Q: My 16-year-old thoroughbred has recently started to drop and roll every time I ride him in the arena. He is sound and as far as I can tell, in good health. What on earth could be causing this and what can I do about it? The only other time I've heard of this is in naughty little ponies with wee children.
Name withheld, Bay of Plenty
An interesting question that raises a few issues.
If your horse only drops and rolls in the arena and doesn’t try to roll out in the paddock or anywhere else, it indicates that he just wants to have a roll and a scratch in the sand. If he’s stabled and or rugged all the time, your horse may simply want to have a roll in the sand. Even if he isn’t stabled or rugged, he may still want to have a roll and a good scratch. You could try letting him free in the arena before you ride him to let him have his roll. Give him a quarter of an hour or so on his own, to do whatever he pleases.
I have a friend who’s very fussy and likes everything to look perfect and this includes his horses. He can’t stand it when his horse gets dirty. He keeps a rug on his mare at all times in case she rolls in the dirt. It doesn’t matter if it’s a beautiful sunny day, she still has her rug on.
Recently I worked the mare for a few days and hosed her after every ride. Every day my friend said “Don’t let her go. She might roll and get dirty”. Me being me, I didn’t take any notice and every day I let her go to have a roll. I’m sure that the mare enjoyed a good roll and a scratch in the mud and dirt.
If your horse does want to stop and roll when you ride him, that’s bad luck for him. You mustn’t let your horse stop and roll any time that he chooses. Imagine if you were half way through a dressage test and your horse decided he’d rather stop and roll than complete the test.
Whenever you ride, you must ask yourself who makes the decisions. Is it you or your horse? Immediately you feel your horse slow down or even think about rolling, you must do something about it. Kick him on and drive him forward. Your horse should be too busy doing as you ask, to even think about stopping and rolling. It’s always up to the rider to take control and not allow the horse to roll.
When a horse is subjected to extreme pressure without understanding what’s wanted, they can become totally confused and stressed. When a rider keeps pushing on with whip and spur, asking for more and more, I’ve seen horses so confused and stressed that they freeze up and stop responding altogether. If the rider keeps hitting and kicking, the horse will shut down completely, stop responding and lay down in a heap.
This happens only in extreme circumstances and I very much doubt whether it relates to your horse. I’m sure you’d realize if your horse was so stressed and worried that he completely freezes up and lays down. So long as this isn’t the case, it’s up to you to take control and don’t allow your horse to stop and roll.