Monday, June 4, 2012

Go East, Young Mare...

This weekend was awesome.  At first I thought I'd pack in a lesson (or two) in the name of not looking like total idiots at the upcoming (not-fancy-in-the-slightest) schooling show on June 10th.  But S mentioned a group of people were planning to make a day trip to the Washington State Horse Park on Saturday, so I changed plans and decided that Miss Mare would love that just as much (and I would probably like it more).

So away we went.  East over the mountains, to where the sunshine lives.  We got a slightly late start, but  we still pulled into the park by 11ish which left plenty of daylight to play with.

The Washington State Horse Park is a pretty amazing facility.  It's been open for a couple years, but the development is ongoing.  Right now it's got three big arenas (like 250'x250' big), with one stock pen and miles and miles and miles of trails.  A cross country course (through Intermediate) is under construction and permanent barns, covered rings, a derby field and other goodies are all part of the master plan.

As it stands, it is a fabulous place to go hack where you can use any ring (and their jumps!) then head out on the trail for a nice cool down... the place is obscenely horse friendly, plenty of wash racks, grazing areas, water hoses by the portable stalls and multiple manure dump sites.  Those sound like small things, but it makes it so much easier to "set up camp" when those basics are readily accessible.  They also have lots of RV hookups for overnights and when we pulled in, the campground was dotted with folks making a weekend of a casual trip out with their ponies.

Prairie came off the trailer like a champ (no broken halters, no sweat, no trying to destroy her wraps..) and calmly walked around the grounds before I stuck her in a stall with snacks.

Our game plan for the day was as following:
1) tack up immediately and hack around the rings for a quick ride.
2) put horses away and go eat delicious Mexican food for lunch in town.
3) come back and ride again in the arena.
4) venture out on the trails?
5) pack up and get home before dinner.

I'm proud to say we accomplished everything except #5 (Oops, never on time with horses..) but that's ok since really #2, #1 and #4 were the most important items for the day.  Mostly #2, but that's probably for a different blog.

The first ride was great.  We had already walked over to check out our arena options and decided that the (mostly) fenced 250'x250' jumper ring was our best bet. The footing was packed pretty hard since it had poured rain and the park crew hadn't had a chance to drag it, but we figured for some light hacking it shouldn't be too much of an issue.
meandering over to the rings
Prairie (insisting that she could graze on the gravel) and her buddy Sterling
Prairie was a really good girl.  She was 95% calm and very forward and confident... unless someone else spooked or looked at something, or if she thought they spooked or looked at something.  If the other horses were confident- she was pretty good.  Of course her companions were a (super cute) 4 year old hunter prospect and a 6 year old green welsh pony.  Not exactly the courageous force that you'd take into battle, but at least everyone had a brain (even if none of them were seasoned veterans).

We started by just circling the perimeter a few times at the walk, mostly on a long rein until we were reasonably sure that the horses had seen all the trees/bushes/logs from all necessary angles.  Then we worked up into a trot together and eventually started splitting off and working on our own.
Not a crowded ring.. (sit UP)
(oh, I forgot to mention that Friday evening I had the biggest spook ever on P2 thus far.  We were working in the far end of the arena (yay!) and spooked as we came across the diagonal coming home.  BIG HUGE SPOOK.  Complete with bucks.  The bad news is that I'm pretty sure Prairie doesn't "spook," she "bolts." The good news is her bucks are nothing compared to P1 and very ride-able.

But still, even though I didn't feel like I was being unseated, I do NOT like the whole bolt thing going on)
Because of Friday's performance, I opted for a bit more "brake" and switched P2 back to the mullen mouth (she schooled all week in her KK D-ring), but honestly I can't even tell if it makes a difference.  When she's good, she's obedient in both bits.  When she's scared, she just runs through whatever is in her mouth and it doesn't seem to make much of a difference...  But, aside from a few small scoots when another horse perked an ear, P2 kept her wits and we had a nice little WTC session in the big ring.

I do enjoy that P2 seems to be pretty chill in new places on the ground.  She eats, drinks and dozes without much concern for why her human dragged her someplace new.  She does get attached to her neighbors for support, but so far that seems like mostly productive socializing and not horrid herd-boundness. 

We took a break for lunch (complete with mojitos) and gave the ponies about 90 minutes off between rides.

Our second ride was supposed to be more-work/less-play, but P2 was decidedly more looky the second time around.  The really high point was when a rider came out of the woods (on the big, wide, easy to see trail) and P2 saw them.  She saw them, and then trotted by.  Then got nervous, then got panicked, and then BOLTED.

(god dammit).

