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Barn sour, half broke, bolter. Oh my. HELP!

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  • Barn sour, half broke, bolter. Oh my. HELP!

    I caved, and bought a little draft pony at a feed lot auction. I was told he "rode through real steady at the walk and trot." Well, my Aunt Fanny. He is an absolute delight on the ground, mostly. The first day I got on him made me realize that he was not broke, like at all. More investigation showed that he long lines very well, and it is my belief that he has been driven. His mouth is quite educated, while he has NO idea what leg is for. He's around 13 years old, and though he still needs some weight, both the farrier and vet tell me that his feet and teeth show evidence of regular care at one time.

    He already knew how to lunge, so I started the breaking process the same way I do all my babies. When it came to mounting, he was nervous and rude, and would always back up, or swing his body away, and it took about a week, 30-45 minutes a day, of just mounting, to teach him to hold still. But he is teachable, and he did learn. When on his back, if you have a sidewalker, he is fairly rlaxed, and if I keep him on the lunging circle, with someone in the middle, he will walk and trot fairly well. I have always felt that he has yet to take a breath, though, and that his sides are super sensitive, like sensitive ex-racehorse sensitive.
    Last week, I started to work with him without a side person, through necessity. He was extremely nervous - not about what was going on around him, but about me, on his back. I felt bad for him, and wondered if people had tried to ride him in the past, assuming he was broke, and scared the hell out of him. I decided to spend as much time as necessary, at a walk, to get him to take a breath and relax.
    Yesterday, my sister, (who is the person that helps me) came over, and after I rode him around for about 10 minutes, got on him. He was fine, on a nice loose rein, walking along, when all at once, he drops his shoulder, bucks hard, throws her (hard) and bolts back to the barn.
    I go get him, lunge him a while, get on, and start walking him around, when the SOB tries the same thing with me. There was no fear, no nerves, it was sneaky pony. I didn't fall off (barely), but he locked his jaw in a very practiced way, and bolted. It took a decent distance to stop him. The difficult part, is that he has no education about leg, so I can't even kick him up to my hand, to try to unlock the jaw. He was a bully, and kept threatening to do it again, so I'd stay on as long as I could, safely, get off, lunge the crap out of him in the place he had misbehaved, get on, and after a while, he would start to do it again, so I would lunge him in a tight circle at the bad place,,,, repeat. His tell would be stopping, rudely dragging his head back towards the barn, and when I would pull it back to the track, he would start to hop, and then bolt.
    This is clearly not the first time he has bolted back to the barn, and imagining him doing this while pulling the cart - well, no wonder he was at the feed lot.

    But - now what? Where do I go from here? I'll send him to a cowboy, if I have to, but this pony's original purpose was to be for my kids. (Plus, it's expensive, and I don't want to if I don't have to!) I have broken many horses, and well. I have galloped at the track, and have shown and ridden with fantastic trainers my whole life. A 13.3 hand Halflinger has me scared! (Lol! sort of)
    Any suggestions? My plan was to start lunging him today with draw reins hooked behind the saddle. My thought is to first get him used to draw reins - and then try to ride him with these, mostly for more leverage. I worry that just putting a stronger bit in will cause a rearing problem. Other than that, I'm stumped for ideas..... Help! I don't want to send a bolter out into the world, but if he persists in his bad behavior, he's out, one way or another. I am giving him 6 months of good solid riding, to get fixed. Or, until he hurts me.

  • #2
    My background is similar to yours, started all my own babies and had several I've restarted off the track. My haffie was the biggest challenge I've ever faced.

    One of the problems with hafs is that they are smart and once something is in their toolbox it's always going to be there. I don't know how old or how well your kids ride, but I think being bolted away with can be a total confidence killer.

    I hate to tell you, but 6 months with a cowboy is probably not going to be long enough for a 13 y/o haffie who has probably been getting away with this behavior for a long time.

    Sorry to be a downer, but to me this horse has a lot stacked against it if you're planning on it being a kids horse.


    • #3
      Unfortunately that's likely why he was at the auction, and probably a few owners down the road. No advice other than good luck, and props for trying. Hope you can get it sorted out, but I wouldn't feel guilty about moving him on, maybe to a driving home?
      "Those who know the least often know it the loudest."


