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My horse bolts away when being led from one place to another

Hi Franklin,

I have a 14 year old gelding that I have had since he was born. He has quite a personality, is very sweet, too smart for his own good, should have been named Murphy ( Murphy's law). He was broke with a gentle trainer and they had a good relationship of trust. Things went good for some time and I rode Geronimo on trails and had a lot of fun. One night, at a new stable, he and 2 of his pasture buddies got scared and ran through fencing. I don't really know what happened, no one saw anything other than the horses in the wrong pasture the next morning. I know he got scratched but Vet couldn't find anything major. This happened about 7 years ago, but this was the beginning of my horse being very hard to handle anytime outside of an arena or round pen or paddock. He bolts - so fast you can't catch the rope to correct him, the lead rope is out of my hand in a flash (I've had men who thought they could hang on and almost got dragged till they had to let go). I was asked to leave the boarding facility I was at, because he was always bolting away when I tried to lead him from his paddock to the round pen or arena. They thought he was a hazard.

This has been a common problem no matter where we go. It's dangerous for my horse, for me and for others. I found a trainer at a ranch that came highly recommended, however I didn't like his methods, he had my horse all tied down and running in the round pen, wild eyed and terrified, (I just happened to stop by and saw this and I fired him). I found a Natural horseman trainer 4 years ago and it really helped my horse and me. Once again my horse bonded with the trainer, but he still bolted when going from one place to another outside of an enclosure. But it helped calm my horse and I learned how to play the games and work with my horse to build trust. The trainer was able to eventually get him to calmly walk with a lead rope, but every one in a while, Geronimo would still bolt.

I moved him again to a friends house, he has a pasture buddy, a Mare who has been with him since he was weaned. They are very bonded, she is 32 years old and a calm sweet horse, she has always been a good influence on him. They lived in a nice large paddock, but no round pen or arena, we had to trailer about 3 miles to get to a Arena and riding area. Again, we had issues with him bolting. We did everything to stay safe and keep him from getting hurt. Move forward 4 years.. Three weeks ago I moved both horses to a place near my home, the horses are side by side in individual paddocks, they have a pretty good area to get some exercise and have 3 sided covered stalls. They have Hot Wire electric tape fencing now and they can't touch each other, I think this is frustrating to them - it bothers me too, but my older mare needs to be on senior feed and can't have hay so she needs to be able to eat alone.

Anyway, Geronimo seems to trust me in his paddock, and in the arena and round pen, but all bets are off when we walk outside of his paddock. Last week I didn't have a problem, but he has started to bolt again, and it seems to be getting worse. My daughter and husband think I am crazy to keep Geronimio, but I love this horse. My dream is to get him to be the calm, connected horse, that I know he can be in the round pen, outside of the round pen. How do I get him connected enough just to walk with me without bolting? I'm afraid to use my long line to try catch and correct him, but if he get's away he will be running around and could get hung up. Should I work him only in his paddock area? How long should I expect until he is comfortable in his new home? How can I set him ( us) up for a success out of an enclosure? Somehow I need to break this behavior. Usually once he get's it, understands something, he does well, but I just can't seem to convince him that it's safer to be with me than it is to run away. I'm sure it's me.

Yesterday it was bad, he was very excited, high headed and I could not get him into the round pen. I couldn't turn him in circles, he points his lips and tips his nose and he's gone with a leap. Yesterday he wanted grass, he was out of control and I eventually got him to his paddock. After he was back, he had his head lowered and wanted attention. When he is in an enclosure he does whatever you ask of him. He likes to work and he likes to please.

Help – he is a good horse. How can I been a better leader?

