View Full Version : Any horse experts? I need something to make a horse go wild and bolt

04-02-2011, 06:48 PM
Hi all,

Currently writing a novel, and need some horse expertise. Is there anything that can be done to make a horse go wild and just runaway? I need it to be something small, not like a huge noise or thunder. Basically something someone can do quickly and without detection. Maybe something with tacking up or a scent that they can't stand. Please help if you can!


04-02-2011, 07:05 PM
It would depend on the horse-they can have phobias just like people. If your perpetrator set this up in advance, he could sensitize the horse to a particular thing that would set it off. Give the horse pain or a frightening noise every time he holds up a scented item until it's a trigger. Or, if your perp knew that a particular horse had an issue already, he could choose that one for your victim.

When this happened to me, I was simply going over a small curb from a street onto sand. The horse decided to jump it, then gave two bucks and took off at a full run. Inexplicable...but in retrospect, I think he did not expect soft sand and panicked. Best ride of my life, but it could have ended very badly for both of us.

Elaine Margarett
04-02-2011, 07:29 PM
Hi all,

Currently writing a novel, and need some horse expertise. Is there anything that can be done to make a horse go wild and just runaway? I need it to be something small, not like a huge noise or thunder. Basically something someone can do quickly and without detection. Maybe something with tacking up or a scent that they can't stand. Please help if you can!


LOL, depending on the horse, anything or nothing. But if you need it to be casued by someone, a pea shooter, a plastic bag rustling, a water gun, a bright light, an unexpected shadow, etc.

It could be something laying along the ground like a wire or even an unsual(unexpected) object along a trail the horse doesn't expect.

04-02-2011, 07:39 PM
Thanks for the input guys. I was wondering if there was something we could do that wouldn't be instant. A pea shooter or a noise would certainly work, but it's something that will make a horse bolt right away after hearing it. It's not too inconspicuous either.

Basically, my perp meets a horse and his rider, he talks to them for a while (does something to the horse undetected), and then gallops a little way off on his own steed. And a little while later, the horse bolts. I was wondering if there was anything that can do that. Maybe something with the bit? Like the horse's mouth is uncomfortable and the rider keeps on pulling and then it gets angry and bolts off. I'm no expert on bits and bridles (never even touched one in my life), so if anyone can help, that'd be great!

04-02-2011, 07:40 PM
Depends how thoroughly trained a horse it is - a trained warhorse would be very difficult to spook, while a barely-adult racehorse would be very easy to spook. In general flappy things (birds, handkerchiefs, plastic bags), painful things (slapping the horse or poking it with a pin), predators/their smell, loud noises, and fire are all known to spook horses.

Edit: I doubt he could modify a bit without detection, but putting a burr under the saddle or putting a bit of horseradish or ginger in the horse's butt are two types of pranks people have played on riders for hundreds, probably thousands of years.

04-02-2011, 07:58 PM
A burr underneath the saddle sounds like a perfect idea! Something that can easily be slipped in if the rider was to just turn around and talk to someone else for a minute or so. Thanks sunandshadow!

04-03-2011, 02:57 AM
I'd like to read the scene where your perp stuffs the ginger up the horse's butt, and yes, I'm roflmao-ing because I'm reading it in my head.

04-03-2011, 03:01 AM
I'd like to read the scene where your perp stuffs the ginger up the horse's butt, and yes, I'm roflmao-ing because I'm reading it in my head.
I'm sorry- the visual of this made me laugh out loud!

C. K. Casner
04-03-2011, 04:51 AM
I do echo everyone else, it does depend on the horse. I had an Appaloosa gelding that wouldn't even flick an ear when a flock of wild turkeys flew up in front of him, yet reared and nearly unseated me when I rode by a sty full of pigs.

04-03-2011, 05:01 AM
A horse I regularly rode was afraid of the maple tree sap buckets. She got really good at bolting sideways with no warning.

The burr thing would irritate a bit, then work deeper into the skin until the horse gets pissed off enough to bolt, I guess.

