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Hot horse, but with a twist

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  • Hot horse, but with a twist

    I'm a new poster with a problem not quite like anything I've been able to find addressed elsewhere. My 15 y.o. gelding wants to bolt on the trail, but it's not spookiness or barn sour or buddy sour. It's a disobedience problem and it only occurs when we come to a road he particularly likes to go down or a new place he hasn't seen before or if I turn for home before he's ready. He's always been forward, never tries to turn and bolt for home, loves water, perfectly happy going out alone, not afraid of dogs or traffic, likes seeing new territory, and is in many ways an ideal trail horse. But lately when I ride him he's fine going out, but when I want to turn to go home or go down one of his "favorite" roads he starts jigging and this has been escalating to a bolt. I've tried dismounting and working him quietly, dismounting and lunging him vigorously, taking him out for a long vigorous trot (3+ miles), and nothing is working. I've taken time out to work him in our fields and he's perfect. We've practiced one rein stops, pulley rein stops, stopping by seat and "whoa," bending and walking/trotting circles, spirals, serpentines, around cones and barrels, walking on a loose rein steering with only legs and he is calm and listening to me with all of this. He's easy to catch, trailers well, stands still while I mount, waits for me to tell him to walk off, and is overall very respectful. His disobedience on the trail has been escalating and I'm worried that it's becoming dangerous. The problem isn't that I can't stop him when he gets like this (although it's been getting harder); the problem is that I can't get him to settle. Have any of you ever had this problem? What did you do?

  • #2
    No advice but I have seen a horse who sped up to things he was afraid of. That was a new one for me ( he also kept going if he didn't like it).


    • #3
      Maybe you can clarify why you don't think it is barn sour? It sounds like he does it in unfamiliar territory and when he is on a familiar road heading towards home?


      • #4
        For a few weeks, try working him in the field or arena for a good 30 minutes after you get home from your trail ride. To be clear...trail ride first, arena or field work second. He will quickly decide that coming home isn't necessarily the best thing for him and certainly not worth jigging etc. I have done this with my horses for decades. They all love to go out and literally slow down when we turn for home.


        • Original Poster

          BlueDrifter, I don't think it's barn sour because he starts having his fit when I turn him around. What I mean is, he tries to spin back around and keep going away from home. When I insist we're going home he starts the jigging. Still, it has occurred to me that wanting to hurry home since he can't have his way is contributing to this. This horse has never been one to jig for home. Normally we mosey home on a loose rein and maybe stop for a bite of grass here and there. And sometimes when we're on the way home he will try to make detours down roads that lead away from home. And sometimes when we get home he will just keep on marching down the road right past the driveway.

          Sue B, yes I think working him at home is a good idea, and in fact that's one of the things I've been doing. Yesterday he bolted up a long hill. I just rode it until we were almost to the top and then when he slowed to a fast trot I stopped him with a one rein stop and dismounted. The jigging first started when I turned him down one of his "favorite" roads. He wanted to take off and just keep going--away from home. He kept it up when we came to the end of the road and turned for home. I dismounted and worked him until he seemed calm, then mounted again and he immediately started jigging again and when we came to that long hill he just bolted. I just let him run, figuring galloping up that hill would tire him enough to make him easier to stop. He finally dropped down to a fast trot when we were almost to the top, and that's when I one-reined him to a stop. He fought me pretty hard, but I knew I didn't dare let him continue his bolt downhill. No Man From Snowy River rides for me.

          And I'll just add, on the ride yesterday when we were headed away from home we were accosted by 3 dogs. One was a pit bull type that came charging out of the woods. My horse stiffened, took two steps sideways, and then walked calmly on with that dog snapping at his heels. If he was barn sour, that should have been all it would take to make him turn and bolt for home but he wasn't about to let mere dogs spoil his day. The trouble came later in the ride when he decided he was going to be leader for a while.

          Thanks for your thoughts. I don't know what's gotten into him lately and I 'm about to my wit's end.


