When my Holly was young, if I took her into an open field she became desperate to run. I held her back for a short while but usually opted for letting her get it out of her system, so I gave her her head and she would bolt like a wild animal in mortal danger, thundering across the field until we reached a fence. It was thrilling for me of course, but not good for her. It was purely emotion driven and she would pant so hard at the end of it sometimes I thought her heart would burst! There was absolutely no way I could turn or stop her, if I tried she would drop her head and throw in a little buck for good measure. I’m relieved to say that with a lengthy insistence from me she did usually stop at the fences. I fell off so many times at this eratic, zig-zag, twist and turn emotional reluctance to stop that it became almost routine. And with the help of my past training in Hapkido I learned to fall well notwithstanding a few bumps and bruises. There but for the grace of God…
She was angry then, but a very different horse today. She still loves to run, but she’ll usually only do it when I ask for it. Now and again, when she’s fresh, she can still get a little excited.
I think what I’m trying to say is that any horse that bolts is hard to stop whether using one rein or two, bit or no bit. Our Stormy for example, is so big and strong and powerful that if he decides he’s going somewhere as fast as he can, there is no way in heaven or earth that he can be turned! I have found that to anticipate an emotional or fear-driven outburst or even just an untimely run, is the key to preventing a bolt, which can then be pre-empted by using a series of quick change manoeuvres that restores my horses left-brain function enabling him or her to think and calm down.
But, if a bolt does occur, being able to relax under stress one can ride it out and perhaps even get some enjoyment from it, but bolting is not how anyone wants to ride, so I learn partnership, harmony, mutual respect and above all not to be afraid. Unfortunately, it is difficult to learn “not to be afraid” you either are or you aren’t. If you are it can take a very long time to shake off and the only real way of doing that is to face what you fear most, which is that full-powered, nose-to-wind gallop, that usally turns out to be the most exilerating thing you have ever done, like floating on air. If you are afraid you will tense up, and if you tense up you will lose your balance. I don’t need to say what happens next.
This is just my opinion, but real confidence only comes when you have faced the demon and watch him disappear as you come out the other side feeling a new and genuine sense of achievment! Re-building confidence is I think the hardest thing of all. Having been badly injured as a result of a fall is a supreme test of character and personal resolve, and an achievement of life-time proprtions. I have never had to endure this but I know those who have, and recovered, and I am filled with admiration.
Some people may never gallop and they may always be afraid. But to gallop in a strange field when you’re out on a hack, on your own, you cannot account for dips, potholes, a back-fire or a pheasant bursting up from the grass in a blaze of squarks and feathers! You make an educated guess, take a risk, trust your horse, sit back and enjoy the ride. It’s these moments that make me feel on top of the world and put a whole new perspective on my partnership with my horse, and I come home feeling a bond like never before.