Last Updated on March 2, 2022 by Allison Price
A horse that is fearful of his surroundings is dangerous. Learn how to stop your horse bolting and perform an emergency stop.
Ahorse bolts from fear. Anne Gage, partner trainer and owner Confident Horsemanship, said that it is an escape behavior and response geared toward self-preservation. Anne said that the horse’s behavior of galloping out of control and not responding to the rider’s rein pressure is indicative of a horse in flight mode. This horse is running on adrenaline and instinct. Anne said that the horse’s bolting behavior isn’t limited to riding under saddle because he is in a panic and not paying attention to his surroundings. A prey animal is afraid of being entrapped. He will usually flee quickly if he is able to find freedom quickly. For example, he might run out of a horse trailer’s back.
Although a horse may startle or bolt when a pheasant flew out of the bush, if the horse remains calm and you ride the spook with skill and balance, it won’t become a serious problem or a bad habit.
Lindsay said, “Dr. Lindsay added, “Dr. The rider is dislodged. The cart falls off. The reins around his legs are broken. His saddle has fallen under his belly.
Anne agreed that bolting can be instinctual but it can also be learned behavior. It can be triggered by real or perceived threats, but also general or situational anxiety, pain, or the memory of pain.
Bolting Under Saddle
These are some of the contributing factors:
- Poor training: Too fast or too overwhelming. This leaves horses mentally and physically unable to handle the demands.
- Two aids are given at the same time that ask horses to do two things which are physically impossible (eg. “Go” from seat to leg, and “stop” from rein tension
- Poor riding is when a rider gives inconsistent aids to the horse or punishes it with her hands, legs or seat.
Repeat Bolting Offenders
Anne and Lindsay advise anyone who has a horse that is a regular bolter to seek professional assistance in retraining him. This can be difficult. Anne advised that it is important to take a step back to seek the advice of a qualified professional in horse behavior to identify the root cause and create a plan for resolving the issue.
Anne recommends that you start by trying to identify the root cause of your horse’s fear. She said that this step might require some detective work. “First, identify any possible physical causes of pain. This can be done by thoroughly checking all tack and performing a thorough vet exam. The pain can often be eliminated if caught early.
Anne advised that it was important to be attentive to your horse’s behavior and to notice any triggers. “How long have you had this behavior? When was it first noticed? What time does it typically occur? Did he fidget while being tacked up? Do you notice signs of stress in his behavior, such as calling, baulking or jumping when he is hacked out alone?
Relaxation is key. You can help your horse feel more relaxed and safe with you by removing the cause of his anxiety. There are three levels of the fear threshold. 1) Under threshold – no fear or anxiety. 2) At threshold – some awareness of the situation/object but not signs of tension, stress, or fear. 3) Over threshold – signs of anxiety, fear, or stress. To avoid placing your horse over threshold, be more alert to the subtle signs that tension can cause.
“Before you start any training sessions, evaluate your horse’s emotional and mental abilities. Ask him if he is ready to do the work that you have planned. Be flexible and adapt it to his needs. Your horse and you are responsible for your safety.
Anne advised that a horse that bolted previously should be trained in a secure, enclosed area with good footing and not in open spaces.
“Be ready for unexpected stimuli that could frighten your horse, especially in unfamiliar or stressful environments.”
Anne stated that it is easier to work with horses in familiar surroundings and a routine than anxiety. She noted that even small changes to a familiar environment can cause stress for horses. Introduce new objects slowly in familiar locations and only when the horse seems calm and relaxed. You can introduce new places to your horse when you are with a calm and familiar horse. Be aware of any changes in your horse’s relaxation or stress levels.
Anne gave the following recommendations:
“Go back to the basics. Begin with the groundwork to get your horse responding to your cues willingly, without any tension for leading or lunging. You should have your horse walk, trot, back up and move over willingly. Use light cues, and don’t put tension under saddle or on the ground.
Avoid using force, punishment or other harsh methods to stop bad behavior. This training style is aversive and creates negative associations between the situation and the person who inflicted it. It increases the horse’s fear and makes the problem worse. This cycle of “bad” behavior can continue – and even become more dangerous as the horse is not allowed to express his discomfort or fear safely.
Non-forceful training can help horses learn to be more responsible and behave differently by using positive reinforcement and non-forceful training. This method of training requires patience, empathy, and time. The trainer must be careful not to put the horse over threshold. He or she must take the horse back to safety – emotionally, mentally, and physically – as soon the horse is showing any signs of anxiety.
Lindsay stressed that it is important to recognize the signs of a possible bolt and to take preventative measures. Your horse may show signs of flight before he fully expresses his desire to bolt, such as rooting for the button, throwing his head up, stiffening his neck, or straightening his neck.
Lindsay stated that the following strategies can prevent anxiety from building up on your horse and help to stop it from bolting.
“Slow down. Horses respond calmly to a steady staircase. They don’t need to go up and down two steps at a time. The race is won by being steady and slow. You should install a slow down cue on your horse. It should be tested on the ground before you jump aboard, at the walk before you get on board, on the flat before jumping, and at home before taking it off-property. Before you speed up your legs, it should be consistent and reliable. My motto is slow the legs, slow your thinking.
You can check in with your horse to make sure they are listening. If my horse is prone to being distracted, spook, or buck, I check in with him every five strides.
Regular releases are essential. Horses are accustomed to constant pressure. Prey animals fear being entrapped. As much as I practice using the aids, I also practice relaxing them with my students. Many riders don’t realize they are still applying constant pressure. They may be gripping or hanging on to their aids all day. My students learn how to regularly test their horses’ self-carriage.
“Regulate your pace. You can rate the horse’s stride to identify the stride that becomes a little too exuberant.
“Use lateral flexion. Ask for lateral flexion if your horse bolts because of his past history. If your horse is being asked to bend his neck and keep it flexible, it can be difficult for him to straighten his neck against you.
In Case of Emergency
Anne said, “Don’t fight your horse if he bolts.” Instead, you can ride the gallop with both of your horses balanced. Start by steering him in a large circle, then gradually reduce it. He shouldn’t fall or slip, so it’s important to keep him in balance. You will be able to help him slow down and regain control.
Lindsay said, “Don’t pull back straight with your two hands.” When your horse is taking off, it doesn’t work. Horses that are aligned are more powerful. Don’t pull the reins too hard. Horses will lean on pressure. You can make your horse feel trapped, so you pull on his head. This causes even more panic.
Lindsay stated that a pulley rein technique can be used to stop horses running away. It works against the horse and unlocks the brace. You can bend the neck and attention of the horse with one rein. But you don’t have to turn him. Pulley reins can be used to leverage one hand. She said that a horse that is turning sharply could fall down.”
“Anchor your feet deep in your heels. Your knuckles should be against the neck of your horse, just in front. With opposite reins, pull up and back toward the top of your ribcage.
“Defensive riding requires that we sit down with our shoulders in line with our hips. However, when using the pulley, our hips should be slightly closed so we can anchor our knuckles. But as always, keep your heels deep.”
Anne stated that “in some cases” bolting can’t be treated and the horse shouldn’t be ridden anymore.
Lindsay said, “If a horse bolts more than once or twice, many trainers will not take on the retraining project. Dr. Sue McDonnell explains that the horse’s natural tendency to flee in fearful moments is reinforced by this experience. You only need to repeat that few times before your horse will learn a hard-to-resolve behavior.
I’m Allison, born and raised in San Diego California, the earliest memory I have with horses was at my grandfather’s farm. I used to sit at the stable as a kid and hang out with my Papa while he was training the horses. When I was invited to watch a horse riding competition, I got so fascinated with riding!