To Bolt or Not To Bolt?

April 30, 2012 at 8:45 pm | Posted in Horses | 3 Comments

I had such a breakthrough recently with Locky! He’s my 10-year-old Canadian Warmblood gelding who, in the 5 years I have owned him, has somehow managed to stay pretty green. Probably has something to do with the fact that I bought him for my husband (who promptly decided he no longer wanted to learn to ride), when Michael was an infant and when Brady was just diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety disorder and needed lots of additional care and appointments. Excuses, excuses, I know, but at any rate, this horse has a lot of potential that I have yet to tap into. He also has one little teeny tiny issue that we are still working on getting over. He’s a bolter. Mostly he’s a lazy, plodding, “don’t make me” introvert, but when he’s threatened or overly frightened, he’s a double-barrel, don’t-look-back BOLTER. Yikes.

I discovered this in the first month that I owned him, when a routine mounting up turned into Locky getting a traffic cone (used for basic riding exercises) caught in his hind legs while I was throwing my right leg over his back. I never made it all the way into the saddle and though I remember holding onto both reins and pulling as hard as I could – the worst thing I could have done – I don’t remember apparently flying through the air and landing on my head/back/tailbone. This lovely episode resulted in a broken helmet, nasty concussion, bruised tailbone, and partially dislocated collarbone, which has never actually re-located. One ambulance ride to the hospital and a number of unconscious hours later, let’s just say I was a little bit afraid of Mr. Locky.

Now don’t get me wrong. I am not a timid rider. I have been riding since I was 7 years old, and I’ve done it all. Hunt seat, balance seat, saddle seat, Stock seat, jumping, barrel racing, trail guiding, competitive and distance trail riding, you name it, I’ve done it. Ok, I’ve never gotten up the guts to run a cross-country course and I’ve never had the chance to ride a reining or cutting horse, but otherwise I’ve pretty much ridden it. And my geriatric gelding (he would run me down if he knew I called him that), Diablo, has always been an absolute pistol. At 25 spankin’ years old that horse is still trying to buck me off and gallop all the way home – just for fun, of course. And although he has certainly dumped me once or twice, it seems that for the most part, no matter what he throws my way, I have the ability to stay with him. We’re talking head-throwing, crow-hopping, sideways-cantering, running-walk, pop-straight-up-in-the-air-unless-you-let-me-run-all-the-way-home kind of stuff. And it doesn’t really phase me. My body knows what his body is going to do and I just follow along, laughing at him as he tries to get the best of me and insisting that I get my way instead of vice versa.

Then here comes Locky. Big, slow, lumbering, Locky. Thump, thump go my heels into his sides. He just stands there. Push, push goes my seat. He’s a rock. Slap, slap go my reins and now he thinks, ok, maybe I’ll take a few steps, but only a few. Until just the wrong thing happens. I don’t know, the moon is full and the sky is blue and the leaves flutter just so, and suddenly, we’re bolting and I’m hanging on for dear life wondering what the heck just happened. How do you handle a horse that won’t move… until he DOES??! So Locky-Lou and I have been taking it slow. Learning some Parelli philosophy and groundwork. Taking things one step at a time. Building trust.

Then the other day, something happened that confirmed that I have been doing the right things with him. We rode briefly in the ring – Locky was unimpressed – and then we rode down the driveway, something we’ve done a few times in-hand and a few times under saddle. This time, as we neared the end of the driveway, I was careful not to touch the reins or his sides. I tried not to hold my breath and just be a passive passenger. And Locky took the lead! He walked boldly right out of the driveway and down the road – no hesitation, no looking back! So simple and stupid, really, but so exciting for me! We only went a short way, then turned around on a dirt road and headed back. I did the same thing with my seat and reins as we approached the driveway and, lo and behold, he bypassed the driveway and kept going the other way up the road! So brave! Meanwhile, I was trying not to shake in my stirrups as I kept waiting for the inevitable horse-eating chipmunk to rustle in the leaves and cause that all-too-familiar bolt. But no, we made it to the field next to the farm and began to ride the perimeter that would bring us back up to the barn.

And then it happened. Locky kept eye-balling a rusty old trailer on the edge of the field, and sure enough, the ghost of farmers past must have risen up just then because he threw a HUGE spook off to the left. Here, I have to congratulate myself. I did NOT grab both reins and pull. I held on to ONE rein and prayed.

And Locky stopped. Not only did he stop, he basically pulled himself together and did not spook again! OR bolt. He just continued on up the field and over the little stone wall into the barnyard. It seems like nothing to most horsepeople, but for us, it was a HUGE triumph! We had ventured out on our own, with no side-pounding from me or panic-stricken gallop from him. We both lived to tell about it. And I think even Locky was carrying his head just a little bit higher.

Until our next riding adventure….




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  1. Good for you & Locky. Looks like there’s a future for a lot of great riding events for both of you!

  2. Good horsy???

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