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Question of the Week: Rambunctious Trail Horse

How do I stop my horse from bolting when we reach an open field?


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Q: My gelding is a great ride in the round pen or on a trail, but as soon as I get him in an open field he starts stops listening to me and starts bucking. I have tried groundwork, but it doesn't seem to help this problem. What else can I do to prevent this from happening again?

A: We asked professional horsewoman Molly Jenks, the trainer and barn manager at Canyon Creek Ranch in Alta Loma, California, to answer your question. Though Molly won national titles with her Arabians, and offers clinics and lessons in a variety of disciplines, she’s also earned a reputation for producing dependable trail horses. Her talents have helped her become a Top 10 Finalist at Extreme Mustang Makeovers.

“Although you say your gelding is great in the round pen, you don’t mention anything about his behavior in an arena. The round pen is a very controlled environment with few distractions. Most horses feel very secure in that small enclosure,” Molly explains. “For those reasons I start my horses in a round pen. Then I graduate to working them in an arena, which presents more of a challenge, before I venture out on the trail. So I would encourage you to take a step back and do some problem solving in an arena.”

Molly suggests working on basics in the arena so you can learn how to regain your horse’s attention when his mind wanders. “Walk, trot and canter in the arena, and if your horse decides to get excited like he does on your trail rides, begin some distraction techniques. For example, if you’re cantering and you feel him tense up—maybe he gets a hump in his back or his head elevates or his speed increases—circle him until you get his attention back. I’m not talking about spinning him around in a tight turn. That will only rev him up more. Instead, make your circle about the diameter of a longe line circle. Stay on that circle until he’s calmed down and listening to you before you continue around the arena at the canter.”

Unfortunately, if your horse has developed a habit of tuning you out, cantering continuously in a circle may be difficult. If that occurs, Molly offers this advice. “If you can't get him to stay committed to a canter and circle, then do a couple of nice big circles at the trot or jog.Then stay on that same circle and ask again for the canter. If he stays focused, then open up your circle until you are able to canter around in the arena in both directions. Until he is behaving in the arena I would not ride him on any trails that you already know are challenging.”

Molly says that when your horse demonstrates that he’s a good boy in the arena, you can take your schooling tactics on the trail. “Once you are out in the wide open spaces, ask for some circles at the walk, trot and when you’re comfortable, the canter. The moment he reverts back to his old behavior, and gets excited, put him on a circle again. Eventually he’ll get to the point that he’ll figure out it’s much easier to behave and go in a straight line rather than expend energy working on a circle. Just keep in mind that a distracted, excitable trail horse, especially one that bucks, can be dangerous to ride. So if these tactics don't work, be sure to consult with a local trainer who can help with your problem.”

-- Cindy Hale

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Question of the Week: Rambunctious Trail Horse

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Reader Comments    International

3/8/2013 3:27:48 AM

Great piece of advice. Thank you!

PKL    Somewhere, WY

7/22/2012 6:33:08 AM

That is alway so scary when a horse just bolts, across an open field. I will have to re=read this a few times and practice it.

Gee and Haw    Northern Part, CA

1/2/2012 6:45:39 AM

Great advise and well written.

Alaina    horseland, CA

11/25/2011 9:28:55 PM

WoW! This is sooooo helpful! The horse I used to ride bolted all the time, and I never thought of this. Now I know what to do in the future!

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