      • #4
        I wonder if he has back pain or some other kind of pain that only really occurs when he is ridden? If he does other tasks well (lunging, long lining), that would be my first thought. Alternatively, he's just a little snot that is too smart for his own good. Best way to fix that is to keep after him as it sounds like you are already doing.


        • #5
          I don't have much to add, and apologize for that, but I'd be hesitant to put draw reins on something that already wants to drop its head and buck. I think I'd want something that would bring his head up instead. I would think a daisy rein if he's really dropping his head might be helpful. Maybe a gag, just so you can ride off the snaffle rein and use the gag as your "emergency brake" when he pulls his tricks on you and tries to lock hip his jaw with his head down? You sound like you've got more than enough experience under your belt to manage two reins and only put the gag into action when necessary.

          I'd also think about riding him somewhere that he can't get back to the barn if he runs on you, like an enclosed ring not attached to the barn. I'd then try to break his stunt down into pieces. First would be stopping him from locking the jaw, then stopping him from spinning/bucking (which might not happen if you can keep his mouth soft), then working on the direction and speed you want.

          Good for you for trying to do right by the little guy. He sounds like a nice little horse under the tricks. Best of luck.


          • #6
            Had to respond!! We have a new 6yo haffy/welsh x mare that probably was outsmarting her last owners too! I don't think she's quite as ornery as yours but she is having her moments! She's as cute as a button, thus her name is Buttons.

            I think ours would buck when she didn't want to work and they would just quit riding her so she learned that if she bucked she was done! We gave her the benefit of a doubt until we had her teeth done but her teeth are done and the vet gave her a clean bill of health so there are no excuses.

            Anyone, yesterday she started the bucking thing when I decided to make her canter. She puts her nose out and up and then bucks so I went right up to the barn and out came the draw reins, worked great in her case and we ended up on a positive note!

            Good luck with you little guy!


            • #7
              Well, I've been to MANY auctions. It is not uncommon at all to have either a. a horse so shocked at his circumanstances he behaves for the 2 minutes in a 30 foot area, or b. he's aced.

              I would put a running martingale on him so if he bolts you can stop him. Teach him to leg yield at the walk and try to stay on at the trot if you can't stay on him and make him go forward yourself without getting scared, dumped, or backing off, he needs to go to a trainer.


              • #8
                Originally posted by HappyHoppingHaffy View Post

                One of the problems with hafs is that they are smart and once something is in their toolbox it's always going to be there. I don't know how old or how well your kids ride, but I think being bolted away with can be a total confidence killer.

                I hate to tell you, but 6 months with a cowboy is probably not going to be long enough for a 13 y/o haffie who has probably been getting away with this behavior for a long time.

                Sorry to be a downer, but to me this horse has a lot stacked against it if you're planning on it being a kids horse.

                If the horse can drive, and is good at it, sounds like that might be the best career for it at this point.
                We couldn't all be cowboys, so some of us are clowns.


                • #9
                  I am also on the band wagon of going back to long lining, then try to find a driving home if possible. IMO he doesn't sound like he will become a safe riding pony for children. He may get to the point he is safe for an adult, but he sounds like a smart little bugger and likely to get a child's number and pull his tricks. Kudos to you though for trying to give this guy a chance.


                  • #10
                    I have two suggestions, one tie him up and leave him in the area where the incident occurs. Wait a couple of hours, then bring him some hay, wait a couple of hours again, and bring him some water. He has to learn that you are the leader and decider of ALL resources. It takes a while but it will work, and he'll start to bond with you.

                    You can't bully or physically change him, he's way too strong. Likely it has already been done. The work more, work longer techniques can help too.

                    Can you stable or pen him away from the barn too?

                    I wish I had more advice as well. He's going to be a stinker.

                    I have a halffie/ QH cross that I use as a lesson pony. She hates the wee beginners and roots thed reins out of their hands, and comes in the middle and parks next to me. Intermediate kids are okay to her.

                    I like her very much, and bahves, but I will never do another halffie or cross. They know they are strong, willier than a shetland, and designed to be a tank. Other than being adorable, they don't have a lot of positive attributes for riding creatures, in my opinion.


