Rolling Horse

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Dear Julie,
I have known Joe to roll for years and always warn riders if he puts his nose down and smells the ground get the nose up and move him or he will roll. He has rolled with riders on his back in sand and in deep fresh snow. This past spring we trailered with our horses to a favorite riding trail. The day was glorious and I was enjoying myself so much I forgot my own advice. My daughter who often rides in front of me in Joe’s saddle had grown taller so I didn’t see his nose go down. He dropped quickly to start his roll and in my effort to get him up, I reached over and pushed off from the earth bank. It worked and got him up before rolling but my arm no longer works—it broke in 4 places. It has been 7 weeks and I can almost buckle his halter again. When stronger I’d like to know what to do to break this? His only bad habit–I love this horse!
Roll No More

Roll No More,
First of all, let me address the issue of riding double with a small child in front of you. Don’t do it. It is highly dangerous to the child and this case is a perfect example of why. First, you do not have adequate control of the horse so things are more likely to go wrong. Secondly, if you or the horse falls, chances are you will fall on top of the child and could potentially crush him/her.
As for the rolling horse, this, of course, is a perfectly natural behavior and horses are basically impulsive animals, unless trained to ignore their impulses. Ideally, the first time a horse drops and rolls, he should receive a punishment (a spanking followed immediately by hard work), making it abundantly clear to the horse that the right thing (not rolling) is much easier than the wrong thing (rolling). Chances are if the harsh punishment is doled out the first time, the horse will never do it again.
Unfortunately, in your case, the horse has rolled repeatedly and has clearly learned that it is okay to do it. Engrained or learned behavior is not easy to undo. I would set your horse up in the situation that prompts him to roll and be prepared with a crop. As soon as he puts his nose down or buckles at the knees, Spank him with the crop, yell at him, get him moving, then work the pants off of him (lope circles). You will probably have to do this exercise repeatedly to convince the hose that rolling is not a good idea.
Whenever you set about to change a horse’s behavior, you have to find the amount of pressure that it takes to motivate the horse to change. While I surely don’t condone abuse or pain, you do need to find the amount of pressure that will motivate him to stop this dangerous behavior. You’ll need to show you’re in charge by stopping the behavior with a spank of the reins or with a crop then put him to work. For each horse, the amount of pressure needed to motivate him to look for a way out of the pressure, is different. My guess is that in this case, it will take a lot of pressure.
As you have discovered, this is a very dangerous behavior. In CHA, we talk about the “three strikes and you’re out” rule. I am not saying you should get rid of this horse because I think this is fixable, but in the meantime, he is a dangerous horse. Do not let others ride him because if he were to lie down and hurt someone, you would be VERY liable, because you negligently put them on a horse with a known dangerous behavior. Invest some time and effort in getting him fixed before you let anyone else ride him. Good luck with your healing.
–Julie Goodnight