What To Do When Your Horse Won't Stop (When Riding)
by Parelli Natural Horsemanship on Jun 07, 2023
My Horse Won’t Stop!
Oh Oh!….Oh No!...Now What!!!
Ever been driving in a car and had the brakes fail? I have!
Ever been riding a horse and it bolted or ran away? I have!
Driving home from work one night in Chicago rush hour traffic, I stepped on the brakes and the brake pedal went all the way to the floor---nothing! No brakes at all!
I had just a few seconds to diagnose the problem and find a solution. Fortunately, I enjoyed working on cars at the time and understood how the brake system works. I downshifted and used the emergency brake to get a controlled stop. No harm, no damage.
I have also been on horses that bolted when frightened and tried to run away. And that’s someplace I never, ever want to be again!
Horses can bolt when spooked and we have maybe 2-3 seconds to diagnose the situation and bring it back under control. If we don’t, we can be in very, very serious trouble! It’s pretty hard to come up with a plan when our life is flashing before our eyes, so perhaps we should practice how we might respond if our horse bolts. Pat often says, “Prior and proper preparation prevents p-poor performance”, and in this case it may even save your life.
The Parelli Levels Program teaches us to do “pre-flight” checks which include things like checking the horse’s neutral lateral flexion and his ability to bend to a halt with relaxation. Can you ask your horse to do Neutral Lateral Flexion while you’re still on the ground? How about the “unwrap” on the ground? How does your horse respond? Does it yield its nose, neck, then maybe its feet? Is it soft? Or does it brace? Is it responsive? Does it understand what to do? If your horse is not soft and responsive on the ground, that’s a sign that he’s not ready for you to get on yet.
Here are a few more tests or pre-flight checks to consider: When you do get on, can you ask your horse to bend to either side at about 90 degrees and stay there at a standstill? Can you do that at least three times on each side? Every time you get on? Then, can you bend to a stop at a walk? Trot? Canter? Gallop? Do you practice this enough that it becomes a conditioned response in both yourself and your horse?
While riding, can you stay relaxed enough that you are NOT squeezing with your legs? Can you avoid the human reflex of pulling back on the reins with both hands? Most riders do not realize that pulling back with BOTH hands actually powers up their horse. That’s why race horses are taught to push into the bit. By building in the reflex of reaching down and asking your horse to bend while your other hand pushes down on the saddle horn or pommel you are preparing both you and your horse if you horse ever does bolt.
But what else can you do as preparation?
Consider the Million Transitions pattern. While any change is a transition, think of the forward/backwards part of this pattern as playing the Yoyo Game from the saddle, on top of Zone 3.
Can you get your horse going forward, thinking backwards? When we first start teaching our horse this pattern, we tend to think of it as upward/downward transitions—walk to trot to walk, trot to canter to trot. And that’s correct. But then we can advance it to walk to backup, trot to backup, canter to backup.
Notice it’s not walk, stop, backup---there’s no “stop” in it. It goes directly from forward to backing.
And can you make a game out of it? Like picking a marker of some kind—a fence post, a tree, an arena letter—and testing how close you can come to stopping at the marker?
Example: You’re trotting along and might say “I am going to stop at the letter B in the arena.” You ask and then gauge how close did you come to landing your stirrup at the letter B. Ideally, you would like your horse to stop in one to two strides. If your horse stopped before the letter, check if you asked too early. Horses, being the quick learners that they are, will often “get it” much faster than we expect. But, if your horse overshoots, flow into a back-up and back to the point where you first asked.
Remember, big picture, we’re ultimately looking to build in the response that when you quit riding in your body, your horse’s feet quit moving.
What else can we do?
Well, how about exposing your horse to all kinds of “frightening” stimuli. How about a flapping flag—a Level 2 Friendly Game. How about “slicker training” your horse? This is an extreme Friendly Game, but someday you might be out trail riding and get caught in a rain storm. Might not be a good time to find out that your horse spooks at the flapping of your rain coat!
The more you can do to expose your horse to different places, things, and environments, the more likely he will say “Oh, I can handle THAT!” So, maybe you will never get to the point when riding of “Oh, Oh...Oh No…” but if you do, you have already practiced the “Now What?”
Just remember Pat’s advice about “Prior and proper preparation….” If you want to learn to be the best horseman you can be, to stay safe, have fun and achieve excellence, the Parelli Levels Program is your blueprint to success with horses. Visit www.parelli.com to Learn and Start the Parelli Program.