I had some excitement riding this week.
Wednesday stuff was a bit disorganized at the barn, Debbie had gotten stuck in traffic and would be a few minutes late. One of her teenage students kindly got, groomed and tacked up Mick for me, and this wonderful girl came out to the ring with me, helped me mount and hung around watching me until Debbie got there. Mick was pretty stiff, so I just walked around for the first 15 minutes, some circles, some one or two loop serpentines, just basic stuff to warm up. Mick started loosening up some. When my warm up period ended Debbie wanted to see his trot so we peacefully trotted around the ring with me asking Mick with my legs and reins to stretch out and “lengthen” his neck, nice calm, boring work.
Then WHAM, my rear end collided with the cantle of my saddle as Mick skyrocketed away at a gallop, two dogs had burst out of the bushes by the ring just after he passed the bushes. I had been keeping a light contact, but when Mick bolted he flung his head up and I had a foot of slack in my reins. I started to tilt too far to the left, but luckily my right leg was strong enough to get me back to center, then I got myself up into two-point, then, after around six strides of the gallop my seat was secure enough to shorten my reins, then it took maybe three strides to get Mick back down to a trot, then the walk.
Whew, I stayed on!
Most of the bolting horses I’ve ridden put their heads further down and to the front when they bolt, usually giving themselves a good shock on the mouth as they hit the end of the reins, unfortunate for the horse but it gives me a split second of greater stability. Then all I have to do is to release, then as the horse’s head comes up apply my reins and repeat, only using my reins as the horse’s head comes up. The last time that happened to me I regained control in three strides from the first push of the bolt. But Mick is an Arab, and when he bolted his head came UP, and his head stayed up, thus my loose reins.
The first six or seven strides of the bolt Debbie was yelling at me to shorten my reins. But notice my sequence, first I got myself re-centered in the saddle, then I got my seat secure (two-point), and only then did I shorten my reins. If I had tried to shorten my reins before I got centered I would have unbalanced myself even further, possibly falling. By getting myself up in two-point I drove my heels and knees down which greatly increased the security of my seat and it also removed my seat from Mick’s back which really helped me as he does not have a smooth canter or gallop yet. Only then, when my seat was secure, did I shorten the reins, if I had tried earlier I would have probably make everything worse, hurting Mick’s mouth and getting him even more upset and determined that he NEEDED to run away.
After a few minutes of walking and trotting I trotted Mick past the bushes, heels down, good contact, with my seat nice and forward in the saddle, and though he flinched and tried to side step at the dire spot we successfully trotted by. I did this several times until he stopped flinching. Then, trotting in the other direction someone turned on a LOUD weed trimmer and Mick bolted again. This time my reins were not as long, my heels and knees were already down, and I stayed centered in the saddle. By two strides my reins were shortened and Mick quickly returned to the trot. At first, I am ashamed to admit, I took a rather firm hold on Mick’s mouth and he started accelerating. I quickly returned to giving and taking with my hands and I immediately re-established control.
Debbie was happy with me, both times I stayed on, did not panic, and I got control back quickly. The not panicking part is really important, a horse that is bolting because he is scared gets even more scared if his rider starts screaming, and if the rider takes a death grip on the reins most horses just lean into the bit and run FASTER. Instinctive reactions are not appropriate when your horse is bolting! In fact I think that some lesson horses get some entertainment from a screaming freaking-out panicked rider. If you are in a riding ring and your horse bolts there is no reason to panic, the horse is contained, and you can tell yourself that you have all the time in the world to slow down. So long as you do not take a death grip on the reins the horse usually notices where he is going. You may have some scary moments, but if you get up into two-point you have CHOICES, you can either do the repeated give and take of the reins or you can take good contact, tell the horse to run a little faster with your legs and keep him galloping under control until he gets tired and is glad to slow down. Sometimes a horse is so full of energy that he looks for excuses to bolt and in that case, if it is safe, it is best to go ahead and give the horse a good gallop before he finds an excuse to bolt, keeping an easy hand on the reins until you can let him run. If a horse is looking for an excuse to bolt a death grip on the reins is all the excuse he needs and the harder you pull the faster he will go.
I LOVE cantles! If I had been riding bareback I would have ended up on the ground (been there, done that.) It was the cantle that caught me before I slid off Mick, and it was the cantle that gave me the second I needed to get recentered in the saddle. My sheepskin seat saver also helped as my seat was not sliding around in the saddle, but it was the cantle that saved me.
Have a great ride!