Hi folks ... apologies for this is advance! it turned out long :x
First, I'm not sure if this is the best board to post my question, but I figured the driving community could at least point me in the right direction.
Also, I have never driven a horse, or worked with a former driving horse. I've always played in H/J land
Recently bought a 14 hh Haflinger gelding, 6 years old, with the purpose of keeping him as a companion animal and light trail riding horse. We have enough "big" guys to truly ride and show, so he's just meant to keep them company when they are home.
Backstory was that he was a logging pony (part of team) until he was 4 years old, spent the last two years at the rescue, and was in and out of pro training for 60 day sets. Was adopted out, "bolted" (agency said it was probably more of a skittering spook) with his rider who was scared and sent him back. Has been out of work since being returned around Christmas.
Fast forward to April and I take him home. Give him a few days to settle in, think he's a doll. Quiet quiet quiet. very lovely. I had lunged him at the agency barn, was very "nervous" in the sense that he seemed to want constant affirmation that he was doing the right thing. Very agreeable, just didn't like loud voices! Okay, I can handle that...yes, he's oh so cute, of course I need a pony....I'll take him.
Knowing that he was "spooky" we did our first ride out with a buddy. A+ .... ended up going for a long trail ride, through water, fields, and back home. Didn't bat and eyelash, was a happy pony.
Next day, rode him solo down in the ring (mostly walk, a little trot...thought we'd bring fitness back slowly) and again, A+.
Day off because of bad weather, gave him a bath, groomed him, etc. trying to get a repor going.
Yesterday, headed out with our buddy again for a low-key trail ride and without warning (I mean, NO warning) goes from 0-90mph bolt down the hill and out to the field. Brought him around after several figure eight laps through the field. Sitting there, stunned, I patted his neck and ZOOM bolted again (genuine bolt, not a spook or a scoot, took the bit and rocketed away)...this time saddle slipped on his round belly (yes yes, girth was tight). I was a goner. Bailed (not hurt, just a sore arm today ). Grabbed the lunge line and worked him for 20min, then tried to get on in the ring. One foot in the stirrup and GONE again, without warning. No eye or ear or breathing clue. Lunged him again, then he went to bed.
So, I guess my question is, should I be expecting some bolt behavior in the transition from logging/driving to riding (I realize this sounds dumb, but I guess a better question is...what's the learning curve here)? Is there a cue I'm giving him by accident? Or is this naughty pony behavior? Any tips for transitioning to riding pony?
Also....voice commands. He seems to love those, and I wish I could find out what his original cues were. Are there some standard ones that an H/J person might not realized? (For example....walk on, trot on, canter on he's attentive to on the lunge. Whoa is stop dead (surprising!)) He's such a sensitive little guy, I want to be sure I'm communicating with him the right way! And, not encouraging naughty pony behavior.
Wow! Sounds like you have had an interesting ride! Glad you were not hurt though.
I don't know much about logging horses and all of the driving training that I have done for my own ponies I pretty much train for the same if I was either riding or driving - really no difference. I do train with a lot of voice and they know w/t/c and whoa all by voice commands before they are driven. I can even use them while riding and no reins are needed for transitions. I have also watched and trained with some great driving trainers and they pretty much do the same thing....
There are no special "cues" that I give my guys while riding, I might use my voice a little more, but thats it. I would think your guy might be a little scary to drive as well and perphaps that's why he stopped at 4 years old.
The only thing I can think of is it could be a pain related issue. Perhaps he is back sore, his teeth hurt or something is out of alignment. Have you had him checked over?
I'm sure some others will pipe in with some great advice. Good luck with your guy
This is NOT a problem because he was a logging/driving pony
it is more probably because he had inadequate training in the first place
and it may be that he was "anxious" in his logging job and that is how he ended up in the rescue in the first place
you need to think of this pony as greener than grass green and also specifically NOT put him in situations where he CAN bolt and cause a problem for a while
additionally you may need to look at your saddle and make sure the tree is WIDE enough for this type pony physique. a too narrow saddle tree IS going to constantly shift on a too wide barrel belly
Haflingers have a reputation out there (warranted or not) of bolting
and much of that comes from their personality. While training they are amenable and SEEM to get what you are teaching - but they really havent. So when they get in a situation that calls for relying on training they dont have the ABCs down pat to depend on.
