Oh yeah, I remember the day Pat ran away with me. Pat was a brown pinto mare on my uncle’s farm. Normally, I was lucky to get her to move one step forward at a walk. But one day, my uncle saddled her for me and up I went. But, what the complicated the issue was he had separated her from her foal.  I didn’t know that that wasn’t a good idea to not separate a mare from her youngun’. After all, I was only ten and a city slicker with no experience with horses.

Well, the filly got to nickering for her mama and Pat wanted to go to her. She  bolted and off we went out the pig lot at a full run, through an open gate to the pasture, along the pasture fence–western saddle slipping sideways. She suddenlhy came to a sliding halt at the corner post…nickered for her baby while I frantically shifted the saddle back up so I could hold onto the horn again.She wheeled around and took off again, galloping back to the pig lot. Another sliding stop and off I jumped ship…or horse. (No I didn’t fall off). Well, she wheeled about and went to bucking rodeo style until the girth broke and the saddle went flying into a mud puddle.  And to the barn the mare went. I guess my mom and dad thought I needed riding lessons and so began my riding career.

Yep, horses run away with riders. So, if you want to kill a character in your story, put ’em on a runaway. If you want your hero to look even more dashing, put your heroine on a runaway and let him save the day.

Horses become runaway for various reasons. For one, they simply want to return to the barn. They’ve had enough of the trek and back they go. This is common with rental horses which could be used in a contemporary stories as well as historicals. Another reason they flee is because something scared them like a falling branch, a loud shot, bang, noise,a sting from a bee or horsefly (they can bite, trust me).In some cases, it can be something imaginary or predatory like smelling a mountain lion.  Some horses just like to run off with the rider though. It’s a power thing. The horse knows the rider doesn’t know how to ride and it’s time to scare ’em.  Or it could be circumstantial as it was with Pat and her foal.

But, what do you do with a runaway? I would like to say it was my inborn natural ability that kept me on board but it was the hand of God that kept me from flying off Pat that day.  Horses know if you don’t know how to ride. You can tell if someone get into the car’s driverseat and doesn’t know how to drive…they don’t have to say a word. Same thing with horses. Instinct, practice, or body language, but they know. I also think it’s in the touch as how the rider handles the reins, pet their neck. Nerves tremble and they feel it.

Now, some good horses are patient and kind and take care of the rider. Most school horses are like this. But there are those, like people, who are mean, take advantage and are barn runners/runaways, i.e. rental horses. What to do?

Well, keep your knees tight, hold on to the mane or saddle horn, keep a tight grip on the reins. Watch where you’re being taken and watch out for low tree limbs. (Yeah, these limbs are good ways to knock a rider off and kill ’em or hurt ’em.) And think…What happened? Is the horse bolting or running? Bolting means he takes off quick, goes a ways, and  usually stops as if stunned. This would be a fright as in the sudden noise or sting thing.  Running means the rider is going places…likely to the barn but not necessarily.

One choice here is, if you’re going off into somewhere, go with him and keep him running and running and running until really exhausted. This would be if the rider knows the area and how to ride. (for experienced riders and heroes only). 

Now of course, you could simply sit back, say whoa, and pull back on the reins. Fat chance that works if he’s a runner.  So, here’s something else you can do. I want you to try running forward with your upper body turned to the left or right. Can’t run very well, huh? Neither can a horse if its head is pulled to the side-back toward your knee. The problem with this is two-fold. One: this will be hard because the horse’s neck is very strong. Two: the rein could break while pulling.  So pull the other rein and his head/neck toward the other knee. If that breaks too, Pray. And hold on for dear life, keeping your knees tight of course. Watch where you’re going…likely back to the ranch/barn, so all you hve to do is watch for trees and stay low.

And, if the horse is really nasty, he can rear up on his hind legs, buck like a rodeo bronc, wheel about like a top. So, your knees better  be very tight in all these cases.  If the horse rears, do not lean back but lean forward into the mane to use your weight to press him down. If he bucks, knees tight and hang on. If he wheels, knees tight and hang on.

Now, our heroine’s horse just bolted off with her. She screaming for help, arms flying, trees a’comin’. What’s a hero to do? He races his trusty stallion after her, runs along side her horse, grabs the cheek straps of the bridle or rein, and slows HIS stallion, slowing both horses as he turns in circles. (Now if you want to complicate things more, that nasty horse could back up out of the bridle if there isn’t a neck strap and take off again.)  I would recommend the hero to hoist the heroine onto his stallion and led the bratty horse home. (Very convenient for sexual tension here or other things could come up.)

If you want to kill a character off or hurt them, here’s a scenario. First, the horse runs off by some reason you contrive.(see above) The rider loses a stirrup and the horse takes a sudden turn. His knees aren’t tight so off he goes; however, his foot could get caught in the stirrup. Thus, the horse returns to the ranch/barn with a trampled dead body in tow.  Or you could ride said character into  low branch and knock him silly and off. Concussion time maybe! This could be a minor injury or death as you prefer.

Another way you can hurt or kill your villan or character is to have the horse rear up and fall over on him or her. However, I’m still here  even though my walk-trot horse reared up and fell over on me,  I don’t recommend trying this for fun. Saw stars, I did. Wheeling like a top simply throws the rider off and is perfect for slipping the foot into the stirrup to be dragged home like a rag.

Carriage horses will also bolt for all the same reasons. So, pulling the team to into a circle  isn’t gonna work here.  One saving grace could be the runaway is harnessed with a good horse that won’t run. That’s an option to safety. But, horses like to run and sometimes all it takes is one to start it. Call it the herd instinct. Now, in the Celtic days, it is said that a driver could run along the wagon tongue out to the lead horses racing at a full run. But, if there is no wagon tongue, no can’t do. The dynamic stagecoach driver could vault down onto one of the runners and try stopping one animal and drag the team to a halt or he could miss the jump and get run over by the driverless stagecoach. You decide.

I hope by now you have a feel for what to do with a runaway or barn runner in life as well as your books. Remember, the best thing is to keep your knees tight, pay attention, and pray a lot. Or get a trusty horse to start with…unless you want to be saved by the hero.

This is an excellent video on circling a horse

This is an unbelievable horror at a parade…

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