Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Rearers and Bolters and Boogers, Oh My!

Jess has a rearer and Jonas has a bolter. Two of my least favorite situations.
I still wish Jonas would not work this horse. It reads as a no-win situation to me. I'd hate for this 19-year-old kid, who could become a much needed trainer, lose everything because of a bad horse/owner situation.

So here goes. If I have a bolter I start on the ground. Remember, this is about bolting, I'm not nice, I'm not cooing, I don't want to get killed. I'm also not mean, I stay calm and am very business-like.

I make sure I can move each part of the horse away from me and end up with her looking at me with a polite and respectful look on her face.

I do this at first with a rope halter, a long lead rope with a leather popper or a knot on the end of it and no tack on the horse. I don't want this horse to run around me in circles BTW.

I begin to swing the end of the lead rope in a circle ahead and to my side. So the popper or knot is going to hit the horse first as I approach her.

I start with the shoulder. I move to the mare with my swinging rope and let it hit her shoulder until she clears the shoulder away from me, crossing her inside front foot over her outside front (almost a side pass) and then I relax my swing rope as I pull the mare's face toward me.

So she steps away and gets a loose rope after she looks at me.

If she tries to run around me or past me to get away from the swinging rope I jerk her around, yell, whack with the rope or all three until she's looking at me, hopefully with a little booger in her eye (not panic, just"Oh sh...."). Then I relax my rope, catch my breath and start again.

I do this until I can move the shoulder away from me on both sides.

Then I move the ribs, same way, on both sides. I always end with her face toward me.

Then I move the hip, same way, both sides. Ditto on the face

When I've done all this to where I'm happy she will be pretty light on the rope. She will back away or move her shoulder, hip or ribs when ever I step towards that area. If I pick up the rope she'll hustle. She wants to be my friend. She doesn't get to be.

She will also give her face easily, with her body right behind it when I turn her to face me.

Then I saddle her. I put on her side pull. If it's a rawhide nose piece one I consider these great in this kind of circumstance.

I stand at the stirrup facing her as if I was going to get on.

I bring her nose to me and bump her with the stirrup to get her to clear her hip out of my way.
I pull her nose all the way to me when I do this, if I was on the horse, her nose would be touching my knee.

I'm not nice about this, or mean for that matter, I just pull and bump her to me both ways.

She gets out of the knot I create by stepping around with her inside hind leg crossing over her outside. I go with her and release my rein pressure when she steps around.

If she tries to lean into me, run, or freeze I'll pop her hard with the reins (as in jerking the sidepull around), slapping her belly hard with my other hand and keep at it until she's stepping around as fast as she can with a "come to Jesus" look in her eyes.

I release when she clearly gets it that the only option she has for escape is to step around me.

I get this both ways.

Then I start to stand up in the saddle. I bend her face to me and put my foot in the stirrup, then take it out. If she starts to bolt I jerk and slap again, ingraining the idea the only escape she has is to step around.

I put my foot back in, add a little weight, maybe bounce a few steps, step out. I always have her face pulled around to me. If she starts walking around I just go with her, gently bumping on the side pull until she stops. Then I release a little.

I start to stand up in the stirrup. Both sides. When I step up in the stirrup on any colt I stand straight up and balance holding the horn and the cantle . I don't hang over their back. I don't want to be slung over a colt with my head hanging when she bolts or jumps. I want to be able to step down.

When I can stand up in my stirrup (head still pulled to me) and she'll stand still while I'm up there, I start to bump with my knee (on the free leg) until she steps around towards her head.

Then I step down, release, we take a breath and look at each other. Usually we both lick our lips about then. Me because I could use a beer. Her, well, whatever she's wishing, I don't care, I still have to get on her.

I get this on both sides.

Then I step up, have the head, and bump my knee on her croup, bounce around, generally be annoying, then step down, release and rest.

I do this on both sides.

If at anytime she jumps, bolts, whatever, I step down and kick her butt. I remind her, hard, the only escape she has is to step around, into the bridle.