No bucking, no malicious anything, but she is damn near impossible to stop.  Having woken from his NPR induced nap, The Boy was actively taking pictures and managed to get the whole minute long ordeal on video.  I'm glad that his instinct when I am on a runaway horse is to keep filming.  Those instincts have to be good for something.. maybe guerrilla journalism?  At first I was horrified that he filmed it, then embarrassed, and finally curious about what it looks like.  So, much like the video of P tossing me into a wall, here's a clip of P2's bolt tendency.  (for the record this is where a 250'x250' massive open arena does not help matters).

I really don't know what to do to reel her in any better. She spooks more when she feels off balanced which negates any attempt to really wrench her around in tight turns.... but she'll run for days if you let her... Currently my strategy is to "surf" her down.  I try to get her to bring her head down, balance and come back to me.  She's so big that it's impossible to muscle her anywhere.. believe me I've tried.  Mostly I try to keep from creeping up her neck, and actually sit down, but it's really hard when she's going mach 3 around the ring... Anyone else ever had a bolter? any tips?  I really never feel like I"m going to come off, but I also recognize that so far she's only bolted in a confined, safe space.  The scary part is knowing that I lack any sort of tool to make her stop....


After that little gem of a ride, S supported me as I walked P2 calmly around the arena at a walk and trot.  P2 was fine, but I was a little rattled and it took me a few minutes to stop riding ridiculously defensively.  But when I felt like I had her attention I decided to run through my two tests and see what happened.

Even without a measured court (or letters) when we had a "job" to do, our ride was better.  the transitions were crappy which I blame on my defensive inside rein and not keeping the big girl balanced, but we got through both tests without any blowups or huge issues.  I couldn't quite remember the tests and S had never called one before so I threw in a few extra circles while we figured it out, but I did get a video of our "first level" test in whatever form you would call it.

Take away from the video:

1) SIT UP (I'm very ready for a saddle that balances me on P2..)
2) shorten my reins
3) school 10m serpentine
4) canter transitions (up & down)
5) more jump in my canter
6) stronger half-halt before all lengthenings

Things that are better than I thought:
1) our bend/straightness
2) contact is staying a bit more even
3) canter lengthening isn't as explosive as I feared

It was oddly difficult to balance without the mental crutch of a fence or letters.  I kept forgetting what my mental markers were for the arena boundaries and that made it oddly hard to set the mare up for circles/turns/etc.   But we are on track.  I don't think that we'll get crazy fantastic scores this weekend, but I'm pretty sure we have a good shot of completing both tests without being dismissed by the judge.  So that's great.  That's what we're aiming for.  A calm, accurate test would just be icing on the cake.

After I finished the tests we rode out onto one of the trails, but my fear of a bolt (with no containing arena walls) on the trail combined with the rocky terrain and Prairie's bare feet meant that I opted to hand walk her instead of staying in the tack.  It was a gorgeous day, the flowers were all blooming and all three horses were curious, forward and wonderful.
Prairie enjoyed the trail.
this is her "coyotes are running at us response."  It's good to know she only bolts at stupid things, and not at actual predators.... argh.
All in all, a super fantastic outing.  We escaped the rain, rode both tests, had a great lunch, enjoyed the trails and came home happy and sound.  That is not a bad Saturday.
loading up to head home

P2 hates the paparazzi, but loves her new rig.


  1. A couple of random thoughts to ignore as you please.

    1) I haven't spent much time on bolt-y horses.

    2) Cuna has bolted with me (entirely my fault). The more I tensed up and grabbed him, the faster he went. Shocking, right? Lol. Anyways.

    3) We do have a bolter in the barn. He looks pretty much identical to Prarie when she goes. Head up, tail up, commence prancing, and boom. The key with him to redirect that energy as soon as it enters the equation. Not once he starts bolting--that's too late. As soon as he gets "that look in his eye", he needs to be directed to work NOW. Change something, do something, work hard. Once he starts going, he takes just as long to stop as your girl, but he can be kept from going at all by a good ride.

    4) To survive the present, you could anticipate situations in which bolting is likely (aka hauling out to a super amazing facility like that) and bit her accordingly. J-Wofford would say a curb chain for a horse that inverts and runs. But whatever. Obviously not dressage appropriate.

    5) Woohoo for a horse that isn't trying to kill you!

    1. all good points

      1) that's because you're smart.
      2) Yes, I think this is true and I totally tense and grab. I'm sure it only reinforces that Prairie should get-the-hell-away from whatever she's fleeing from.
      3) This is good advice. I think this has worked a few times, when I've had the wherewithal to do it. But twice that I can think of I felt her start to go.. then tried to push her forward and into something and ended up sending her into the bolt. Probably boo on my ride.
      4) Having a little kimderwicke or something for field trips (trails?) might not be bad. I wonder if she would still try to run if she wasn't inverted.. or if that would be enough to get her to calm down again...
      5) Agreed!! (at least not on purpose..)

