"It's not what's in the horse's mouth so much as it is what
is happening at the other end of the reins!"
number one if your icelandic is going faster than you want him to go:
Use less leg, and give and take with the reins.
If that doesn't work:
Shorten one of the
reins a lot (I'm talking about a whole foot), and pull it a bit
sideways too, when the horse runs, so the head of the horse is bent to the
side. If the horse just stiffens against it, grab the other rein and do
the same, as all horses have one weaker side than the other. Hold it with
all your force. Imagine that you want to pull the nose of the horse around
to your leg. Most horses stop then.
In my experience, what people regards as bolts and runaways is very
different. The problem I am issuing here, is when a horse runs and is
uncontrollable. But when an experienced rider is riding a sertain horse,
what can be just a spook or a bit of stubborness to him, can be an
uncontrollable bolt to another rider riding the same horse. Also, an
experienced rider would maybe not call it a bolt when a horse runs for 300
feet and gets under control then, while another rider would regard this as
a terrifying bolt. Anyway, the means for the different riders to solve
bolting are similar, even though the magnitude of the bolting is
different. If one rider feels he has a problem when the horse goes
suddenly a short distance sideways, he might be able to solve it using
similar methods as the rider that is riding the runaway that only stops
after a mile. But these horses are of course very different, and the rider
that wants to train a horse with a bolting problem has to think a bit
first, what is the problem with the horse, whether he has the abilities
needed to follow those instructions, or whether there is someone else
better suited to train the horse and find the solution.
Reasons for bolting
There can be many reasons for bolting: A very common reason,
maybe the most common reason, is that the rider is using too much leg.
Riding fast in a big group. The horse is frightened, seeing a still
object, or the horse is scared of a movement of a hand or a raincoat, or
anything else moving.
Pain in the back of the horse, in the mouth of
the horse, or elsewhere.
The horse is stubborn, trying to get's it's way. It is for example
rather common, when lazy horses are being asked to do fast work, that they
run 2-3 seconds out of the road.
Mental problems, neurotic horses.
Think it over, why is the
horse running. Do not run into conclusions, as one horse might need lots
of support to get over the problem, another might need to be shown who is
Are you using too much leg?
There is a common misunderstanding that happens between many icelandics
and riders that are new to icelandics. Many icelandics have been tought
that more leg means that they are supposed to go faster. Then, when the
beginner sits on the icelandic, and becomes nervous for some reason, the
first responce is usually to grab hard with the legs (to prevent
themselves falling of). That is a totally wrong response, because it
starts an evil sircle, the horse thinks it's supposed to go faster, the
rider grips harder with the leg, etc. untill everything is in chaos. Also,
in many countries riders are directly taught to use a lot of leg.
Another response from a nervous rider is (at the same time as a
lot of leg is used) to take the reins with a lot of force, and holding the
reins. The horse is still pressed forward with the legs, so it braces
itself against the bit and goes faster (as it thinks it's supposed to do).
So, what the rider has to do, is to give the rein, take it, give it again,
take it again, and so on untill the horse stops.
If you are riding
with other riders, and you see a scared rider on a horse that's going too
fast, call and remind the rider: "Give and take" and "No leg". When you're
scared, so often your mind goes into a freeze, and you don't remember that
this is what you were going to do, and then it can help tremendously to
have a friend helping.
If the horse is bolting because his sides
are sensitive, get him used to it. Ride him in the pen, and squeeze the
sides, first a little, later more, untill you can squeeze the sides as you
like and he doesn't react. To hold yourself in the saddle, you use the
First help for horsemen with bolting horses: The
rider must sense if the horse wants to bolt. Then he still has some
oppurtunity to stop it. When sensing this, the rider turns the horse to
the side and up to a wall, fence, or ditch, and speaks softly to him.
Sometimes it can be enough simply to turn the horse to the side of the
road or other such "imaginary" barrier, because then the horse starts to
think, and might also be able to see a frightening object better. When the
horse is calm,, ride steadily again. Maybe you have to stop that way again
after a short while.
Bevare of bending the horse to a wall, when
he's bolting at full speed, the horse could turn and you end on the wall,
very dangerous. This is the best way if you can hang on, but if you can't,
it's very dangerous.
You have to teach the horse to stop. He must
know what stopping means, under all conditions, and have a SOFT mouth.
Teaching a horse that is stiff in the mouth and does not listen to soft
"whooa" (stop) or another word, takes time. At least you can count on work
for 1 month, if you ride the horse 5 times per week.
You teach him
walking by his side, teaching him to listen to the bit.
him in longeing with two reins.
You teach him inside a small,
secure wooden fence.
Here I am speaking about very difficult
bolting horses, so often, with less dire problems, you can start by riding
in a pen. The more inexperienced rider, and the less "tools" (pen,
longeing reins etc.), the more often you have to do these exerzises. You
have to stop the horse so many times you can't count the number of them,
because a new reflex can only be learned by repetition, besides letting
the horse forget the bad habit.