At this point if I have a trusted fellow trainer, I get them on a pony horse and we pony the bolter once I'm on.

If I don't I make damn sure my little runaway will step to me and I get on, with the horse's head pulled to my knee. I just throw my leg over, then I get off. I don't put my foot in the stirrup. I keep a hold of the fillies head.

I do this on both sides.

On, off, on off.

Take the head, release the head, take the head, release the head.

Then I suck it up and stay on. I still keep my outside foot free of the stirrup. I sit heavy, quiet and relaxed, holding the head around until the filly steps around in the back, looking for her release.

I release (a little, I can take her back any time) step off and we rest.

See where I'm heading?

I progress this way, practicing taking her face and pushing her hip around every time I want her to stop.

I don't pull back, I bend her side to side. One patient step at a time.

Then it's time for beer. I might even pet the horse a little.

If she blows with you on her grab ONE rein (probably the left) yank her head to your knee and proceed to kick that hip around and around.

Be very careful.

This can take up to three days to get all this done, by then I'm usually walking around the arena, pulling the head, kicking the hip through at random moments.

I'll have to get to the rearing tomorrow, I've got to get to work.


  1. I have a question, mugwump, and if I missed this part, forgive me. But I would be so much happier working with a bolter using the method you describe in a small round pen or bull pen than in any other situation. I would not wish to be in a 100 foot round pen or an arena. I have worked with bolters before using a bullpen (thirty foot round pen) and doing very much what you describe. If worst came to worst (and it did), the horse could take off and I would just ride them through it. They couldn't go anywhere or get going too fast. The horses I dealt with were not panic-stricken. They were colts who had developed bolting as an evasion. After awhile they got tired of rocketing around the bull pen through the deep sand and it was pretty easy to stop them. So, I'm wondering, would you do your work with a bolter in the bullpen if you had a choice, or would that defeat the purpose in your mind?

    Fopr me, after I got a little more confident that I could get them stopped and/or control them a little in the bull pen, and that they weren't going to break in two and buck me off, I would take them out in the arena and when they did that first jump forward to bolt, I'd make them run. Big laps around the roping arena, as hard as they could run. Until they were wringing wet and puffing for air and begging to quit. I cured a couple this way.

    But again, not confirmed bolters, not crazy, not fearful, just young horses who had decided to try bolting as an evasion.

    I agree with you that Jonas' situation, as described, sounds very dangerous and unlikely to have a good outcome. The owner is clearly as much of a problem as the horse.

  2. I simply went with what Jonas had referred to, a round pen. I have had to train in very make-shift conditions, so I generally don't specify arenas.It's the price I paid for not being a big name trainer.
    The last place I trained out of had no arena at all for the first 10 months I was there. Just pasture with smooth wire and a single hot wire on top.
    I started 9 colts before I got my arena.
    So I just go with the flow.
    The other problem is, many places have a round pen made of unsecured panels. These things can get you tangled in a mess faster than no pen at all.
    The Big K had a round pen, but he used it to hold cattle. He was pretty strong in wanting us to get on and ride without it.
    So I started everything in the 100 x 200 indoor.

  3. Yep, you've got to work with what you have. However, several places I worked at did have a thirty foot bull pen with solid walls and I found such a thing very helpful with a situation such as we're talking about. Just thought I'd mention it in case the option existed.

  4. Laura - I've heard of people running bolters til they come to their own conclusion that it kinda sucks with a lot of success, I like that idea although I personally have never had a problem bolter. I put a lot of stock into the idea of right thing hard, wrong thing easy and letting the pony run with it's idea, but make it damn hard work. ie, if you wanna trot fast, that's fine, but we're gonna trot fast in little bitty circles til you barf. But I am far far far from being any kind of trainer - more like a novice rider! I just have an eclectic assortment of methods that work for me and I figure there's no harm in sharing :)

    Anywho, as per usual I have gotten way way way off the point I was going to make re this post - how do I do that?!? I attended our local pony club as a spectator a few months back, 2 little girls were taking 2 of my ponies and I was keen to see how they went. The PCA qualified instructor gave a talk on bolting and told a bunch of 8 year old girls to LEAN FORWARD OVER THEIR PONIES NECKS if they bolt, because they have more leverage to pull on their mouths?! What ever happened to teaching circles or even the good ole one rein stop in dire situations?