                    • #11
                      I would say not going to be a kids horse. Sorry. Once a horse has learned to bolt, they will always have that. You may be able to get to the point where he doesn't try it for a long time, but he WILL try it again.

                      Since he sounds like he isn't fit, and isn't hot, my suggestion would be ride him in an area he can't get back to the barn, or have the barn closed up so he can't get in. Then, when he bolts, keep going! Make him work. If he bolts to the barn and you can stay on, he gets to gallop back to where you started, and I mean GALLOP! That way he learns that bolting = more work.

                      Also, I would suggest a full-cheek. That way you can do a one rein stop with out pulling the bit through his mouth.

                      Good luck!!!!


                      • Original Poster

                        No pain, besides the one in my ass.

                        The part about driving him that scares me, is that this is a clearly learned behavior. He's had this barnsourbolt thing down for a while. If he hasn't been ridden, only driven... the thought of a bolter pulling a cart makes me nauseous. And I think it's safe to assume that this is why he ended up at the feed lot in the first place.
                        In my experience, draw reins haven't made bucking worse. Frankly, I prefer a buck over a rear, all day long and twice on Sundays! He's so damn hyper-sensitive to leg, it wierds me out, but if I have to collect the tirdball to alleviate the problem, I'll give it a go.
                        I'm a good horseman. I can handle difficult horses. Furthermore, this Halfie is, well, poorly bred, lol! I think he's adorable, because he clearly loves my kids, on the ground, at least. His eyes are beautiful, liquid soft and intelligent. His ground manners are excellent. But, his head is huge, he has a terrible parrot mouth, and our vet thinks his brother was probably his father. He's food aggressive out in the field with other horses, and if he's unridable, I don't see a promising future for him, even as a companion. I will give it my all to break him of these habits, short of personal injury. I hate to say it, but I worry he will end up back at a feed lot if I move him along. If he cannot manage to learn how to WALK a trail, with manners and respect, he will probably be put down. I don't want him to endure being passed along over and over, and end up at a slaughter house.

                        I do not feel that this makes me a bad person, just realistic. In the mean time, every suggestion is helpful.
                        (Also, there is a gate preventing him from getting back to the barn, so he ends up bolting in a large circle around the arena.)


                        • #13
                          LOL! So familiar We had a Haflinger who came unbroke and always bolted, literally dragging people across parking lots, arenas, etc. It was very well thought out every time.

                          You should try a segunda bit. It looks intense, and it can be quite uncomfortable if he choses to pull on it.... He will try, but not for long But since it works so well, it's actually more kind than someone having to argue with him every time he's naughty. When we used it he played with it a lot, but then settled in nicely so let him wear it before you try to do any work so he can focus on you and not this new thing. It's pretty awesome how well this bit works on these naughty drafty ponies!


                          I noticed this one is a broken segunda, we had a solid one so if you can find that I'd stick to it.


                          • #14
                            Haflingers that buck and bolt. I have some experience with that! I broke quite a few driving haflingers to ride over the years--and I got sick of them doing this with me! Solution: put enough bit on them that you can sit them on their a** when they go to bolt. Once the pony discovers that they can't do it, they stop doing it.
                            Seriously. I did this. These driving ponies all drove in snaffles--but they all would try this stuff under saddle. So I quite breaking them in snaffles, and put them in pelhams. That way I could use the snaffle when I wanted, but had the curb to stop them when they went to bolt. I had one big one that took off with me in a tom thumb length shank pelham, and I couldn't stop him, so I went to the barn and got a pelham with a bigger shank, and the next time he went to spin and bolt I had the leverage to stop him--and did so immediately. After that, he rode fine. I had one small haffie that I was using with kids that found he could take off with a tom thumb pelham--ended up that I used a full bridle on him; gave the kids the leverage needed to stop him. Once these ponies know you can stop them, they quit trying...and ride fine. Having a pelham, or in one case a full bridle, allowed me to use a snaffle most of the time...but the leverage was there should I need it, the pony knew it was there, and behaved. Of 30 or 40 haflingers I have done, I have only had 2 I felt comfortable riding in a snaffle. I make it a rule of thumb to put a pelham on just about every haffie I come across. The draw reins probably won't work, because they will just bowl their heads down and go--the bit with the curb chain works because you can get the head up and get the pony stopped.
                            Anyhow, not an uncommon problem at all. And while this isn't necessarily the solution for a horse, it is the solution for the haflinger pony with their build and attitude.


