How to Handle a Runaway Horse

Whether your horse is an older, long-time companion or a youngster wanting to "sow his wild oats," there's always the chance he may take off running if the opportunity arises. You may be putting on his bridle when he bolts. Or perhaps you're doing some groundwork and when you turn your back for a second he darts off.

If you board your horse at a stable and there are other horses in the vicinity, they also may want to get into the action. Once they realize their buddy is loose, the other horses may get excited and start bucking, whinnying and dancing around in their stalls. In a very short time, bedlam can erupt.

Not only does such a situation trigger stress for horse owners, escaping also can be dangerous for your horse. A loose horse, especially one that is panicked, could run through fences, dash in front of moving vehicles, careen into buildings, or rush onto unsafe footing and fall. It's not a good situation for you or your horse.

What Motivates a Horse to Flee?

"Horses don't like being confined anymore than we do," says Dr. Dean Scoggins, equine extension veterinarian at the University of Illinois. "When they get the chance for a little freedom, most of them are going to take advantage of the situation." They may bolt on an impulse and once they are free they may not know what to do. "It's as though they run because the opportunity is there, but once they stop to think about what they're doing, they don't know why they're doing it," he says.

According to Tracy Porter, a John Lyons select horse trainer, horses can also bolt out of fear. "Maybe something has them spooked and they feel the sudden need to take off and get away from whatever has them scared."

Other times, Porter says, the horse simply may need to work on his manners, or perhaps the owner has to work on horsemanship skills. It could be that the owner tied an improper knot when he roped the horse to the horse trailer, and so the horse was able to get loose. Or maybe the owner didn't do a good job bridling or haltering the horse and as he fumbled around trying to get the bridle on, the horse ran off.

How to Catch an Equine Escapee

Obviously, your best bet is to take precautions so you don't have to deal with a runaway horse in the first place. Check the latches on your gates to make sure they are working properly. Practice your haltering and bridling techniques so that when you take the bridle completely off your horse's face, he doesn't think to bolt.

That said, if your horse does get loose, certainly you want to capture him and get the situation under control as quickly as possible. Here's what Scoggins and Porter recommend you do:

How do you corral a horse? Imagine a line at the horse's withers, right behind his elbows. If you want to drive your horse forward or make him turn right, you should get behind that line. If you get ahead of the line, you'll either stop the horse or you'll turn him away from you. If you get in front of the horse to where you're almost at his eye, you'll actually get him to turn into you.