04-03-2011, 05:02 AM
I've had horses all my life and I'm with the other folks: individual horses are so unpredictable that it's really hard to know what one will do. On the other hand, since you're writing fiction, it also means that you probably can do whatever your plot needs.

The burr thing is pretty unpredictable. I ride through a lot of cactus, including one (the cholla) that's famous for breaking off a piece of it and hooking the horse's lower leg. Mostly they just act pissed and prance around until you get off and remove it. The same country also often yields a burr under the cinch or girth, the thing that goes under the belly and holds the saddle on. Most horses I've had again just act pissed -- they don't bolt.

I agree with the flappy thing. Nothing is as likely to upset a horse as a white plastic bag from a grocery store flapping in the wind on a barb wire fence. If you could figure out a way in your plot to do something like that it would be more likely to work, I think.

But really, it's fiction--most folks don't know enough about horses to care if the story is good.

Wayne K
04-03-2011, 05:07 AM
I have a list of names if ya want

Or lightning :D

Soccer Mom
04-03-2011, 05:08 AM
Actually ginger up the butt burns the horse. I used to ride Arabians and people did it at shows to make them carry their tails high. Gave them nasty runs. :( It was against the rules of course, but you had to prove it.

And I had a horse who was afraid of a big scary rock she had to ride past every day. Every. day. The same rock.

A slow irritant like a burr would be more likely to make the horse buck to get the rider off rather than bolt, or at least in my experience. But I could see them running and sort of kicking up at the heels.

04-03-2011, 05:16 AM
And I had a horse who was afraid of a big scary rock she had to ride past every day. Every. day. The same rock.

Yeah, but that's an Arab . . .

04-03-2011, 06:28 AM
But really, it's fiction--most folks don't know enough about horses to care if the story is good.

I have to disagree. Surely every reader cares that the story is good! And the writer should care also, or why bother?

The collective knowledge of the people reading any given book is way more than what the author knows.

An author who doesn't care enough to make the story good can't possibly inspire me to care to read it.

Fortunately, in this case the author has it easy. When I read the title of this thread, I looked at my wife and said "Almost anything!" Provided Melancholia doesn't state that the horse in question is well trained, anything could realistically make it bolt. If well trained, then anything sufficiently out of the ordinary could make it bolt. (Ordinary things being covered by training.)

If set in the 21st century, the idea of a flapping plastic bag is perfect.

04-03-2011, 06:32 AM


Car back firing...

Bit by a horse fly in very tender place...

If the horse is well trained, not much spooks them, but young horses and those that are not trained or handled often can spoke for just about any reason. Sometimes for no reason other than to get the rider off. They aren't dumb...

04-03-2011, 06:36 AM
My only experience with a bolting horse was because he suddenly saw a garder snake just ahead. If he'd been younger, I probably would've been thrown (I was about 8 at the time--good thing).

From what I learned, horses don't like it when the ground moves under their feet, or if they're being forced to walk on living things. Might your baddie take something out of a pack/sack something and toss it behind him to freak out the hero's horse?

Just a thought.

04-03-2011, 07:10 AM
The problem with the OP's request, is that it has to take effect AFTER the perp has left the scene - If I understand correctly. So nothing the perp blatantly does, can cause the horse to bolt. No sound, no motion, no contact with the horse can cause the action - or the perp will be identified as the cause of the 'bolt'.

Frankly - I can't think of a damned thing that could be done that would reliably cause a horse to 'bolt' after a few minutes, when I've had time to make my departure.


You could go with the 'burr under the saddle' - but as a horseman myself, meh... it's not really believable. Generally they just get antsy, maybe dance around a bit or toss their heads. Horses 'bolt' when they are startled, you're asking us to come up with some sort of remote controlled or 'delayed action' startle device.

Got me.

(Leaving out some magical force, or the silent, long distance pea-shooter or sling shot.)