          • #6
            My horse occasionally does this, but not all the time. When he starts to get excited, i will dismount and let him relax a little bit, but what generally works best is forcing him to walk. While it’s not a whole lot of fun for me, i found if i let him have what he determine is fun, ie trotting or cantering, he gets much worse. I think you letting him have his fun could be what is escalating the problem. You have to make it as hard as possible for him to have his fun and then he should slowly start listening to you again.


            • #7
              I am a little familiar with this, as mine is just SO excited to be out and about, and wants to do it all FAST! I second (or third) the suggestion of walking, Until the horse is just bored of it. I have tried many other things: working back home, patiently waiting at home and not going back in the pasture, one-rein stops, backing, lateral work, etc. The other day I just wanted a nice trot/canter ride. My horse was OK for a bit, then his brain fell out. So I did not get to do what I wanted but what he needed instead. We walked, when he jigged, I circled and walked some more, half halts circling, backing, always the "right" answer was walking. By the end he was walking nicely on a lose rein for home…until he had to step over a ditch, which set off the jigging again. Back to walking work. It is a long-term project, but we work on it all the time, sometimes the whole ride, sometimes just a bit. Best of luck!
              "Do your best, and leave the rest, twill all come right, some day or night" -Black Beauty



              • #8
                My first horse did the same thing: on the way home she would start jigging and fidgeting and would occasionally break into a trot (she was too old and sensible to do anything as silly as expend energy actually cantering ). Oh, the struggles we would have. I would turn her around make her go back out, circle her, tie her up when she got home, work in the arena. It just got worse. One day, I was tired and exasperated so when she started jigging home I went, "Fine. Make yourself tired." She jigged for about the length of a football field and then stopped and walked the rest of the way home. Giving me a really crusty look over her shoulder as she did. That's what I let her do after that and interestingly enough she actually stopped after awhile and the behavior never appeared again.

                Could this be an option? Or do you think he would actually bolt? Do you have a day or a place where you could take him on an all day trail ride? It might wear him out but maybe it would make him happy. Could you let him go back out? Maybe he wants a longer ride. Or maybe do the okay you want to go more, then you bettah werk." It's worth a shot.
                "Cats aren't clean; they're covered with cat spit."
                - John S Nichols (1745-1846,writer/printer)

                Don't come for me - I didn't send for you.


                • #9
                  Every horse is different, but my Belle (now 23, had her since she was 5) is very similar. I found the best thing to do was to treat it as a "behavior" problem.

                  Letting her "run" up the hill would only make it worse.

                  Best solution (for us) would be to circle, or halt, until she will walk flat footed. Every time she jigs, she has to halt, or turn around and halt, or repeatedly circle (even on a narrow trail), until she will walk properly. Then she walks for a few strides, and gets rewarded by trotting for about 10 strides. But then she has to walk again, and we go through the same rigamarole, until she walks again.

                  When she will trot calmly, I will add more canter opportunities, but again, only about 10 strides.

                  It is always worst when she has not been out for a while, but gets better with repetition.

                  chief feeder and mucker for Music, Belle and Tiara. Someone else is now feeding and mucking for Chief and Brain (both foxhunting now). Spy is gone. April 15, 1982 to Jan 10, 2017.


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by OzarksRider View Post
                    But lately when I ride him he's fine going out, but when I want to turn to go home or go down one of his "favorite" roads he starts jigging and this has been escalating to a bolt. Have any of you ever had this problem? What did you do?
                    What I did with a certain horse of mine was to use the jigging etc. as a training opportunity. Well before the place on the trail where jigging might occur I got horse into a frame and proceeded to teach either Shoulder In, Half Pass, Travers all the way down the trail = work + kept horse's mind busy = (eventually) horse just wanted to walk on a loose rein rather than train.

                    But you have to get into this work mode before the jigging starts. You don't ever let horse begin his go home or favorite trail antics and then start the work or it could backfire. Preemtive riding is the key. Might work for you so long as your dressage skills or aids are good enough to not confuse horse.


