Lessons Remembered: Never Canter Back to the Barn

Lessons remembered: bolting horse

Some lessons stick with you a long time. This one, I didn’t even have to learn the hard way. Instead of living though the experience myself, I watched it happen.

When I was about 12, I was trail riding at the barn where I took lessons. It had been a long ride and the horses were anxious to get home. As we approached the long drive, one of the schoolies — a gentle soul — started to trot. The kid riding pulled back, but the horse kept going, gaining speed until they were at a full gallop. As they approached the barn, we all took a collective breath and said a prayer. The horse flew into the barn, the kid ducked, and they skidded to a stop.

Lessons Remembered
Once a horse has bolted, it’s brain shuts off and even with a bit you have little control

The kid was frightened but not injured. It could have been much worse. I learned an important lesson. Never, ever run your horse back to the barn.

Yesterday, when I pulled up to the barn, I noticed that Freedom was on alert over by the fence that separates his pasture from the main trail. His tail was high, his neck was arched and he was blowing. Looking into the distance, I could see two horses disappearing into the woods.

Ten minutes later, one of the horses returned. This time at a canter, which looked to me like it was tipping into a gallop. Freedom was revved up (you should see him gallop when he gets moving. That horse may be 23 but he has some serious speed). With the excitement of a race with my horse and the fact that this horse was headed home, I wondered if the girl would be able stop when he got to the gate, or whether they would spill out onto the road and continue down the street.

The girl did manage to pull up, but the moment brought back the kid and the barn with amazing clarity.

I always walk back to the barn. Preferably on a loose rein. Okay, there are times when Freedom has jigged back to the barn, or in more likelihood, jigged the entire ride, but unless I’m dodging a thunderstorm, I never, ever give my horses the idea that galloping home is acceptable. Even with a strong bit, once a horse bolts you have little control, unless you’re able to use a one-rein stop or disengage his haunches. When you’re on pavement, you can’t even do that safely.

When I was in my 20s, I leased a horse that was afraid of dogs. One day out trail riding, a dog came after us. That horse took off like a bat out of hell. His brain completely shut off. He was prey and the dog thought we were playing a game. We were on a paved road, so pulling him hard was out of the question. After a half a mile or so, the dog gave up. Thankfully, we didn’t encounter any traffic, and as we approached a curve in the road, I was able to ease him off into the field on the other side. I can still remember the relief I felt when he finally stopped and I realized we were both fine.

Have you ever seen a horse bolt for home? How did it end?

5 thoughts on “Lessons Remembered: Never Canter Back to the Barn

  1. My first horse was an unregistered buckskin QH. McDuff (I didnt name him) was not a good horse for a first time owner/green rider. Barn sour, refused to go any faster than a fast walk, wouldn’t stand tied…he taught me a lot, he did, mostly how to ‘fix’ things like not standing tied.
    One day I went trail riding with a friend. McDuff was planning it the entire way. There was a spot in the trail that dropped down a foot or so, so that a horse’s front end was lower than his hind. I didn’t know, and even if I had, I wouldn’t have known what to do. McDuff knew, though…the moment his forefeet were lower than his hind, ….his hind end came up, with a violence I hadn’t any idea he was capable of. He bucked me off, right over his head. Then he turned and raced back to the barn, leaving me about 2 miles from the barn with a sprained back. My friend insisted I get behind her on her horse, but the pain was so bad I couldn’t stand it. So I walked back with a sprained back. Someone had untacked McDuff and put him up, and he was waiting for his dinner.

    1. Ouch! I have been lucky that so far I’ve never been left behind after falling off. Zelda taught me the lesson about not letting your itchy horse rub on anything when she rubbed her head against a hook on the barn wall and got it caught in her bit. She pulled the thing right out of the wall and then stood there looking pleased with herself. Thank goodness it came out pretty easily.

  2. That they most definitely do…
    I fell off of Jordan several times, which is where I learned that it’s far easier on your bones to fall off a short horse than a tall one. Jordan was barely legal at 14.3 and I could get back on him by standing on a rock if I was trail riding. Raven was 16.2 and I was much older then, and I needed a mounting block to get back on him. But BOTH of them just stood and looked at me, as if to say, silly ape, what are you doing down there?

    You have to love a horse that doesn’t abandon you.

    Thank goodness Zelda didn’t get hurt. Jordan lost a tush some time before I bought him, and the vet theorized he got hooked a bit hooked on something and panicked, tearing the tush out. Ouch….It may be the reason he (who’d been a show horse at least in some time in his life) was so trailer shy. Horses don’t ever forget being hurt.

  3. The mare I’m riding right now does that, she always races back to the barn, partially because of her barn sourness, and the other part from her other primary rider lets her. We have a track, and the moment she catches sight of the barn she tries to race back in any way possible, jigging, trotting, etc. The other rider is a green rider and just doesn’t know any better and thinks its cute, but this post really struck home today.

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