  5. Sezz- If you haven't ridden a bolter down before I'd make sure you know what you're getting into before you try it.
    Laura was speaking as a profesional.
    I have seen bolters smash through round pens, barb wire,into barn walls, over fences, I could go on. It's not an easy task to ride one down until they can't run anymore. I've done it and it can be terrible.They can run until they are peeing blood.They can run until they fall. I've also known of horses running themselves to death.
    I have let a horse run in an arena and kept them going until they can't go anymore, but they didn't have a huge problem, they were simply running off.
    The horse Jonas was riding was bolting as she got on.She was thrown and hurt.
    I can't suggest she try to run this horse down.
    The problem begins with letting a rider on.
    I think that needs to be addressed first.

  6. Sorry I didn't make myself very clear then, what I was getting at was that it sounds good in theory - I like the idea behind it, but like I lot of things I suppose theory doesn't always translate into sound practice, and as you mentioned, a horse not letting you on in the first place is vastly different from a bolt once your mounted. Besides which, I'm a bit of a flower due to some confidence issues at the moment, and I can guarantee I would be hard pressed not to curl into the fetal position on a bolter, much less do something about fixing it!! I would never offer suggestions or advice as such, especially on problems way over my head (and I hope my previous post wasn't taken that way) - as this is, given my level of inexperience, just some random thoughts running (bolting?) thorugh my brain. I should make my rambling a little clearer. I'm actually a little bit mortified at the moment, please don't think I'm waltzing into your blog comments to offer my own solutions and fix-its, I'm here to learn :)

  7. Sezz- It's a good thing to chime in on these conversations, I hope you keep doing so, I just had to jump in, this is a situation I'm really concerned about. I want my advice to be crystal clear.
    I'm trying to construct the safest, simplest solution I have in my repertoire.
    This is why I often times don't want to comment at all. I've said it before and I'll say it again, I won't be able to handle it if someone gets hurt trying something I advised them to do.

  8. Anybody who reads this might want to look up my other post in the archives. Just hit bolting, it will go to this post and my previous one.I can't state strongly enough what a serious situation this can be.
    At this point, all we know about Jonas horse is it has learned to bolt instead of letting a rider on.

  9. That was exactly the cause of my mortification - I'd hate for somebody to misconstrue my musing as a "how to do this".
    *settles back with some popcorn and listens avidly*

  10. and there's a big difference between a horse bolting from absolute, unadulterated fear, and one bolting to try to avoid work or lose the rider.

  11. Hey Mugs :(. Great post, I would love to try it, but yeah... The owner totally can't get over her horse nor can her son! They give her kisses and hug her, and tell her she is a poor little horse. That there is no way no how that she is spoiled rotten (did I tell you they feed the horse extra in the middle of the night because she won't stop pawing at her corral until they do?). Sigh.

    The lady made this dummy, with weights in the legs to throw on the horse. To desensitize her. Which is all great and stuff, I guess, but as soon as the horse starts to take off, she takes the dummy off. Which to me, defeats the entire purpose because the pressure is released as soon as she bolts. At this point, I was pretty much a spectator because her son came out, speaking Navajo to the horse as if it made a difference. He figured we couldn't handle the horse. Which we were having no problems, because when I was leading the horse, I made sure the dummy was taken off only after she walked calmly with it, to reward that behavior instead of her bolting. She seems scared, not so scared she is snorting and shaking, but at least concerned.