04-03-2011, 07:43 AM
What if the perp set something up ahead of the targetted horse? When they meet, he's coming back from doing the deed? When the blow-up occurs, he's long gone, and, as he's not an obvious source of the trouble, long forgotten.
So, not something visible, as that might be seen ahead of time. Underfoot would be better, either something slippery or crunchy under hoof, covered by whatever is the normal trail covering, so that the horse distrusts the footing, or something noisy, that pops or rattles as the horse steps on it?

04-03-2011, 08:27 AM
Horses do have some logic. Discomfort won't do the trick. A burr makes them buck. Why? Get off the weight that's pressing on the burr. So I agree, it has to be something frightening. And if the perp has to be gone, it has to be set up in advance...I guess this is where the infamous writer's imagination comes in. Make your Master Criminal work it out.

Or there's always the time honored sound of the grain bin being opened. That's how I got unseated the first time. This isn't a Shetland pony by any chance...?

04-03-2011, 08:39 AM
Yeah, but that's an Arab . . .

On the less highly-strung end of the spectrum, my Quarter Horse would go bananas at the sight of a jump with white rails. The rails are white on every jump, bananas was daily event. :-/

Royal Mercury
04-04-2011, 12:54 AM
Horses are easy to spook.

One time I was riding a horse in Wyoming. It was a nice gentle horse. We rode by the cabin we were staying in, and just then a little girl came out of the cabin next to it. She was behind the horse and he couldn't see her. As I later found out, she had ridden the same horse the day before.

She said, "You'd better be careful. He bucks." The horse heard the little girl and apparently recognized the voice because he went straight up on his rear legs. Fortunately, I was a good rider and had him gentled down quickly. The rest of the ride went fine.

So it could be something that happens, or something that the horse thinks has happened.

Noah Body
04-04-2011, 06:14 PM
I was going to say show it a copy of Twilight, but that's just me being my usual unkind self.

C. K. Casner
04-05-2011, 04:23 AM
I was going to say show it a copy of Twilight, but that's just me being my usual unkind self.

Not unkind at all; I happen to share the same sentiment.

04-05-2011, 01:19 PM
If the other rider has already galloped off, then the second horse might get worked up enough to bolt after it.

04-06-2011, 04:41 AM
I've been around horses all my life, teach riding lessons, train, etc. and I can't think of a way to do this. The horse would be likely to bolt off after the other horse, so your perp could simply gallop off as a way to get the other horse going, but then your hero would know who did it.

I've only been run off with once, and there was nothing that caused it, the horse just decided to take off. He was a weird horse. :Shrug: Never had another horse ever do this. And this guy would not stop, ran full tilt through the woods (away from the others we were riding with) until we got to an open field where I could take one rein and circle to a stop.

Most trained horses will shy in place, or shy then stop. A green horse might bolt. My current horse, an ex-racehorse, will run to keep up with other horses, but won't just randomly run off.

Tough parameters you've set up.

04-06-2011, 12:34 PM
This could work a number of ways. I'll give a complex formula based on what's been said, for theoretical purposes. Assuming a partially or fully wooded area for concealment.

Antagonist ties some plastic bags up the road on a windy day. These sound somewhat like leaves, so the victim may or may not pick up on the sound if there's other noises about. Either way, he doesn't know the antag left them there. A big flapping flag would work too. Or a rotting deer hung on a limb if you want a smell to get the victim's horse on edge.

Two- your antag, after passing the victim, gets behind some cover and hits the horse with a slingshot, pea shooter, whatever. If the wind is really bad, your victim might not hear a quiet shot. Now the uneasy horse has something 'bite' him in the ass. If that doesn't push him over the edge, then-

Three: Your antag gallops past the horse, but on the other side of the cover. If its windy, or your antag keeps far enough away, the other rider won't hear the pounding of hooves, but the horse will. Your antag can pull up once the other horse takes off.

