Q: Within the last year or so, my ex-racer Thoroughbred has started to run away with me on a hack as soon as we come to an open area – he’s fine to school in an arena. It’s now scaring me, so what can I do about it?
Minette Rice Edwards answers:
It sounds as if your horse has developed a habit that can only be resolved by a change of management in the way you ride him out. Thoroughbreds, particularly those who have raced, have a high adrenalin rush when they gallop, causing them to become excited. Start by decreasing his hard feed if appropriate, turn him out as much as possible and reduce his fitness.
I suspect that over time, you have galloped in the same places during your rides. Your horse has come to expect this stimulating routine and now gets upset if you try to prevent his addictive surge of adrenalin – and your understandable loss of confidence also causes him some anxiety.
Improve his suppleness, submission and balance by schooling him, making sure he listens to you. Make good use of your back during downward transitions and collection – do not pull, keep your legs on him to bring his hindlegs underneath him – as this will be effective in slowing him down. Remember, good transitions improve control!
Start by taking him on unfamiliar rides or just go on sections of your usual routes. Lunge or work him in the school first, then walk out for a short distance. Get off (as long as you can get back on!) and lead him along any area where he is tempted to speed up – maybe even let him graze to relax (use a lead rope). Do not mount him again until you are on ‘safe territory’ and you can rely on him staying calm.
Gradually does it!
Gradually lengthen your rides, then when you’re able to ride onto an open space, vary the routine – maybe ride a serpentine down a straight lane or try circling around trees. If he ‘builds up steam’, jump off and walk for a while to settle him. You may have to walk for a month or so until you have broken his habitual pattern – don’t start to trot until you’re sure that he’ll behave. Remember that long, slow rides are much more effective than short, fast ones.
When you can walk and trot with confidence, add some cantering – maybe school him in the corner of an open field. If he shows any signs of returning to his old habits, go back to walk for a while.
You’ll need patience and perseverance,
but it will be worth it to regain your confidence and his composure.