In spite of good preparings, the
horse could possibly run when you go again for the first time on his back.
So, the first time, the rider tries to stop everything that could upset
the horse, such as horses running by, unstable seat (because of too long
stirrups), using legs or unconfidence in mounting the horse. Besides at
first you have to ride in an area where the horse can run without hurting
himself or others. Then the pen is the best choice.
Do not go into
open area until the horse is settled, walks with long reins without
hurrying, and you can stop him anytime you want. Also, try to avoid
everything that upsets the horse and gives him a reason to run, especially
other riders. Also the horse should be a bit tired (work first in longeing
or riding for 10-15 minutes inside a fence). You have to have lots of
time, and energy, to mend a bolting horse. The best solutions do not work
if you do not work for a long time. Some horses have, preferably, to be
ridden every day while getting over the problem.
The horse must
also learn to divide his energy down to longer distances. If you ride him
for 10 miles in 2 hours, he'll learn that he does not gain anything by
bolting, there is still a long way ahead.
If the horse sees something scary, it can get frightened. Some seem to
have nerves of steel and spook once a year at most. Others can't get
through a whole ride without spooking.
Many icelandics, when they
see something scary, stop and stare. If the horse gets a whip in it's
behind then, it has no option but to run past or away from the scary
object. Try to notice the signs of this behaviour and learn to recognise
it. Then if the horse stops, allow it to watch the scary object for maybe
10 seconds, before asking it to walk past. If you see something ahead that
might be scary, slow the horse to a walk and let it walk past. Some
trainers say to keep the horse moving in these sircumstances, I totally
object, because that teaches a horse to move if frightened. I want a horse
to stop if frightened. You want to teach the horse a responce to use
always when frightened: To stop, think, and then walk.
are sertain objects that often scare the horse, take some time to
introduce it to them.
If the horse is scared of you wearing a
raincoat, lead the horse and put the raincoat on it's back, and over it's
head, slowly so he doesn't get very frightened, and give him treats.
Repeat this untill the horse doesn't care about the raincoat anymore.
If the horse is scared of a flapping plastic or a sign, go off the
horse and lead it to the scary object, allow it to sniff, pet it, touch
the scary object, and let the horse touch it. Spend half an hour watching
flowers while the horse watches the object if possible. Next time, you
might have to repeat this, but it's more likely your horse will walk past
the object, while maybe staring at it.
If you know clicker
training, it is a wonderful method to use to help the frightened horse.
If you are out on the trail, and the horse sees something really
terrifying, and you manage to stop him, but the totally terrifying thing
is still there, get off the horse, immediately. Do not wait to see if you
have to, or can, stop him again.
Some horses, we have to face it, are simply
stubborn. They feel that they don't have to obey the man if they bolt.
When a stubborn horse bolts and there is no way to stop him it breaks one
of the most important rule: The horse must think that the man has endless
power and is always stronger than the man (unfortunately horses often
learn to see through this "acting" of ours). Both when a horse bolts, and
when a horse refuses completely to move, the horse sees how helpless the
man is, however experienced.
Teach the horse the stop... always,
untill it obeys.
Teach it to stop in the pen. Teach it to back in
the ben. If the horse hurries, let it stop and back, as a reprimand, and
to get it to think. Let it stop from the walk, from the trot and tolt, and
from the canter. Let it stop now, not take 10 seconds from when you ask
untill it stops. If the horse obeys well, allow it to walk relaxed for a
few seconds as a reward, if clicker training works that is good, but
stubborn horses do often not fall for bribes. Train it a lot, so it
definitely understands the clues, and if it is disobedient, if necesarry
you can be a bit harch. If it disobeys and doesn't stop on the spot,
another reprimand is to do as is described in the beginning of this page,
shorten one of the reins, and let the horse walk in a tiny sircle untill
you feel it softening, and is willing to obey.
Teach the horse to
bend in the poll, so it doesn't brace itself against the rein. Take care
to have a soft hand, so as not to encourage the horse to brace itself.
Then, start riding it outside the pen, first at walk, and
consentrate on the stop. Teach the horse to stop and stand with relaxed
reins, count to 30 or 100, and let the horse stand still.
horse has been stiff in the mouth for a long time, the clues may have to
be harch sometimes, but short. You pull the rein, for 1 seconds, the give
the horse the rein again. Repeat again and again if the horse does not
listen. Long pulling at the rein do things worse, even though the horse
maybe listens in the end.
Old advice, like letting the horse run
for miles untill it stops, or letting the horse run in big sircles untill
it stops, requires in my opinion space similar to the Sahara desert, and
are hardly practical in most places.