That of course is a very elaborate scenario. Why does the antag want the horse to go wild? Is he hoping to have the rider thrown? That may or may not happen. Intermediate riders need bad luck to come off and beginner riders can have beginner's luck. Advanced riders require a really bad day, but with warning (horse getting edgy), it would be shocking that even a bad day could find them on the ground.

My mare always spooked at birds darting out of the grass. When she jumped at a butterfly I told her she was really buttering it.

Oh, and really windy days make most horses batty.

Another factor- if your horse sees something move suddenly off to the side and the rider doesn't, the horse could spook and the rider has no clue why. (remember, their eyes focus all around, ours are forward) This also gives some spontaneity and if it doesn't work, your antag hasn't risked revealing his intents (unless the rider happens to turn and see him waving a giant balloon lion or w/e)

04-06-2011, 01:32 PM
to make a horse bolt then high frequency sounds, like those some dog whistles make, will do it. A sharp blast of that near the horse will send it crazy.

04-06-2011, 01:41 PM
Oh, I meant to say it's no exaggeration about the plastic bags with certain horses.

My friend bought a horse that was, unknown to her at the time, sacked out. There's two ways to sack out a horse: You can wave a sack and other scary items in a progressive manner and give them time to relax and think and realize it's not so bad (being careful not to overstimulate them) (this is technically desensitization) or you can go buck wild, scaring the shit out of them until they are too scared and tired to keep reacting. Once you've gotten them to 'submit' to your 'superior' self, you can hop on and ride them around.


Guess which treatment said friend's horse got? :(

Anyways, we are all riding in a small and narrow arena, and my friend is aware that her horse isn't crazy about plastic/crinkling, but had no idea the depth of the problem. While riding, she leans over to the rail to get her drink. It's in a small brown paper bag, so she picks it up slowly and carefully, so as not to startle her mount. Well her horse panics and bolts. My mare panics b/c the other horse does, and bolts. I was riding with a busted arm (skiing accident) so I barely manage to rein her in. Instead of jumping off, I stay on. I hear a twomp and off my mare goes again, and I fall off on the next turn (on my good arm).

My friend's horse had ran so hard that he fell going around the narrow end of the arena. Not cool.

Meanwhile a third horse stood there (with her rider) watching the other two go nuts, calm as you please. That's horses for you.

04-08-2011, 08:16 AM
Maybe something a bit more extreme than a simple burr (under the saddle)?

Somewhere, sometime, I read about someone using those nail-thingies (not sure of the proper term) that can be strewn on a road to puncture tires. They have four points so will always come to rest on three points, leaving the fourth sticking straight up.

Maybe slide one of these under the saddle at a spot where it's not really digging in. Then when the rider shifts her weight, the point jabs the horse. I bet that would hurt a lot.

04-08-2011, 01:58 PM
Wait, was the time period mentioned? An electric charge, just under DRY ground, will travel up a shod food like lightening. It will also dissipate in the ground, so the horse has to stand near the wire for effect.

I guess if the one character tied a doggie shock collar to a hock, it would be found later...

ETA: Though if the horse dumped the rider and ran off, the culprit could catch the horse first and take off the shock collar. Hopefully the rider wouldn't watch the horse run off and see the strap. And if the horse doesn't run off, hit it with another charge.

04-08-2011, 02:55 PM
This might be too out there, and I have no concrete evidence to show it could work.
But, I thought maybe if your perp wiped a bit of something the horse wouldn't like on the horse's flanks. Like something that smells dead, or even something that smells like a predator. When the horse started going again with the rider, and its skin heated up, the smell might get stronger and freak it out.
Alternatively, is there any kind of drug or poison that causes horses to hallucinate (or at least act as though they are? and the bad guy would have to be quite mean!)?

05-03-2011, 02:35 PM
My Arab once bolted from a bee sting, took ages before I could rein her in. Another time it was a motorcycle driving close beside her.

05-06-2011, 08:02 AM
Maybe your bad guy could bribe someone to spook the horse after he left? Have a kid throw firecrackers from a hidden place (from out a window perhaps, so he doesn't get caught)