Hello Lisa,

That’s quite a story and an unfortunate situation. Poor Geronimo is habituated to his fear, the action of pulling away and old habits die hard for horses and human alike. Too bad this has gone on for so long as the sooner something like this is addressed the better. The first trainer you hired didn't do you any good as you know. Release from fear and the ability to trust we are safe happens over time through experiences that show us we can trust. For me this sort of training begins at liberty in a small area and not necessarily a round pen. A small paddock with corners can actually help. But a round pen is fine too. I would go way back to the beginning of the horses training like teaching him to lead. Perhaps use a flag (a half a plastic grocery bag affixed to the end of a dressage whip which you appropriately introduce him to) or a dressage whip. These 'tools' need to be used judiciously and appropriately for communication purposes only. If you are unsure as to how to use them to help with teaching a horse to lead (walk, stop, turn, back up), tell me. A flag can be a super tool for getting a horse to stop forward motion. Timing is paramount. You need to bring the flag up in front of the animals face/nose almost before you would think you need it.

The goal is to keep the animal's attention on you as its leader and sanctuary of safety. If the horse's attention is allowed to leave you, he's gone. So, your timing, ability to hold the animal's attention really is a huge factor. Your wisdom of the nature of horses is important. Additionally, I suggest getting very good with letting the tools communicate and help holding the horse's attention. You will need to be able to catch his attention before it strays. You can practice this as you retrain him to lead. Every step is a conscious direction by you. Every stop is a conscious direction by you. Your job is to direct every single move he makes and not allow a move you do not ask for. If he does you immediately back him up 3-4 steps and immediately offer a reward of release of all pressure (stop asking for anything). Even looking at, stroking or speaking to a horse is inputting it with energy and some pressure. Totally ignoring a horse removes all pressure. No energy (pressure) from you going to the horse and is the best reward. Get very good at asking for something (a little movement like a step or two) and offering immediate reward. This also gets the horse in the habit of not moving and being more peaceful, unless asked to move by you. Peace and feelings of safety can become habitual just like fearful feelings. But the opportunity to have those peaceful feelings needs to be provided by you when he is with you.

The horse also needs to learn to yield to pressure on its head better. What would happen if you tied the horse to something very sturdy and he got spooked? Would be pull back and throw himself on the ground? As you describe his behavior now, I would think he would. A horse that will potentially drag a human who is holding a lead rope does not give to pressure at its head. There are techniques to train a horse to give to pressure on its head. So, I want you to tell me how well this horse ties. I bet it could be better. Have you ever seen a horse with its head/halter tied to its tail? If done properly it is a good training technique. But, it has to be done very correctly. Anyway, I am not suggesting this. I really want you to tell me about how well he ties. Do you flex this horse's neck? This would be paramount to you being able to bend the horse when he is in-hand. Do it as much as possible. His neck needs to be very flexible and supple. When he just goes for it and stiffens that neck, I know he is impossible to hold. I have know many horses that pull the same trick. Once they know they can, they just go for it.

Here is a technique that has helped. I tie a horse to a stout limb of a tree that is at least at the eye level of the horse. There should be no hazards on the ground the horse can trip on, step in or get hung up in. I leave about 4-5 feet of slack in the rope and the rope and rope halter need to be sturdy. I will begin to 'haze' the horse back and forth. Move him just enough to not scare him but to facilitate him moving out in one direction or the other. There is enough slack in the rope so that the horse will take some steps and then hit the end of the rope. When it hits the end of the rope it will give to the pressure on its head, swing his butt out and face where he is tied. I just keep sending him back and forth. Pretty soon the horse gets smart about it and stops hitting himself at the end of the rope. In fact he begins to not move at all when prompted. This technique requires the trainer really understand how much pressure is too much, too little and how much is just right. You do not want to scare or panic the horse. You just want to send him in one direction and then the other. This is a good technique to get a horse to yield to pressure on the head and not run off (also to not be so spooky in hand in any location). It needs to be repeated over and over for several weeks in some cases. Afterwards it needs to be reinforced occasionally. In others not quite so much. But I am still curious about how well this horse will tie. These issues are generally connected and one exists with the other. Both contain the issue of giving to pressure at the head and not pulling.

So, there is a short book for you to consider. Let me hear back from you. Again, thank you for your kind and generous donation to my work. I also do very effective phone coaching. Just something for you to consider.

Sincerest regards and best of luck to you and Geronimo,


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