's being naughty. Focus on riding her round the circle - not just past the gate. It's really easy to get so fixed on the thing that's causing the problem that you forget to ride the rest of the school!
      Your seat and back are so important when you have a horse that is pulling you. In walk make sure you're sitting on your whole seat and that your back is directly above your seat. This makes you as heavy as possible and gives you a great base from which to stay in control. If your weight tips forward or out of the saddle she'll be able to do whatever she wants!
      Check out and because they are brilliant ways to help you get more control without relying on your hands.
      You don't say if your bit is straight or jointed? A single joint is better as she won't be able to pull or lean on it. Do you ride her in a drop or flash noseband? It will definitely help because it will stop her opening her mouth to avoid the action if the bit.
      I hope some of this is helpful. Do check out the new site because there are 100s of new posts on it that will help. Feel free to get back in touch if you have any questions.

  4. Hi I have a sport horse around 15-16hh she is really hard to work with, I would be riding her and then the next minute she will be bolting to the gate rearing and bucking to get me off so I let her because I can't control her otherwise. She just runs back to the donkeys on the other side of the gate. One session she is fine but the next session a few days later she will do it again. My parents want to sell her but i want to give her another chance because we have bonded so well. I have only had her for a year and in her previous home she has not had much work. We always have to lunge the life out of her before I ride and still she manages to bolt. I just want to make our riding sessions fun and i want her to enjoy them. I am only a teenager. What do I do ????

  5. Hi Leah, this doesn't sound much fun!
    You seem determined to sort out these problems and enjoy your horse so here are a few ideas.

    My first thought is that you should try to find a local instructor who will come to you for a few lessons. This will allow them to watch what happens - and give you some good ideas of things you can do to stop what is clearly becoming a bad habit.

    Once you have an extra pair of experienced eyes with you you can also look into possible causes of these issues. It may be that she is uncomfortable with her bit or teeth, her back may be sore or your saddle may need checking. Having said that, she may just have found out how to try it on with you - you've both had time to get to know each other's weaknesses by now.

    Another common cause of bad behaviour is over feeding. Check out her feed quantities and the type of feed you're giving her. Cut out anything that is high energy - such as oats, high energy mixes, sugar beet etc. and stick to a standard non-heating mix. More fibre is always better for horses that get a bit hyper - soaked hay is less heating than haylage too.

    You don't say what bit you're using - or the type of nose band she has. A flash nose band is ideal because it will stop her opening her mouth and ignoring your rein aids. A thin jointed snaffle or a dutch gag (bubble bit) are ideal to use with a flash and they'll give you more control than a standard eggbutt snaffle. A snaffle with 'cheeks' will help you to turn her if she tries to turn back to her donkey friends (but make sure you use plenty of leg to back it up). Check out my website at ) for more advice on bits and nosebands in this post -!/bits-pieces/

    Unfortunately, lunging her to tire her out before you ride is also helping her to get fitter! It's a tricky one. Lunging her should be a calm and controlled session rather than cantering her for twenty minutes. If she's just running rings round you then it will actually have the opposite effect because she will just get more and more excited.

    When you do ride make sure you keep her busy. Ride lots of turns, circles and transitions so she never gets a chance to think of other options. The more she has to focus on you and what you're asking her to do the less likely she'll be to run back to the gate. There's a really useful 99p schooling guide in my shop that will give you a lot of ideas to use to keep her busy check it out here -

    I hope some of these ideas are useful. Feel free to come back with any questions you have. Best of luck!

  6. hi lorrain
    I started loaning a mare about a month ago, she's a great and confidence boosting horse but all in all quite unresponsive, Im working on getting her more forward on my own but she also takes her time to listen to the reins and sometimes completely refuses to stand still. I don't school her, we just hack but I'm wondering if you have any suggestions?
    I just want her to stop when, exactly when, I ask