Good luck with this one. Take it slow. Assume the pony doesnt know much of anything.
Ditto what Drive NJ said... he may have been a "logging"pony put with another experienced pony 'til he learned the ropes is often how they are trained! WHOA is a good word to know, & probably his favorite word to hear after a long hard day! HAW and GEE may work as left & right. He probably has had NO RIDING training, and you (or past rescue workers) have been sincerely lucky that he will go out with a pal. I would start over with him, "AS IF" he's had no riding training. IF he WAS a bolter under harness... he woulda been worked & worked & worked until he was past dead tired to learn that bolting or dragging his pair around was NOT acceptable, OR he coulda been dumped quickly, cuz once they learn they CAN do that & get out of work (by either breaking harness or shafts or hurting their pair partner)......it is difficult to "un-learn".
Also, the bolting behavior you described above seemed more of an intentional naughty pony thing.... imho
"Luck favors the prepared, darling." ~~ Edna Mode
I have a very different take on it- and I may be wrong... but I don't think he was a logging pony- I think that he was a pulling pony- as in- contest pulling for heavyweights. Those horse are often trained with less than wholesome methods (electric shock for starters) many other horses simply can't take the emotional upping of the load to the point of failure and they get really psyched out. Some will just (understandably) snap and become unmanagable.
It doesn't make sense that a 6 year old would be split out of a team and wind up in a rescue unless he was the bad crazy one of the team (It's often that way- that one horse helps the other get through the day- but the other horse is totally worthless as a driving animal without the mass and mind of the better half helping him through. You simply don't split up pairs for no reason- I suspect that your pony was a runaway who couldn't be reasoned with. It is VERY hard to bring a contest horse back to sanity as normal driving horse behavior. I don't have experience with a contest horse as a riding mount- but I can imagine absolute runaway impossible to communicate with the bit as a very probable possibility...I do think that totally starting over with a new discipline might be the best thing for him- hopefully you can get through the bolting without getting hurt.
I've also known not just one- but a few - totally trainwreck runaway haflingers that have passed hands through local Amish horsetraders... they would take them on hoping to make something of them- and wind up having to tade them off before they got killed by them. I believe these ponies were problems- not by any fault of their breed- but because of past history as pulling ponies.
Not everyone uses gee and haw- but here is the memory aid...
"Gee, you're right" (so haw is left)
He was part of a hitch until he was 4. So he was hooked to another (presumably older and trained pony) as a baby. Haffies, being a draft breed prob shouldn't start lite work until they are 3 and heavy work when they are 4. No way of telling if the original owner did that. But point being that it is intirely possible that this guy was never trained on his own at all. He may have been hitched to an older, more trained pony. and was just along for the ride. And that was the extent of his training.
I have experience with Fjords (and limited to one pony at that) but I've spoken with many Fjord breeders and trainers on this issue. These breeds (Fjords and Haffies) are placid and agreeable. Many people get in trouble with the breed as they train them as the trainer will mistake "Placid compliance" with "understanding". They don't take the time to make sure that training concepts are solid and well understood. And eventually they rush the training and over whelm the pony and the result is a panic and bolt.
Thank you all!
The thought that there are "gaps" in his training makes a lot of sense. It reminds me of dogs in a way....we had a puppy for a while alongside an older dog. Puppy would sit, down, stay, and we thought she was brilliant! Well, take away the older dog and the puppy would look at us like we were speaking greek. She was following the other dog, not us. Maybe that happened with this guy?
And I should have added, wasn't split from the pair. Both were surrendered for financial reasons. His partner was adopted out some time ago.
I agree with the problem of saddle fit, and, I think that you might have to take this guy right back to basics. Treat him like he's a youngun' fresh out of the field with no work ever done. He just may have to learn how to be a riding horse, from scratch.
I will be honest and will most likely get flamed for this...but you said Haffie. I don't touch them with a 10 ft pole for the reasons stated above. Trainers think compliance is understanding and thus trained. Of all the bolting carriage wrecks I have seen most of them were with haffies.
