What to Do If a Horse Gets Loose in the Arena

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Loose Horse

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.

The problem is that horses are birds of a feather. They pick up on each other’s nervous energy. So, your usually calm mount could get caught up in the excitement the loose horse is generating. Adrenaline releases into his bloodstream, his heart rate increases, and his lungs pull in more oxygen as his brain tells him he escape may be necessary to survive. A horse in this alert state of mind is more unpredictable and difficult to handle. In the meantime, you have the potentially erratic the behavior of the loose horse to deal with as well.

So what do you when you’re in the midst of this potentially dangerous situation?

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Sit deeply in the saddle. A secure seat will help you stay balanced and communicate confidence to your horse.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.

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5 COMMENTS

  1. I suggest to NEVER face a loose horse while mounted. Travel in the same direction as a loose one. Still be looking and paying attention, but it’s better to be rear ended than to have one hit you head on. I’ve been working at the racetrack for the last four years and have seen my fair share of loose horses and accidents. Most loose horses are “running blind” and aren’t really paying attention to where they are going.

  2. I agree with Elaine, putting your horse and youself out of harm’s way gives a loose horse a better chance of being caught and secured.

  3. I’ve worked for years on the racetrack ponying horses where loose horses are a fairly common occurrence. One of the most dangerous things you can do is to face a loose horse, especially if he’s running wide open. If you’re facing a loose horse when he comes running by, your horse may wheel, sometimes at the last moment-throwing you in front of the runaway. Your horse may also rear straight up and possibly fall over. Besides what your horse might to, there is a very strong possibility that the two horses will have a head-on collision. A head-on collision when one horse is going full speed usually results in serious injury to one or both horses, often requiring euthanasia. The riders likewise are generally injured. It is much better to face the horse away from the loose horse. Move your horse to the side of the path the loose horse seems to be taking. In an arena this would probably be toward the center. Jog your horse. This will help answer his instinctive need to run with the loose horse. If the loose horse comes right up behind you, your horse may jump forward when the loose horse is just behind or beside you, but your horse should come back to a jog fairly easily if you remain calm. The worse thing that will happen is that your horse may take off with you for a short distance. That is much better than having him wheel out from under you(possibly throwing you in the loose horse’s path), falling over backwards, or colliding with the loose horse. I found most of the points in this article to be spot-on, but facing your horse toward a loose, running horse is a seriously dangerous thing to do.

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