The horse that can't
be in a group
If you have a good horse for ponying
(leading) the horse on, pony the horse very often. If you go for a long
way that way (in tölt or trot), the horse learns that there is nothing to
be afraid of in riding with another horse. Then, get a helper to ride on a
horse with you. If the horse gets very exited, ride on a track or in a pen
with the other horse. Gradually introduce the horse to more horses an to
being on the road with a horse/horses.
The horse that is
You can't expect a horse to be sensible if it is
in pain. At best, it becomes grumpy and disobedient, at worst it becomes a
Be sure that the horse has floated teeth and a bit
that prevents him from putting the tongue over the bit, if that could be
the problem-starter. Have a vet or someone knowledgeable check whether the
back hurts, or the withers. If the pain can't be solved, don't ride the
When horses bolt, there are some that run and keep their
senses, while others totally loose it, run blindly. Those blind runaways
are, thank goodness, extremely rare in the icelandic breed, but they are a
lot more dangerous. The first type of horse will stop if there is a fence
in front of it, the other not. Blind runaways should not be ridden, the
reason is usually a pain somewhere (or in rare cases a mental problem),
the horse is running away from the pain, but it can't get away, so it
looses it and runs and runs.
best tools are training. Tie-downs, icelandic bit, tteam bit, all this can
be tried, but a horse that isn't changed mentally usually braces itself
against artificial helpers sooner or later. But if the problem isn't big,
these can be enough, and are worth a try, but I advice against them.
A harsh bit only helps for a short while. For example rubber bit,
that seems soft, is hard on bolting horses, because the mouth is often
dry, so the bit is as wiping-rubber and hurts. The icelandic bit can end
up in a horse that is more hard-mouthed than ever.
More about the shortening of one
With many horses and riders, it's enough to say as in
the first sentence in this webpage: Shorten one of the reins a lot when
the horse runs, so the head of the horse is bent to the side, give and
take. For others it doesn't work. So, here is a more accurate version of
how to use this one rein, if simply shortening the rein a lot doesn't
It is best if you've found which of his side is stronger.
When you ride him normally, which side is he more willing to turn to? And
which side does he brace more against.
Okay, let's say you're out
on the road and your horse takes off with you. Most horses will then pull
harder against one rein than the other. It is the most common reaction and
also the easiest to deal with. So assume that that is what he is doing,
first. If you aren't sure which rein he is pulling against experiment
first on one side, then the other. What you are going to do is pull
steadily against the rein that feels soft, while releasing and pulling the
rein that feels hard. (reread that a couple of times to make sure you
understand it, since it seems backward to many people) The secret of this
releasing and pulling movement, is to pull steadily just until you feel
the horse starting to resist. As soon as you feel the resistance,
immediately release, then pull smoothly again. Thus you never allow the
horse to set up against the rein, and each time you pull it sets him back
and rebalances him. It is more like using the brakes on a car on icy
pavement than anything else, you brake until the wheels start to lock,
then quickly let go, then smoothly brake again.
What if your horse
has no obvious weaker side, as you pull on them he sticks his head out and
pulls against you equally against both reins? Then use the same technique
as you did first, but just swap hands every few strides to keep him from
setting up too much on your steady hand.
What I've written here on this page has always been
enough, and given me the best results. There is though one method that has
become more and more popular in USA lately, and even though I have been
able to stop problem horses with the method described above, I want to
describe this method too, as it is a very good one. Then you have several
training-tools to use. Mount your horse, preferably in a pen. Put a little
pressure (slowly pick up the rein and just take the slack out of it), on
one rein, keeping the other rein absolutely loose. Wait, and do not
increase or decrease pressure. When the horse relaxes his neck the tiniest
bit, you drop your rein pressure entirely, give him a while to enjoy the
stop. If he pulls do not pull back, just keep the slack out and wait. Do
that on each side very often, for example a hundred times. As the horse
gets the idea, only release when you feel him actively turning toward the
pressure. Make your pressures lighter and lighter. Don't alternate reins,
do 25 on the right, then 25 on the left.
Now you've got the horse
listening to your hand at a stop. Do the same thing again while you ask
him to move his feet, another hundred times each side at least. You might
have been working for an hour now. If you can't do it in one session, do
it in several sessions. As you ask him to move his feet it will be harder
for him to listen to your rein. Don't alternate right and left, do 25
right and then 25 left.
Now, you are going to want his hind feet
to take a big step to one side. If you work on the left him first, you
walk the horse forward, and turn around in the saddle until you can see
the left hip. Then bend his neck around to the left. You're probably going
to have to exaggerate your body position and his body position for the
first time or two, and give him big release when he is actually in the
process of stepping over. Do this another hundred times, now you are
disengaging the hind quarters.
Now he's stopping really nicely as
soon as he feels your body shift. Now you want him to take a big step to
the side and then back up, all by just pressure from the one rein. Get the
step over, releasing the rein as he steps, put pressure back in the rein,
straighten out your body (stop looking at his hip) and think back. If you
get stuck here, ask for it from the ground a few times or get somebody to
help you from the ground to get the first step back.