Bolting Horse and other Unwanted Behavior

Someone recently inquired about two scenarios where she came off her horse, seemingly not through the fault of the horse but rather her own imbalance, but that the horse's overreaction- to bolt to the neighbors property, jump their fence, etc. was quite dramatic. She was inquiring about how to fix this behavior.
Having not seen the horse or knowing their history, here is my initial take on this common scenario.

There are a few different aspects in answering this common question that need to be mentioned; but major one that comes to mind is the unexpected behavior by the human (falling off) caused concern and defensiveness in the horse, hence the fleeing to the neighbors.

As much as nowadays I work primarily with adults, I taught kids for years. Over the years, I learned to "support" their craziness. It actually worked in favor for their horse's education.

For the last 15 years I have taught at youth horse camps for one week out of the year as a way to give back to the semi-local community. I usually start with 60+ out-of-control kids on half broke horses that haven't been ridden much- or at all-throughout winter and by the time I see them in June it is their first real time with their horse.

It is total chaos and pandemonium.

As a bonus, there is usually crappy weather ranging from windy, flash flood rain storms, etc. And as the final cherry on the cake, the timing of the camp coincides with the start of sports summer-training season at the High School, so the facilities next door can have the craziness of things such as a 100 football players at training camp all shouting, yelling, running drills, etc.

I do tack checks before camp has started and as I attempt to inspect the safety and fit of the tack most of which has never been used or is borrowed, you see horses wide eyed, panicked, stressed, can't stand, lost kids, lost animals...
But against all odds of what makes any rational sense, it is phenomenal to watch these kids, most of whom have never had a "real lesson" in their life, with horses that missed 80% of what should have been learned in their initial education, in one week evolve, grow, mature and learn to adapt. By day five these horses look dead broke.

Irrelevant of the quality of the person's education, especially with kids, if you demand a standard of intention and clarity with them, they can become very specific in what they ask of their horse. The horse, being the herd animal, recognizes that leadership, can understand the black and white clarity of communication, and then willingly can follow the child's direction.

Such as when I watched from afar in between classes a horse that initially could not stand or be led on day one, on day five wait patiently outside of a port a potty - ground tied- totally content with his job of waiting for his rider.
Horses "get it," and can be incredibly adaptable.

On the other hand I have found in our western culture, humans have become decreasingly less adaptable. Which means we have learned to not "rock the boat" with our horse. We create routines, patterns and illusions of safety through repetition. Basically we're creating a glass box for our horse, and wonder why they shatter when things don't go as "planned."

But life never goes according to "plan" and the more we prepare our horse for the unexpected moments, the more we change up the how, when and where we ask something of our horse, the more they can learn to "handle" the unexpected moments. Such us when we lose our balance and gently roll off.

The second aspect of Margie's horse running off is to assess and address what he was feeling initially- prior to her fall- that actually triggered the flee, and I'd guess there had been a certain level of containment or obedience during the ride or perhaps in past rides. So when the opportunity to "leave" came, he took it. Not to be bad, nor anything personal towards the rider, but with his initial feelings then triggered by the catalyst of the opportunity to leave, he bolted off. So there needs to be a review of if the horse is experiencing containment, however minor it may appear.

Noticing and addressing behaviors in him at any point in their interaction, whether from the ground or the saddle can help diffuse the feeling to flee; things like any excessive movement, having to ask a multiple times before he responds to the human, how long it takes him to "let go" of something mentally, how often he let's down emotionally- licking, chewing, sighing, blowing his nose, passing manure, etc. are all honest feedback as to how he is really feeling.

If there are any initial unwanted physical behaviors, a reflection of his brain and emotions, then they need to be addressed as soon as they appear. This conveys to the horse that his uneasiness/concern/worry is being heard, and he is supported to learn how to think through his bother, rather than physically run away, until he gets to a better place mentally.

The more he realizes the human is supporting him, the more he will want to make the partnership work. So even when unexpected moments arise, the horse chooses to stay with their human.

And the final aspect is many horses have been led, tacked, mounted and ridden in "polite" ways, I call it sneaking a ride. So as long as the rider doesn't lean forward in the saddle, or pat the horse on his rump while mounted, or lean over to grab a water bottle or take off their jacket while in the saddle, etc. the horse is "fine." And then the rider does, moves, touches the the horse in an unexpected manner and you can see how much the horse has only been tolerating the rider.

And yes, they can tolerate a rider for years without ever feeling good about it.
And no, I'm not talking about "desensitizing" the horse to the rider, I'm talking about teaching a horse to learn the conversation of how to stop, think, check in with the rider, and then make a decision, every time he is unsure. This allows him to process "new" things in real time, without having to practice getting the horse "used to" something. Rather it is empowering the horse with confidence that he doesn't have to run away every time he is unsure.

So although obviously this is a brief synopsis of the scenario, it is actually a very common issue that people tend to mask and avoid, rather than putting more value to small interactions with their horse before the moment they NEED their horse to come through for them, such as when the rider unintentionally "dismounts."

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