A horse galloping at liberty is a sublime sight, but trouble trumps grandeur when that horse is rollicking in the arena where you’re riding. If you ever share an arena with other riders, it’s inevitable that one of your fellow equestriennes will become unseated, or a horse being led or lunged will get away from his handler while you’re schooling your horse in the ring. If you’re lucky, that horse will do little more than wander off or wait quietly to be caught. However, loose horses often panic and start running. This is especially true if his tack is flapping or he think he’s being chased by dragging equipment.
So what do you when you’re in the midst of this potentially dangerous situation?
- Prepare your horse in advance. Developing a relationship based on trust, relaxation, and responsiveness to your cues should a priority every time you handle and ride your horse. It will serve you well when you find yourself in the midst of any stressful situation.
- Shorten your reins. While you never want to pull on your horse’s face or make him feel trapped, especially when he’s under the influence of the flight instinct, you do want to actively direct his nervous energy onto a specific path. This will give him something to focus on and make him more attentive to you.
- Sit deeply in the saddle. A secure seat will help you stay balanced and communicate confidence to your horse.
- Remember that you are in control. Our own fear can quickly paralyze us. Remain calm and focus on guiding your horse. Take deep breaths and speak to your horse out loud, “Listen to me, (your horse’s name). I’ve got this. You’re fine.” Speaking will help you breathe and be soothing to your horse.
- Face the loose horse. Keep your horse turned toward the loose horse. That will put him in a dominant position relative to the interloper, helping him feel more empowered and less anxious. It will also keep your line of sight on what is going on around you.
- Be as firm as necessary to get your horse to respond to you. You may need to adjust the amount of pressure it takes for him to feel you in the heat of the moment. However, apply all contact smoothly. Quick or jerky movements will startle your already tense horse.
- Distract your horse by engaging him in simple tasks. Bend him on a small circle. Ask him to flex and lower his head. Move him away from the action with a leg yield or send him forward in a shoulder in. Keep your horse busy with the focus on creating relaxation to keep him calm despite what’s going on around him. Moving your horse forward motion with steady supportive rein contact will also reduce the chance of a sideways spook or bolt.