    But I wonder if its because the owner and son are terrified of throwing the dummy up there. They are too scared to tie the dummy down because she might panic to death. I kindly disagreed and tired to explain to her, everytime the horse bolts and the dummy is removed, it gets reinforced that bolting = nothing on back. Now they want to try this apparatus where the lady is suspended from this metal bar so if the horse takes off, she is just left hanging there. More reinforcement that if she takes off, the scary rider is gone. Not to mention, the horse could rear or buck or kick her. Sigh. I told her I didn't want to be around when they try this. I would like to approach this completely differently, or at least try your method. But they don't want poor Ruby hurt or scared or punished. I'm not sure what I'm going to do, other than refuse to get on unless I can get her going my way. Luckily they aren't asking me to get into that death trap! Ugh -_-, everyday I start to appreciate my goofy looking helmet more and more. Which neither of them want to wear helmets, yet they both want to get on this horse. I keep trying to tell them that, no matter how calm she looks, and how "ready" she looks, they should at least instill an emergency brake (I use the one rein stop, of course, the little horse's neck is so darn thick and it would surprise me if she simply chose to ignore it.)

    I wish they would realize that this horse is very strong willed and dominant. She isn't very submissive by nature at all. I make her submit, and she is getting much better; realizing that I'm not going to coo all over her and hug her and kiss her. Only thing she is getting from me is a release of pressure and to be able to stand there. But yeah.. So I don't know what to do. I thought the lady was coming around, but I guess not. Now I'm starting to see the problem with dealing with the owners. Grr.

  12. Jonas: IMO you should just WALK AWAY QUICKLY. These owners are going to get you hurt. The horse sounds hard enough at this point, but there is no way that you will teach her anything with that owner interference.
    If, by some miracle, you did manage to work thru this, they would probably give full credit to their goofy ideas, not your risking your neck.

    This advice, by the way, comes from my "mom" instincts as much as from any horsai sense. Or call it common sense: you won't have much of a training career if this one kills you.

  13. I guess defining 'bolt' might be a good place to start.

    Is it a horse that panics and runs blindly?
    is it a horse that has learned to run off to avoid work but is still preserving himself from running thru a fence and such?
    or is it a horse that is contrary and runs away ignoring the rider and spoiled?

    Worst wreck I ever had was on the first, the horse was panicked and pulling to circle only resulted in him bending to my knee and running blind, This horse would flex but would NOT turn. At a dead run pulling to the off lead was not an option, my only other option was to ride it out, unfortunately a fence was run thru and I was badly injured.

    I'd say the latter 2 have the potential to be redeemed by lots of riding in a controlled environment, round pen or arena with safe barriers until the stop and yield and steering is reliable.

    The last circumstance I have dealt with a lot in spoiled horses that have learned to intimidate the rider and basically involved letting them run, then working them as they tire. I often employ spurs and quirt as necessary until the desire to slow and yield is reliable.

    I'm fortunate to have thousands of acres of sagebrush and sand to my advantage, Its surprising how many horses decide very quickly that its far easier to walk quietly and rest when offered than lope a mile or 5 in sand, uphills and through draws.

    In Jonas case would it be possible to pony this horse out maybe riderless at first, for many miles then go through the mounting process while being ponied and use the pony horse as both confidence and anchor until this horse accepts the process?

    I prefer a helper to pony the horse the first few rides for me, I have found it really reduces the shenanigans of the colt being fresh, the security of a capable helper that knows how to handle a dally is wondeful.
    I would think the same could be said for this horse that has learned to escape by bolting.

    What do you think Mugwump?

  14. Jonas.... just saw your post, I missed it before I posted :)

    From your comments.....
    Send this horse home, its NOT worth it, not worth it to the horse and the owners are creating a monster.

    Their ideas are foolish to say the least, their behavior is undermining your authority with this horse.

    Even if you do make the break through to gain undersaddle control what is going to happen with them?
    If the client is not on board with the agenda and on the same page with goals and progress its impossible to progress.

    Not worth it.