    1. This is a common problem with horses that are good for your confidence – often they’re not too sharp but they’re also slow to respond when you want to stop – so although your horse isn’t going to disappear into the back of beyond with you, she’s still ignoring your aids to stop!
      Not having a school is not a problem for problems like yours because all you want from your horse is a few basic good manners. She needs to go, stay at a given pace and stop when you ask. I have added some other blog post links in this answer – don’t be put off by any school exercises I’ve suggested, just use the basic principles. A school is just a series of markers and you can just as easily use a tree or a gate as a marker to aim at.
      When a horse won’t stand still it’s usually because they can feel tension through your body and hands. Slowing down and stopping needs to begin from your seat, back and legs. There is an excellent way of teaching your horse to slow and stop without using your reins here - . Although you don’t need your reins as much always keep a contact on her mouth, making sure your elbows and arms stay relaxed, so she doesn’t just lean against the contact (fairly common with horses that are more laid back than others!) There’s a great post here about contact -
      This method uses your knees and thighs to restrict your horse’s shoulder muscles – causing them to slow down until you release the pressure. Think of yourself as a clothes peg – relax your seat and push your knees and thighs into the saddle as hard as you can. You’ll feel her start to slow down. Keep up the pressure, keeping your lower leg against her sides so she still understands you’re dictating the speed, and relax your thighs and knees when she reaches the speed you want.
      Have a play with it in walk along a track. Press your knees and thighs in - allow her time to get used to the new aids so she may ‘creep’ for a few strides whilst she thinks about what you’re doing - then close your fingers around both reins to actually bring her to a halt. Keep up the pressure from your thighs and knees until you want her to move on again. This works on every horse – some may take longer than others to pick it up – so keep at it. You may find you need a lot of pressure at first but once you both get the hang of it you’ll need less.
      When you get the hang of slowing her down from walk to halt, move on to trot and canter. It’s a great ‘party trick’ and good fun to play with. It’s also the best aid I’ve ever been taught – and something I teach everyone I see. When you’re in trot or canter, use the knee and thigh aid until she goes into the pace you’re asking for (i.e. trot from canter), and as soon as she’s in it relax your knees and thighs so she continues in the required pace.
      Don’t expect instant perfection and expect to get things wrong for a while, but make sure you stay consistent – the same aids and the same pressure on your contact so that she has every chance to understand what you’re asking.
      You also say she’s a bit slow to respond. Check out this post to see a very easy way of sharpening her up to your leg aids - . Hopefully by the time you’ve mastered both methods you’ll have a much more responsive horse, that still gives you confidence but is much more enjoyable to ride. Best of luck!
      There's a great downloadable schooling guide that may be useful to you too which is 99p and available from my website -

  7. Hi, my mare is very fast in the canter and not just fast, extremely heavy and leans to the inside a lot. She speeds around corners and can't seem to hold herself for long on long sides. She also takes hold of the bit so there is a constant heavy contact which makes it impossible to half halt or stop. If I let the reins go she just gets faster and I have to take them up again to stop. She's had her wolf teeth out recently too even though she's 11 so we have ruled that out. What do I do?


  8. I feel your frustration! Leaning and running on in canter is a common problem and often the things you try to correct it only make things worse. Having said that these are problems that can be cured as long as you make a few changes to your position.
    It sounds like your horse is struggling to balance in canter. Horses lean for two reasons – because they’re unbalanced and using your hands to support them, and because they can! There’s a great post on my site that will really help you here -
    Your horse is unbalanced in two ways – from side to side (because she has too much weight on her inside shoulder) which is why she’s leaning in, and from front to back (because she has too much weight on her shoulders) so she’s leaning on your hands.
    Your contact is extremely important and unfortunately, if you drop the reins, you’re making the problem worse. At the moment your horse will be feeling as if all her weight is on her front end, so she’s using your hands to stop her falling onto her nose. Check out this post on contact to see how you can hold your reins, keep the contact, without setting up a tug of war between you -
    What you need to do is rebalance her so her weight moves back over her quarters.
    Your body directly affects your horse. Everything you do will change her balance so it’s important that you make sure you’re sitting as balanced as possible. Start in halt. Check how you are sitting. Your head and shoulders need to be directly over your hips – and your ear, shoulder, hip and heel should be in line with each other. Check out this post to see easy ways to keep your body in line without tensing up (thinking ‘sit up, shoulders back’ only makes your body tense)
    When you’re having problems in canter as a pace you should focus on the transition. Once you get her moving into canter well you’ll find she manages to stay balanced for longer. So start on a 20m circle riding transitions at A or C, canter half a circle and then trot to rebalance her. Once she’s settled in trot (and take as long as she needs) then ask for canter again. The more you work on the canter transition the more relaxed and balanced you’ll find she becomes. You can them gradually extend the length of time you canter to complete a full circle or go large. There are some more tips in this post
    Re the leaning in – she can only do this if you don’t keep a good contact on your outside rein. She’s leaning (or ‘falling in’) because her weight is slipping to the inside shoulder. Your outside rein keeps her weight on her outside shoulder and that’s what keeps her weight equally divided between both sides of her body. (There’s a good post here about falling in and out )
    Practise in trot by riding straight into each corner keeping a good contact on your outside rein. You’ll feel the difference as she steps around the corner because her inside shoulder will stay up instead of falling in. Concentrate on keeping her head and neck straight in front of her body and focus on keeping her weight to the outside. She’s going to find it odd at first and may tense up or try to rush the corners but stay relaxed in your body and sit quietly. Once she finds it’s easier to balance she’ll settle.
    Problems like these take time to develop – and therefore take time to cure – but if you stay consistent and keep your body and your aids the same you will see improvements. I hope you’ve found this helpful. There is a 99p downloadable schooling guide available at my online shop which tackles canter problems too Best of luck!