I am NOT saying that they ALL bolt. They just need a really solid foundation in their training to make sure they understand what is being asked of him.
I totally agree with starting him from scratch on the ground and checking your saddle.
And of course, he could just be pulling naughty pony on you. Its hard to tell without being there.
Along with the wide fitting saddle, add a hunting breastplate for English saddle or a Y shaped breast collar for a Western saddle. Fit snug, NOT TIGHT, they will prevent saddle from FULLY turning under the equine. Saddle may slide sideways but it will stop with the straps of the breastplate or breast collar coming into play when pulled.
I named specific types of equipment, wouldn't suggest others because they don't fit a horse the same way. Other types are not anchored on the saddle rings and girth/cinch, enough to hold the saddle from fully turning. Shorten strap from chest ring to girth/cinch, so it has about a hand width of slack (hand sideways from thumb on chest to little finger on strap, makes strap tight) until saddle slips or turns sideways on horse to pull on strap. Most breast collars, breastplates, have way too long a strap to girth, so you may need to punch holes to shorten it so it comes into play when needed.
These should help you hold on a bit better, should the pony do a big spook or bolt while riding. We used the hunting breastplate and Y shaped breast collar on the kids horses, for safety. Kids TRY to do things right, but may forget to tighten girths as needed, be leaning sideways on the animal, which can let the saddle turn under them. However with the limited saddle turn, kid could stop horse or swing down before they were UNDER the horse. Sainted horses also might stop when they feel saddle going off balance, so kid kind of just steps off and has a terrible case of embarrassment, yet is UNHURT. The extra fractions of time, with saddle only going "so far down" can help you control the dismount or stop the equine, maybe without getting hurt. DO ride with your stirrup hangers OPEN, so the English leathers come off EASILY in bad situations. Many of those stirrup hangers won't open EASILY in ANY situation, even using TOOLS! You sure don't want a failure in a bolting or saddle turning situation, to hang you up. You also might put on a pair of Peacock Stirrups, with the rubber band sides. Double safety for you in dealing with this pony.
Inexperienced, green or not, he may have learned to enjoy the bolting, and not be trustworthy. True bolt means he has lost his mind, would run thru a door if going in that direction. You can't fix that. Giving him a second chance, not getting hurt yourself, could be worth your time. This sounds terrible, but have you got a REAL bit on him with shanks and a curb chain? You want the BEST chance of winning, should he try bolting again and a ring snaffle is NOT the best tool for the job. Even a mechanical hackamore, chain chinstrap, NOT that English type with the padded nose, could give you a leverage advantage, but not be in his mouth. He would laugh at the English mechanical hackamore and that wouldn't be good for you! Haffies do have short, very muscular necks, so there isn't a lot of room for bending them around, so leverage might be useful.
I have a Haflinger, and he bolted with me on my 4th ride too. Same kind of thing - no warning whatsoever. Tried to get back on and he bolted before I could get my butt on him. So we started from square one, did ground work, ground driving and longing, then I got on him like it was the very first time. We haven't had a problem since, but we don't ride him much at all since he's got a shoulder issue. I have a friend who used one for PC and he bolted couple times with the kids too. But then I have another friend with one, and he's a rock star - she has him in training with her regularly though.
And I agree with goodhorse - I initially rode him in a snaffle and he goes in a hackamore with a curb chain now. That neck is something else - it's like there's concrete in there. There was no way to do one way stop with mine, I had to abandon ship .
Rode one like that. He belonged at a therapeutic riding stable, I helped lead him . . .perfect gentleman. But about once a month he'd tire of walking the kids around in circles and would start to nip at whomever was leading him during session. I had permission to ride him at hunter paces and take him out foxhunting.
He was much better after a good gallop in the woods now and again.
However he'd bolt for no reason. Roading, hound walking, hunting, hunter paces, you'd name it. The rest of the group would gallop right and he'd swerve left. Gallop a big figure eight and come back like there was nothing wrong. No rhyme no reason. He had a very hard mouth, was on the forehand most of the time and we never trained him out of it. We just expected him to "go off on his own now and again" and just enjoy the ride. LOL.