Thursday 7 July 2016


I recently posted about how Kachina is good for occasional pony rides when people I know come out to the barn.

Last weekend, my good friend L came to visit me for a few days. She isn't a rider, but she's spent enough time at her grandparent's farm and at various summer camps to be fairly competent on horseback. I brought her out to the barn to see and ride Kachina.

These are photos L took of me when I was warming her up during the same ride
Bet you're jealous of my barn's super ghetto mounting block haha 

I'm pretty safety conscious, so as usual when anyone else rides my horse, I made sure L was outfitted with heeled boots and a helmet, tacked up western for extra security, warmed Kachina up myself first, and then clipped a lead rope to the halter to start my friend riding while I lunged Kachina around me for extra control.

Early warm-up, so not yet on the bit
Yes, I am wearing English breeches with a western saddle and cowboy boots :-P

Kachina was pretty good for L for the lunging portion. She wasn't on the bit, and she cantered once when we were trying to trot, but otherwise seemed good, and L was riding well. I unclipped them to let them wander around the arena by themselves, with the direction to stay at a walk.

They walked around in both direction for quite a while and it was going awesomely. Kachina really relaxed and started to stretch her neck out and down. L was easily able to direct her where she wanted to go. Kachina gave one tiny spook due to a bird and my friend calmly sat it and carried on like nothing happened which is exactly what Kachina needs. They did more walking around and changes of direction and all was good. For complete beginners, I would have ended the ride there (or on the lunge, depending), but L does have some experience riding and seemed to be riding well, so I said they could trot. I'm all about the disclaimers so I think my exact words were "you guys are doing really great so feel free to trot if you want to, I can't guarantee she won't run away or go faster but I leave the decision up to you". I partly said this because during my own ride, Kachina kept trying to canter (we had worked on canter transitions a lot my last ride), but her canter transitions were soft and she came back to me each time so I didn't really think there would be a problem.

They started trotting. In the first lap (this was the huge outdoor arena so a lap is big), Kachina broke into a canter twice (and omg, such nice transitions!) but it was a nice canter and L got her back to the trot pretty quickly so I wasn't fussed. Then, Kachina broke into a canter again, but something spooked her and she went into a big runaway canter. She stayed on the rail but she really picked up speed and had her head straight up. L was clearly not in control any more. I'm really not a good instructor which is a problem in these situations but I was trying to give her simple instructions to "lean back", "pull one rein", "grab the horn with your other hand". Since Kachina had gone from a stretched out relaxed frame to one with giraffe head, her neck had shortened dramatically and L's reins were way too long be effective, and she didn't seem to know how to shorten them. I was shouting at Kachina to whoa and trying to use lunging body language, but Kachina was clearly in a mode where she was scaring herself with the speed and wasn't sure what to do or how to stop. Also, as L told me later, she was holding on for dear life and so essentially gripping hard with her legs and telling Kachina to go faster.

After a couple laps of runaway canter (it seemed to go both in slow motion and super fast so I can't recall how long exactly), L lost her seat and tumbled off in the corner. She hit the sand and rolled several feet. The second L came off, Kachina turned to the inside of the arena (away from L) and trotted right up to me, puffing. L quickly jumped to her feet and walked over to me too.

Part of our warm-up includes lateral neck suppling stretches

I felt so so bad that Kachina had run away with my friend and made her fall (though I know it wasn't out of meanness) and I apologized profusely, but L very good-naturedly shrugged off the incident. She did, however, decline to get back on Kachina. Kachina needed both a cool down and a good note to end the ride on so I got back up and schooled her for another 10-20 min. The second I got on, Kachina seemed to walk around extra carefully like "what happened? I don't want that to happen again". We did some relaxed walk circles and then worked on walk-trot-walk transitions, coming back down to walk whenever she started rushing at the trot or trying to canter. There were no further mishaps and we all came out of it none the worse for wear. L gave Kachina treats and pats afterwards so there were no hard feelings.