  15. Lucky SC - Of course there is. I still get on them the exact same way. A frightened horse listens quickly and a willful one takes more time.
    Once I'm on a frightened horse I stay aware for a much longer period of time.
    With most willful horses the bolt is handled much sooner, often by the time I'm up.
    I ride quiet on the bulldozers and with a lot of movement and action on the scared ones, but spend more time sitting still.
    I do wish we could stay on track with the fact I was simply trying to get the girl safely on the horse.
    Jonas, get out of there. Find a trainer and ask if he/she needs help. Barn help tends to get paid, loping colts is usually done for free. But you can work into something, usually fairly quick.

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  17. Hi mugwump - I am mostly a lurker and I have really enjoyed your posts.

    We have semi-similar backgrounds, I too left horse training full time to pursue a career at a large corporation (marketing is my "trade").

    I was laid off back in Nov '08 and have a terrible time finding another position so I have recently decided to return to horse training.

    That's my background.

    I have been asked to give a "de-spooking" clinic at a farm I will be visiting as an outside trainer (I'll also be giving some lessons, riding some horses and starting one colt).

    This will be the first "de-spooking" (I actually HATE that term) clinic that I have done as the presenter and not the assistant.

    I am curious if you would be willing to email with me, as a way to bounce some ideas off of you.

    I, of course, have non-internet resources as well...but I enjoy your ability to describe and also your approach. Furthermore, my non-internet resources are very geared towards the showpen and not dealing with the recreational/occasional riders that trail ride. Whom will make up the majority of the clinic (if not all).

    I would have emailed privately, but you did not have email listed.

    I am at rhamba78@hotmail.com

  18. Jonas- I can sympathize with you. Just starting out and really needing that money. I'm in the same boat right now. I'm using the cash that I get for intermitent lessons, training and excerizing for gas money, car insurance and put a little aside each time to save up for my dream horse. As such, I am sorely tempted to take on any horse that comes my way but there comes a point when you just have to walk away. The money you get from training this horse will not equal the money that you'll be losing during a lay-up from an injury caused by this horse. If you haven't changed the owners by now, you probably won't. They have to be the ones to wake up and deal with their issues, which from the sounds of it they are not going to do. If I were you I'd say thanks, but no thanks and walk away.

  19. Yeah it was not clear to me at first why your advise in the post was given until reading the comments. Oh a the horse bolts when you get on! How nasty! I think your advise is one of the only ways I would feel safe handling a horse like that.

    Your post had me thinking about all the different kinds of bolters I have met in my life. There are the ones that will do it everytime as an evasion to being ridden period. Like the horse described in the post. There are the ones that do it in response to a certin cue. I knew a horse at a riding academy as a child that would bolt if you used to much leg and rein at the same time. Also the bolter who bolts in response to external stimulus like my old show horse who was terrified of cattle. We jumped a two lane road "escaping" from the horse eating cattle once. Having ridden him through out my show career as young adult I agree Bolters are the most dangerous!
    I was wondering if you think there is a difference in these types of horses or are they all basically exhibiting the same problem? I hope this makes sense.. it seemed well defined in my head though now it seems a little hairy. I am wondering if you need to approach the internal verus the external bolter differently....

  20. Jonas... for your safety get out of that situation. Good greif.

    Rigging up a device where the person is suspended? How completely ignorant! I'm sorry if that's mean but they are reinforcing everything that mare DOESN'T need to learn.

    You can't change them at this point. You don't want to be the one there for the carnage and you don't want to BE the carnage. Hang in there a better client/opportunity will come your way! Mugs right about cleaning stalls... not glorious but it pays!

  21. Mugwump is right, of course. Riding a bolter through it is not something you should try unless you are sure the horse is not panic-stricken. That could get you badly hurt, as others have pointed out. I would also not try it on a confirmed bolter. I thought I made it clear that I used this technique after I had already sorted out in the bullpen that I could control the horse to a reasonable degree (ie, steer a little) and that he wouldn't buck me off. Basically, I got the initial work done in the very controled enviroment of the thirty foot pen with solid walls. I also thought I said that I used this technique only on colts who had decided to try bolting as an evasion. Not on confirmed bolters, not on panic-stricken horses. I also did it in a roping arena with a good solid fence. But had I any thought that the horse was panicky and might crash the fence, I would not try this. I did have a colt crash through a board fence with me once (second ride, TB colt, I wasn't expecting it) and though neither the horse or I was hurt, I would not want to do that again...ever.

