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Controlling a Fast Trail Horse

My horse always wants to take off on trails. What can I do?

April 19, 2011

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Q: I have a gelding that I bought for trail riding. Unfortunately, his previous owner used to gallop him a lot on the trails, so he constantly wants to bolt off. His mouth is dull too, which makes matters worse. Do you have any tips on how I could possibly retrain him to go the speed I want?

Trail Ride

A: A gallop or brisk canter on the trails isn’t inherently evil. A well-schooled, attentive horse should remain under the rider’s control at any speed. Without some good fundamentals in the arena (or in a round pen or even a large, flat area in an open field), a trail horse can become stiff and dull to a rider’s aids or cues. A stronger bit is not always necessary. Instead, the solution is usually to make your horse more supple (bendable) and responsive. Rather than leaning on your hands and ignoring your requests to slow down, your horse should yield (give) to pressure from the bit and your leg, and stay attentive to you.

Here is one example of how to achieve this goal. Work in a quiet, flat area. Start at the walk, holding a rein in each hand. Increase the contact with your right rein and ask your horse to tip his nose to the right and bend his neck to follow. Press in with your right leg, against his rib cage, until you feel him shift his body slightly to the left. Your horse should create a small circle, in essence bending around your inside (right) leg. Envision a circle the diameter of a long lead rope, not a tight barrel racer turn. Once he completes his circle, relax your contact on the right rein, walk forward several steps, and repeat the process to the left, reversing your leg cue. Next you can add larger circles (the diameter of a longe line), progress to the jog, and work on transitions from one gait to the next. For instance, ask your horse to halt from the trot and back up. If you decide to canter (a slow gallop), stick to a few large circles, then ask him to walk. Remember, if you lack control and authority here, you’re liable to encounter problems on the trails.

When you do venture out on the trails again, find some opportunities to school your horse. There’s no reason why you can’t break up long stretches of flat, even ground with a medley of a slow jog, a trot, transitioning down to a walk, etc. In wide, more open areas, bend your horse in a large, gentle circle. Avoid cantering or galloping until you’re confident that your horse is listening to your requests. If you feel overwhelmed with the concept of re-schooling your horse, then seek some support from a veteran rider in your area who can put some structured rides on your horse.

--Cindy Hale

Liked this article? Here are others you'll love:
Trail Problem Solver: Bolting
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Reader Comments

Gee and Haw    Northern Part, CA

10/13/2015 1:33:56 PM

Good advise, I hope I can remember it all, "if" my horse ever bolts or takes off on me.

PKL    Northern Part, WY

10/12/2015 7:10:54 AM

Good advise in this article. Thank You Horse Channels for providing it.

Beth    Cornville, AZ

10/8/2014 10:36:25 AM

I concur with Julie Goodnight's observation when responding to this situation...A good moving horse is a blessing and many gaited horses fall in this catagory. If yours does, find another horse to ride with the slow riders and enjoy the great gaits of your horse with riders who ride at a faster pace.

Galadriel    Lothlorien, ME

10/1/2014 11:04:10 PM

Great tips. Also, the more often you gallop on the trails with your horse the less likely he is to take off because it won't be a new and exciting/scary experience.

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