I was thinking about all of the times I have avoided being run over or knocked down by another out of control horse at an endurance ride. I guess when you ride more than 30,000 miles including a few point to point or long cross country rides you gain that kind of experience. It’s NOT the kind of experience I want to have, but since I do….I thought I might share a few of my thoughts on what to do, or what not to do depending upon the situation.
This will be a good post to talk about some real life examples. Oh boy! The most important lesson of all when it comes to dealing with loose horses, whether in camp or on the trail – is to put yourself and your own horse(s) first. Don’t try to be a hero and catch another loose horse especially if there is even a .01% chance that it could result in your own horse(s) also getting loose. I’ve seen that scenario play out in real life as well. It’s bad enough having one horse loose, if you add yours to the mix, or somebody else does then pretty soon there may be a half a dozen horse’s running amock.
Important Rule #1: No matter what happens – always keep control of your own horse.
I have been yelled at for not attempting to catch another experienced riders loose horse at the start of a ride. Nevermind that I had my hands full trying to control my own horse. Had I even thought of letting go of one rein (I had a tight hold on BOTH reins) the odds of my horse dumping me and running off onto the highway with the other horse would have been high. Always, always be absolutely sure in your ability to control your own horse before you try to go fetching somebody else’s horse.
Important Rule #2: Get out of the way!
When a horse is panicking and galloping back towards camp or out of fear, that horse is NOT at all concerned about your safety or that of the horse you are riding. Horse’s will run full speed into objects and other horses when they are running in a panic. That leads to the first thing to do: Get out of harms way! This isn’t always easy to do, as there may not be time and there may not be a safe place to escape to. Try and move over and as far away as you can from the horse if it is coming towards you.
I experienced that on the XP this summer. I looked back and could see a horse galloping towards us full tilt. It blew past other riders and just kept coming towards us faster, and faster. I quickly hopped off of Chief and climbed up the side of the bank of the trail we were on. The loose horse didn’t even slow down as she blew by us at a full out gallop. Just a couple hundred yards up ahead, the horse hit a barbed wire fence/gate. The horse would absolutely not have stopped or slowed down had I been stupid enough to try and get in her path and it would have resulted in some pretty serious injuries to all involved. I think that I was safer being on the ground in that instance, since it took Chief a few minutes to calm down from all of the commotion. Coincidentally, that wasn’t the first, nor was it the last time that other horse got loose and caused wrecks.
Important Rule #3: If you can’t get out of the way, use your horse as a barrier.
Try and move your horse so that he is inbetween you and the loose horse. Your horse will do a much better job of fending off an oncoming horse than you will. Keep a good two hand hold on your horse’s lead or reins. Stand your horse so that the least amount of surface area will be facing the oncoming horse. There is less chance of getting run into that way.
As the horse goes flying by (odds are, it won’t run into you or your horse), try and divert your horse’s attention by turning in a circle and talking to your horse. Some horses will get extremely excited when this happens, while others may stand quietly watching the whole scenario play out. Do what works best to keep your horse calm and in control.
Often times, the worst thing you can do is try and play hero by running off after the loose horse. The loose horse is often running in a panic and if that is the case, having another horse chasing behind will only make the situation worse and cause the loose horse to run even farther. It is far safer to wait a few seconds to see what is going to happen – if the horse that is loose is running away from other horses he may decide that it isn’t such a good idea and may turn around and come back. I’ve seen that happen more times than not.
In a few cases, the horse may keep going rather than coming back. If you decide that you want to go after the horse, then do it in a way so that the horse doesn’t think he’s being chased. Proceed slowly and keep enough distance away so that the horse doesn’t feel ‘chased’.
I’ve seen one scenario play out where two horses got loose and a third rider decided to chase after them to catch them. Only the rider’s horse ran away with her and now there were three runaways, only one of them had a rider. That situation would not have happened if not for the rider who thought she was helping and only made the situation worse, as the first two loose horses were stopping and only started moving again when they were being ‘chased’.
Important Rule #5: If in camp and you hear horses running loose, don’t go running outside to see what is going on.
Seriously, you may get plowed over! If you are inside a trailer or camper, open the door and look around. Make sure it’s safe to go outside, especially if it is dark. If there are loose horse(s) in camp they may or may not be running in a panic and could just be roaming around and need to be caught.
One year at a ride a horse that was in a portable corral decided to take through camp dragging the entire set of corral panels behind it. It started with wrapping the panels around my truck, then tore through my front porch area. I wasn’t able to get out of my trailer until the horse had completely drug and broken up my entire front porch up – chairs, tables, etc. It was like a tornado went through. The horse than dragged the panels and whatever else was now being dragged across the top of my trailer ramp before heading towards my horse on the trailer. By this time I was able to get outside and undo the quick release and let Chief go loose. There was nothing else I could do. By that point the loose but not really loose horse was so entangled in the corral panels that he could no longer move. It took some time to get the wreck cleaned up. Had I run outside without looking first I would have been mowed over
Each situation can be different. If you find yourself in a situation where there is a loose or loose horses try and stay calm. Make sure that what you are doing is really going to help, and that you won’t inadvertently cause a situation to get worse. It may seem wrong to not even try to catch a loose out of control horse–however; if by doing so you are keeping your own horse safe and eliminating the chance of adding another loose horse to the mix then you really are helping.
If a horse has gotten loose, ran about, and is now coming back the odds are that it’ll be easy to catch. This is the time where it is more appropriate to wave your arms and try to slow the horse down as he approaches. Be ready to get out of the way if it appears that the horse isn’t going to slow down. I know my horses will slow down if they are turned out and come running when I call them – but I don’t know that about anybody else’s horses. Never assume that another horse will behave like your own do. Often, a simply loose horse or two can be rounded up and caught with a bucket that has some grain in it. There aren’t many horses that won’t show some interest in that. Horses that are simply roaming around loose in camp is an entirely different scenario than a horse or several horses running in a panic out of fear, possibly dragging something and great care needs to be given when deciding how to handle each type of situation. Always be safe!
Here is a pretty graphic video of race horses colliding into each other head on. This is to show why it’s more important to put safety first and not try to catch or stop a running loose out of control horse.