    That said, my technique did work well on the horses I used it on. They quit bolting. I was a competent rider who had worked for many trainers and trained many colts. I knew how to read a horse. I put this out there because if you are such a person, it is a very possible solution to a bolting issue with a young horse. Under the circumstances I describe. I'm not recommending Jonas try it. Like others, I recommend she get the hell away from that situation and never go back again. It won't work out.

    OK--is that clear enough mugwump? I don't want to get anyone killed, either.

  22. Oh, and as per what mugwump said about horses that were simply "running off", yeah sure, the kind of bolting I am talking about curing with these methods could be described as "running off" rather than bolting. Essentially, I am talking about a horse who tries running away (or bolting) to avoid doing what he's asked to do. Not a horse who is running blindly. Also not a horse who has been bolting or running off as an evasion for a good long while (the confirmed bolter). I want to be really clear here. Mugwump is right. Bolting is very dangerous.

  23. Cant wait for the rearing part as my daughters former horse used to rear at the gate for barrels. WE tried ALL sorts of things to fix it, in the end, we sold her as a penning/sorting horse as she likes to do that.

    RE: bolting: Jazz has bolted a few times on me, but I just crank her head around, or change directions, so luckily, I have always been able to get it under control. The method you described is what I did with her for mounting to teach her to not walk off when I get on.. It works great

  24. Mugs, good post. I was going to ask about applying these priciples to working with Dude (the old spoiled gelding I don't ride anymore), but as I wrote out my question, I realized its just not worth it. He's going to a trainer, soon. $500.00 sounds like a lot of money, but the last time I had a broken or sprained foot, ankle, I would have gladly paid $500.00 to NOT be that way. So, call it preventive payment. I'm the breadwinner, so if I got seriously hurt, I'd have to be on unpaid leave and come up with my own insurance premiums! Argh! Nope, better safe than sorry.

  25. badges bluen n jazz- i'm not a trainer at all, but I do barrel race. I bought a horse that refuses the alley and did lots of talking to trainers about it - usually a horse that refuses the alley - by rearing to not go in - means they are hurt somehow or rarely they HATE that job. I've had my horse 2 years - he went straight up the first couple of times, but I finally got his trust and he does great now, but every once in a while, he'll refuse the alley, and when he does, it's not pretty. Just found out this week - his butt, back and shoulders are out - taking him to chiropractor next week.
    so the long and short of that is that I don't know if a rearing problem can really apply to horses that are refusing the alley cuz it's not necessry a behavioral problem. then again I could be totally wrong, and I'm okay wtih that too.

  26. Jonas, I just reread your last post: you are not pulling our (collective) leg, are you? These people sound just too crazy to be real....

  27. Stillearning, where's his blog? I pulled up one, but it had no entries.

  28. I've ridden through bolting on a trail ride horse. Not my idea of fun. It was at an English barn and they assured me the horse had a Western stop--like h-e-double hockey sticks. The mare took off running with me, I sat down, I said "whoa" and did everything I was supposed to do--and she ran faster. So I got up in galloping position and rode it out (straight flat stretch, leader was slightly ahead of me). When I got to the leader, I spotted a sandy hill and used a pulley rein to circle the mare until she stopped.

    Now I wonder if they meant "spur stop" when they said "Western stop." She sure didn't have the Western stop I know and love!

  29. t_orchosky: We did have her looked at by a chiropractor etc and ruled out pain. She really did HATE barrels. lol. The pressure was just too much, she would rather lope around an arena collected ALL day and she would be happy...

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  31. XD! No! I'm not! That is seriously their approach to this bolting problem. I'm not sure I could make something like this up.