  2. Pully rein. Works everytime.

    In case you don't know, and pardon me if you do!
    You lay one hand on the opposite side of the withers, for anchor, then pull back with the hand you don't have anchored. However hard and menacing you have to. I've used that on a massive (MASSIIIIIVE) perch cross and even he cant run through it, even in a simple snaffle.

  3. You may have already thought about this... I've always been taught to run them into a corner/rail or pull their head around to your knee. I know you said that the off balance thing makes her worse but maybe if she is so off balance that she can't keep running she will get the picture?

    Oh and i totally agree with maybe a bit change? Looks like what you've got on her right now she can ignore and kinda know you are there but still is touring the arena haha!

    You did a great job staying on and sticking with her to get her back :)

  4. Agreed with SprinklerBAndit. While you do great sticking it out, it's still unacceptable behavior in my opinion. Here are some other options:

    - I have seen some trainers work with bolters by letting them bolt, then making them keep running. And running. When they beg to stop, make them run some more. I have never tried this myself (too chicken).

    - Pulley rein. Used this. Pretty effective in stopping most bolts.

    - The key tho is really to stop it before it starts. Install the one-rein stop.

    - In a case like this, I wouldn't be opposed to a stronger bit until the habit has been taken care of. Dressage appropriate or not, safety is most important.

    Sometimes my horse does little "scoots" when he spooks. I never pull back on the reins, but I let him scoot and softly say whoa or "easy killer" or something like that. :) It has never lasted beyond 3 or 4 strides. I think grabbing on the reins may scare some horses more, especially young horses. But it's hard, as that is our first instinct.

  5. Ok - with the bolt it started at 11 sec into the video - you see her head come up as she sees the horse, and you get her back nicely, I think if you had turned the other way at the top of the area she may not have launched.

    When they put the head up like that, it throws you off balance, which can spook them too. I wouldn't grab her mouth - although I woul shorten the reins while keeping the same level of contact

    Do you know how to open rein a running horse? in the video it looks like you keep your hands close together all the time, she isn't going to notice what you are doing. Take a hold of the neck/mane with the outside hand (to fix the hand incase she tries to pull the reins out of your hand again), shorten the inside rein slightly then take your hand out wide, (3-4 inches) and turn her Don't jerk, don't try and turn her on a tight circle - she still needs to be somewhat balanced - you're looking at a 40-30m circle to start with - just to get her bending, not a 5-10m circle - then just let her work down in a spiral. It's not pretty - it's not dressage, it's a way to stop a horse that isn't thinking!

    When working in an unfamiliar place like this, you may want to shorten your stirrups too - you look like you're trying to sit into a point point position, but your stirrups are too long and you're bumping her back - which doesn't help (you may not be, but that is how it looks on the vid in some parts.)

    The other option, and my preferred one - is to let them go - and just sit back and enjoy the ride - when they go to slow, push them out - HARD and really make them work.
    I've done this with a 17hh+ OTTB - had her in a 20 acre paddock and we went round it about 5 times before we stopped... did it twice and she never did that again - still spooked, but stopped when asked. This was after doing the spiral down circle method - she was possibly more unbalanced when she went than P2... and as we worked on grass you can imagine how dodgy it felt at times when she got unbalanced!!

  6. Crap - point point should be 2 point...

  7. I've had a couple of bolt experiences that looked pretty much identical to your video, so at least you're not alone! While I don't have a ton of experience, here are a couple ideas:
    1) If she's going to bolt, make it more work for her. Keep cantering her until she begs you to stop pretty much - it may start out as her idea, but it's going to end up as your idea. Don't try to stop her as much as try to get her on the bit and a slightly more contained yet forward canter.
    And 2) Pulley rein can be super helpful, can't tell if you were trying to do it or not. If not, shorten your reins, anchor one hand in her mane and lift and pull straight back with the other rein instead of pulling with both reins.
    Also, the redirect idea is smart, so maybe try redirecting into a leg yield or shoulder in or something where she really has to focus and isn't moving in a straight line so it's harder for her to bolt. I think if you could get her nose out of the air when she bolts she would calm down faster since for most horses they are calmer with their head down (happy place!) but I know that's easier said than done.
    While going to a kimberwicke might help, some horses it's makes worse - then they'll just try to buck and rear when they're not allowed to bolt and you don't want to become dependent on it, so that's something to keep in mind. Just my two cents worth!

  8. Haha oops, in the time it took me to publish my comment several other people had the same ideas! Oh well, great minds think alike, right?