                    • Original Poster

                      Fadedaway, the way you describe your horse is the way mine used to be until the last couple of months. He would occasionally have jigging fits, but I could always settle him with little half halts or a big WHOA, stop, and drop the reins. If that didn't work I could dismount and walk until he settled, and it usually didn't take long. That worked for 6 years, until now.

                      irish_horse, I think your horse and mine are soul mates. You described him perfectly--"horse was ok for a bit, then his brain fell out." Like your horse, walking over a ditch can trigger jigging in my horse too. On a recent ride my horse came out of the trail through the woods onto the road, jumped a very small ditch and took off. We were at the top of a hill and he was about to barrel downhill top speed so I stopped him with a pulley rein (I was afraid a one rein stop would cause a fall going downhill at that speed). He stopped, then exploded sideways and almost dumped me. Then he went straight up a 4 foot embankment. I don't know how I stayed in the saddle. I knew his next move would be either back up and fall off the embankment or turn, jump, and bolt. I managed to get him stopped and dismount, but I gotta say, that really scared me.

                      Shiloh, yes, if I just let him go jig for a while it usually settles down, and I've used that tactic if we're in a safe place. And yes, sometimes I saddle him up and stay gone half a day but lately that hasn't been possible due to weather. And with the way he's been acting I need to be very careful about where we go. But you're right, my gut says he needs to get out and work long and hard.

                      Janet, yes, I'm sure this is a behavior problem (and also an attitude problem). The tactics you describe used to work, but not now.

                      Danacat, I'm not a dressage rider but I do use trail rides as training opportunities--serpentine off leg pressure, sidepass left, sidepass right, walk slower, walk faster, trot-halt, trot-walk, stand still until I tell you to move, etc. I was doing all of that on this last ride, and he was listening and doing as I asked. Then, as soon as he realized we were turning down his "favorite" road, as irish_horse said, his brain fell out.

                      Thanks to all for your suggestions. I'm seriously thinking about looking for a trainer to help me address this, but I wanted to see if anybody had any ideas I haven't already tried. I'm an ok rider, but not a pro, and I don't do rodeo.


                      • #12
                        Bad weather, limited time out of the stable, a forward going horse: have you cut his rations to address less exercise?
                        "Good young horses are bred, but good advanced horses are trained" Sam Griffiths


                        • #13
                          You talk about " favorite roads " he has and the behaviors start when he anticipates going down them . Are you in the habit of letting him run when you ride these favorite roads?

                          I honestly wonder if the situation is a combination of winter, less exercise overall ( riding & exercise in turnout) , good food, letting him run a lot when you do ride on trail and maybe your saddle is causing him discomfort somewhere?

                          The fact that you have to deal a lot with jigging on the trail under normal circumstances tells me he may be the kind of horse who develops issues when allowed to run . Might be better to work him hard but in a more " controlled" manner on trail.

                          Some just lose their heads.


                          • #14
                            This sounds like a horse who is overfed to me. There is a fine balance in feeding a hot horse as the feed goes to their brain.

                            How many times a work is he being ridden? Are you doing flatwork consistently in an arena. English? Western?

                            ALWAYS walk home.
                            It is better to ride 5 minutes a day than it is to ride 35 minutes on a Sunday.


                            • Original Poster

                              Willesdon, my horse doesn't get any rations other than 1 lb. forage balancer a day. He's in pasture dawn til dark, then in at night with late cut stemmy bluestem hay. He's an easy keeper and stays in very good condition with this regimen, and vet is happy. And obviously he's got energy to spare.

                              However, last September I bought a bag of alfalfa/timothy grass cubes, and I had been giving him one tiny cube soaked in water to mix with his forage balancer. He was getting the cube about every other day. I talked to a trainer who told me even that little bit might be enough to make him hot. Could it possibly be that simple?? Anyway, after our last wild ride I took him off the alfalfa/timothy cubes completely, and I started him on a magnesium supplement. I don't really think he's deficient in magnesium, but I figure it won't hurt him. Weather has been too bad to ride, so I don't know if these changes have made a difference.