This runaway canter has only happened to me once before with Kachina and that was when she spooked and I lost my stirrups. I noticed a lot of similarities about that time and this time so I can draw some conclusions about Kachina's thoughts and actions when it happens. Normally, when Kachina spooks, she just puts on a little spurt of speed and then immediately calms down after a step or two. She is less balanced and comfortable at the canter though so if she spooks at the canter it becomes harder to slow down. If her rider isn't supporting her well with a solid seat and hand, she doesn't get that she needs to slow down. If her rider doesn't have a solid seat, attempts to turn her or stop her with rein or leg will just further freak her out and not be effective. She stays running because she is unbalanced and scared and doesn't understand how to stop. Once she does stop, she is as relieved as you are.

Either just being crooked, or giving stink eye to Mr. Plastic Steer

This incident brought up some more things to think about:
A) I'm not sure how to prevent this happening in the future, because I can generally catch her before it gets to that point when I ride myself. However, it could happen to me again if I lost my seat or stirrups again.
B) Does this mean Kachina needs more work at the canter right now to become more comfortable, or does it mean she isn't ready for the canter work yet?.
C) This is only the second time this has happened, but is there a chance it will turn into a dangerous bolting habit?
D) This further reinforces my knowledge that Kachina is not a beginner's horse, and I need to be extra careful about letting other people do anything more than walk with her.
E) I have recently wondered about riding Kachina with a looser rein and being more comfortable with less control, however, this taught me that while I do still need to encourage Kachina to stretch into longer contact, it is best for both of us if speed is strictly regulated, because it can get out of control pretty fast.
F) Kachina is not actually that easy of a horse to ride, I should give myself a bit more credit.
G) I should practice an emergency stop with Kachina sometimes and then teach it to anyone else who rides her - I did this with my last mare who had a tendency to bolt and buck, but Kachina's frame of mind is totally different when she does it so I've been hesitant to do anything that might risk unbalancing her. I should experiment with different ways to stop that will work for her (and that do not rely on seat).
H) Am I totally blowing a relatively minor incident way out of proportion and overthinking it to death? Probably haha

Has your horse ever tried to kill someone you like? (intentionally or unintentionally)


  1. I think it is pretty natural for a horse to react like that. She spooked and your friend unintentionally confirmed Kachina's fear. I wouldn't consider Stinker to have a habit of bolting. It has happened several times when he was losing balance and decided faster was the answer but with time we will work through that. I agree that for now trotting should be off the table for beginners. I don't think you should back off the canter necessarily but I would keep it in mind. Consistency is your friend right now. I have not given Stinker a chance to do anything to anyone.

    1. Thanks, I think those are very sensible thoughts. Actually just writing through the post made me realize that it really wasn't that major of an issue so my overreaction is pretty much over haha. The biggest thing I am happy about is that Kachina was never naughty - she went fast, but she never bucked or leaped or even changed direction.

  2. Oh, this is just the worst! I was working with a group of inexperienced riders at a summer camp one year, and all of them were mounted on ancient, broke to death horses. They were learning to trot- I had them going in a small arena one at a time on the long side. One girl's horse broke into a lazy canter, at which point she gripped him harder with her legs. He went faster. I told her to pull him in a circle with one rein, but she was too panicked and started screaming instead. She eventually fell off into the arena rail and her horse trotted over to me, totally freaked out.

    It's difficult to do anything when you're trying to give the rider instructions in the moment and they can't or won't listen. Since that time, I have simply informed beginners about one-rein stops in case of an emergency and had them practice gently at a walk before sending them out on the rail.

    Sounds like Kachina was freaked out because her rider was freaked out, but I'm glad everyone is okay!

  3. No, that doesn't make your horse a bolter. Nor is she likely to turn in to one.


    The more trained your horse becomes, the less good they are for the "pony ride" type stuff because they're expecting the rider to provide guidance. Some horses know to size up their riders and ignore them accordingly, but it sounds K might not be one of those or your friend knows just enough to be dangerous.

    Your horse, your call. I don't give pony rides on C anymore because the negatives are high and the positives almost non-existent.