  9. First of all, you kept your seat beautifully through that incident. Impressive.

    For what it's worth, I used to ride a confirmed bolter because that was my only choice of a ride for a couple of years. He was smaller, older and a bit COPD so wouldn't bolt for-ever, but we rode exclusively on trails or at the beach - no boundaries - so it was disconcerting.

    As my trainer used to say, a horse will run through barbed wire if they really want to run, so no bit input to add. She did however teach me the "fire drill", which has stopped anything I've ridden since I learned it.

    One hand takes the buckle, the other makes an "O" around the reins. Pull the buckle end through the "O" until the "O" ends up on the withers. Stops the horse without getting in their mouth or pulling, which just encourages my ottb, (and apparently big 'ol beautiful warmblood mares too).

    The only time the fire drill hasn't worked for me is when I forget to employ it. ;)

  10. Great job riding that out. At least she's honest through her bolting - no bucking or launching herself through the air. I agree with other commenters that she showed you clear signs of what was about to transpire, and that was the point that you could have drastically switched things up and gotten her attention before it escalated into the full bolt.

    I think the one-rein stop would have worked very well, or at the very least, make her world smaller. She has that HUGE ring to look at and think, "wheeeeeeee!" but if you brought her around into a 10 or 20m circle, she wouldn't have had the chance to pick up all that steam. I noticed you were pulling back and down a lot - next time, shorten your reins and pull more up. She was able to lock her jaw and ignore your hands but if you had shortened your reins, pulled more up, and asked her to go in a small circle, that would have been hard to ignore.

    It's easy to pick everything apart after the fact but don't get down about it. You managed to stay away from the other horses, it didn't escalate further, and you stayed in the saddle :)

  11. What a great place to ride!

  12. I wish I had a place to ride like that. As for the bolting my only idea is the redirect thing and the turning them sharp right away like into the fence or just circle circl circle. But as always P2 looks gorgeous.

  13. Great job sticking with her (she's so powerful!) Have you thought about some sort of a martingale situation for off property adventures? My trainer thought she knew one of her OTTBs well enough to take him out on 50 acres of land. Everything was going well until she decided to canter up a hill, when he reached the top, he grabbed the bit, flipped his head and bolted, it took her forever to stop him -- she's never taken him out in open spaces without at least a standing martingale now. It seems as though once she's got her head up and she's inverted she feels very powerful about herself and knows just how to use that against you. She also indicates that in fact she's used bolting in the past and that panic/grabbing her face is something that makes it worse (I imagine someone did that with her). You can work on the one rein stop when she's being good (at a trot or a canter), just to install it and hopefully you won't need it any time soon.

  14. WOW she's a powerhouse in that bolt and you rode it out beautifully although I'm sure it was 100% scary as shit. I've learned with some past bolters to 'try' to recognize that moment they are about to loose their minds, and circle to face what they are worried about and slow it down so they can move/process at once. It's an OK technique for some, great for others and void for others too. Is P2 a processor during moving, or better at a slower gait OR at a stand still even? Bringing her nose into your foot (which is similar to all above) disengages the strong hind end, but cripes difficult at that speed and strength too! That is always a scary situation and WOW what a giant ring!

  15. I agree that you rode it out beautifully - nice job!

    My only thought on the few that suggested riding into the fence - barn owner's daughter did this last week on their draft cross that would not stop and did a somersault off him - landed hard on her side...bruised ribs, bloody nose, etc.

    I've used the one rein stop on our OTTB with success. Thankfully, the Diva scoots (like Karen's Hampton) when she spooks!

    1. Yes I know of someone (didn't know them, just know of them) that used the fence to stop a runaway horse all the time (instead of retraining him how to stop) and one day he tried to jump the fence instead of stopping, hung his front legs, somersaulted the fence and landed on her (she didn't make it)..... so not a method I would suggest. Too scary and dangerous.

  16. LOL I had my comment all written out before I read the comments you already have and I was going to suggest the pulley rein too. Only I was told to pull more up than back, but I've never actually done it so they probably know what they are talking about better than I do. :)

    As for your test, it looked great!!! Keep in mind I'm a total amateur, but one thing I've noticed in several videos and that I think might help you with sitting up and your inside rein problem (as well as it automatically shortens your reins lol) is that you have very little bend in your elbows (or that's how it appears to me anyway, hard to tell with long sleeves on). I'm really bad about that because I grew up riding Western, so my mantra has always been "heavy elbows, light hands" over and over and over again (also thinking elbows to ribs, elbows to ribs, is another way I remember to have bend). Other than that I didn't really notice anything and I think you look great. :D

    Oh and have you ever thought about having a longe lesson on her so you can practice your position with no reins at all? Oh and I agree I think a new saddle will help you a LOT! Keep up the great work!


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