                              Candyappy, no we don't make a habit of cantering down any of his favorite roads. Most of our rides are walk/trot with occasional canters if roads are in good condition (soft from rains). In fact, we have never cantered down the road he last bolted on. He loves to canter, but normally he waits for the kiss-kiss to launch into it. Lots of hills here, so that keeps him in condition.

                              I don't think his saddle is the problem. He's in a Steele trail saddle which fits him like a glove, and he doesn't react when I palpate his back.

                              SuzieQNutter, over a year's time we probably average 3 rides a week. Most rides are about 2 hours, but in early spring we sometimes stay gone up to 5 hours. We don't do much arena work (I'd almost as soon slit my wrists and my horse doesn't care for it either). But, I've been working him in our fields since he's started misbehaving, and he's always very obedient and never jiggy.

                              I agree with all of you that he's acting like an overfed horse, and maybe the alfalfa is the culprit. The trainer said stock type horses seem to be more sensitive to it, and I read somewhere that paints are more sensitive. My horse is a QH stock type paint. Also I ran across a post on another forum where the poster said her horse reacted to just one biscuit of alfalfa.

                              My plan going forward is more arena work and groundwork to make sure he still respects me, send him to the trainer for a refresher course, and no more alfalfa/timothy cubes. We did about an hour of groundwork yesterday and he was perfect. We even did some liberty work in a small field, and he was playful and attentive.


                              • #16
                                Yes, the alfalfa cubes could be the problem. My late Arab who was a rockstar trail horse would become a lunatic on even a little alfalfa. Cut out the cubes.


                                • #17
                                  That sounds like a great plan going forward.

                                  I used to be a trail ride guide. I can tell you that dressage every day is so much more exciting than riding up mountains every day.

                                  The trick is to find someone who can teach you properly and show you that it is interesting to both the rider and the horse.
                                  It is better to ride 5 minutes a day than it is to ride 35 minutes on a Sunday.


                                  • #18
                                    I agree with the possibility of overfeeding which happens all too often. I agree that many horses are hyped up with alfalfa.

                                    But one of my horses, a Paso Fino mare, got all wired up and almost unmanageable whenever I fed her a CARROT!

                                    No carrots--she was a firecracker, full of snort, willing to go for hours on 12 lbs. grass hay, limited grazing and a handful of oats (in the summertime) but she was manageable and very obedient (and leaning toward being plump). One carrot and she made it clear that any mistake on my part was enough to send her over the edge (including riding her where she did not want to be ridden.)

                                    After giving her two carrots in a two week period I decided that the mare would have to live without carrots for the rest of her life. None of my other horses (Arabs, part Arabs, Anglo-Arab and POA) had that reaction though most of them were very feed efficient. Nothing else triggered this though I might have gotten similar results if I had overfed her because this mare was HOT. The carrot just pushed her over the edge from HOT to unmanageable.


                                    • #19
                                      If there were a safe place to do it, the usual cure for a bolter is to let them bolt, and when they slow down eventually, make them keep going at the pace they set at the bolt, until they've had QUITE enough. Doesn't take many reps. Currently your horse seems to get the reward of you stopping and getting off...?


                                      • #20
                                        Originally posted by Xanthoria View Post
                                        If there were a safe place to do it, the usual cure for a bolter is to let them bolt, and when they slow down eventually, make them keep going at the pace they set at the bolt, until they've had QUITE enough. Doesn't take many reps. Currently your horse seems to get the reward of you stopping and getting off...?
                                        I have heard of this method. A ploughed field. When they stop bolting. Keep them going with whip and spur, until they can't go any more. Supposedly the next time they bolt you lay in with whip and spur and they stop. I have never done this.
                                        It is better to ride 5 minutes a day than it is to ride 35 minutes on a Sunday.