What do you do about a horse that bolts?
It seems this question is frequently asked in hopes of a simple answer- an easy trick, a button to install, a foolproof song and dance to execute. We like to imagine these things will keep us safe, but the reality is the issue is much more complex.
The average horsemanship clinic teaches a large group how to perform maneuvers promising to keep you safe – to make a bucking or bolting horse manageable in one quick move. While these exercises can work, they are not foolproof. And there are several larger issues with them-
1- they take the horse off balance, making their fall risk greater. If we could get inside the mind of a horse and truly grasp just how frightening the risk of falling was to them, I think we’d change a lot of our riding tactics. Your horse will either stop because they’ve learned if they don’t they can fall, or, panic because they’re worried about falling and speed up or resist more.
2- they don’t address the root cause.
When I’m asked how to stop a bolting horse, I always want to know WHY. Why is the horse bolting? What preceded it?
I want to address the horse’s overall understanding of our aids and physical and emotional well-being
I want to address the horse’s physical balance.
Balanced horses don’t bolt for no reason- or rarely (stuff happens and I never like to say never, but they become significantly safer and calmer)
I want to address the rider’s balance. So often this question is asked by people worried and defensive of their own safety. This is an absolutely understandable worry, but, if you’re worried for your safety and feeling unstable on a bolting horse- why keep riding it? You wouldn’t take a car down the highway if you didn’t know how to drive it and it didn’t have reliable brakes- you don’t need to put yourself at risk on horseback either.
I want to know what the riders investment in helping the horse is. If the riders only interest is to stop the bolt, they miss the point. The rider should be focused on guiding, helping, teaching and supporting. Preventing the bolt in the first place.
So, to summarize, if you ask me how to stop a bolting horse, I’m gonna tell you-
Become more aware
Balance your horse
Train your horse
Guide your horse
Start over if you need to
But don’t practice riding movements you don’t want to enforce- if you’re worried about the horse bolting, you probably shouldn’t be sitting up there in the first place.
I take dangerous horses in training all the time. But I don’t ride them until I’m sure the risk is manageable, until their education is sufficient to support them in their scared or hard times. And I set them up as best as possible to be able to succeed. I’m no bronc rider- I don’t yeehaw these behaviors away, a) because I don’t want to get hurt either and b) it doesn’t teach the horse anything I want them to learn.
You can never go wrong getting to the root of the problem, but the quick fixes will work until they don’t-
That’s a risk I’m not willing to take.