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.
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?