Springtime always makes me think of fresh grass and fresh horses. A little sunshine, a little taste of the luscious green Pacific Northwest grass, and the horses are feeling good! Perhaps feeling a little too good! The danger when turning horses out comes at the gate: Two things can happen; 1) Your horse rips away from you before he’s unhooked, launching you off your feet or burning your hands on the rope or 2) You have more than one horse in the pen. Herd dynamics may dictate their focus is no longer on you and getting away from the other horse. If you get caught in the middle, you could be seriously injured.
My mare, April, is the sweetest horse on earth. She would NEVER intentionally hurt me or anyone. Because of her tendency towards Laminitis, she lives in a sacrifice area eating hay most of the time. Her pen is large enough to move freely but she longs for the big field where she can frolic and burn up the excess energy she has. We also keep our horses off the main pastures during the wet season to maintain the ground, avoiding damage to the fields.
Every Spring when I begin the morning routine of 15-30 minutes of grass in the morning, I’m pretty careful about the process. In the past when I’ve used a halter and lead to bring her from her pen to the field (They’re not adjoining) she gets pretty amped up and almost impossible to hold still while I get her unhooked. Several times she has tried to take off before I get her halter offer or the lead shank unsnapped. I have had rope burns on my hands and my feet stomped on as she launches herself away from me.
After much frustration and realizing that punishing her for pulling away didn’t work, I found the following steps to be the most helpful:
As she’s gotten older and less energetic, I just lead her out with my hand under her throatlatch. There’s no halter to remove or lead shank to unhook. She will generally just amble away now. This is how I got my horse to be respectful when turning out. There is certainly more than one way to get a handle on this problem, but this is what worked for me.
Here’s some good resources for training a horse that bolts when being turned out:
Safety is a big deal in leading horses. This is really an issue of respect. Do your groundwork and spend some time training. In the long run you will have a much safer departure in the field. Feel free to share your experience by emailing [email protected].
Be safe, have fun and do the work!