                            • #15
                              Oh Honey, this is a year or more project From what I have read you have had him less than a month or two and from an abuse background on top. The worst thing you can do is send him to a cowboy they (almost always) make the problem worse, and I know from experience. My rescue mare was a reared and bucked just to get the rider off, was hardly broke to sit on and was so barn sour she would not step 10 feet away from the barn under saddle. It has been almost two years now and she is just getting to what one would consider "show broke". Walk/trot/canter in control in or out of ring, bending, allowing rider to control pace and direction, riding out alone and with group. We have just started lunging without trying to kill me and have stopped trying to bolt home. Almost never rears and are working on some more small stuff. Still a year or two to go before she is really broke. It is a hell of a process and if you don't want to do the scary stuff yourself please get a good hunter/jumper or eventing trainer to do it for you. Not worth risking letting some yahoo tough guy torture the pony any more than he has been. Good luck!


                              • #16
                                I agree with getting some leverage and being able to stop him immediately. Or if he does bolt and you stay on make him keep going. Then it's your idea. I worked with one who would drop the shoulder and bolt when lunging or walking in hand. As soon as I put a chain on her and stopped her she knew what the chain meant and didn't try it again.


                                • Original Poster

                                  I have had him for 6 months. He had a month in quarentine, and then a month to settle into our 5 horse barn routine - all while being handled regularly with kindness and firmness as seemed necessary. He's been a dream to handle, on the ground. On his back, he never seemed to indicate belligerence while being lunged or led by an assistant. Without the assistant, he was tense, watchful even, but I interpreted that as a self-defense mechanism from former bad handling. Thats when I decided to spend a month just walking, if thats what was needed to relax him. What I saw him do to my sister, and felt him do to me, was dirty. In hindsight, I think his watchfulness was more, looking for an opening to hit the road, rather than fear.
                                  I think that he was never trained enough to establish a correlation between bad behavior, and punishment. Now, he does whatever he feels he needs to do to get away from the ramifications of simply following his own desires. Does that make sense? Since he thinks we are behaving unfairly, he does whatever he needs to do to get the hell out of dodge. When we try and correct a mistake... he bolts. It never occurs to him that HE started it, by ducking his shoulder, chucking his rider, and going back to the barn. Or heck, even the slightest correction of his path, asking him to walk on the right side of the track, and not the left, because to him, the left is closest to the barn!
                                  He went to two young, talented cowboys today. I know them well, and they will be fair, but this pony has got to learn that bolting, under any circumstances, is not allowed. They have an indoor, a round pen, and a small arena, to boot. I hope that they can establish the simple ground rule of "It's not what you want, it's what the rider wants. End of story."
                                  After 6 months of steady, skillful, kind measures, it's time for a re-boot. 'Cause what I'm doing, clearly isn't working.
                                  Everyone had great input. X - you were especially helpful. Thank you. I hope that these two young, stretchy, bendy, bouncy boys, can manage what my tired old bones can't. Teach the little MotherF to stop! Lol!


                                  • #18
                                    When breaking babies that have no brakes yet, I'll often ride with a halter over the bridle and a leather chain shank over the nose, held in one hand with my reins. I call it an emergency brake, and it sounds like you could use one.


                                    • #19
                                      Originally posted by CBoylen View Post
                                      When breaking babies that have no brakes yet, I'll often ride with a halter over the bridle and a leather chain shank over the nose, held in one hand with my reins. I call it an emergency brake, and it sounds like you could use one.
                                      Ooohh. What an idea!
                                      "Kindness is free" ~ Eurofoal
                                      The CoTH CYA - please consult w/your veterinarian under any and all circumstances.


                                      • #20
                                        Originally posted by CBoylen View Post
                                        When breaking babies that have no brakes yet, I'll often ride with a halter over the bridle and a leather chain shank over the nose, held in one hand with my reins. I call it an emergency brake, and it sounds like you could use one.
                                        Interesting, like others have said you have to be willing to go to whatever lengths to get those brakes. Haflingers generally require a lot more 'brake' than people realize IMO.