If you've ever sat and watched horses playing happily in the field you will seen them run around, nip one another and throw in an excitable buck. A horse who occasionally bucks under saddle however can definitely be a little problematic particularly if it starts to become a habit, an avoidance tactic or something his rider cannot cope with effectively. It can sometimes be tricky to know how where to start or how to cope with a horse that bucks so here are my top tips on managing the issue......
1. Firstly, I would be asking myself lots of questions and looking to see if there's something causing the horse discomfort or anxiety that could be causing the bucking. Horses cannot use words to tell us when something is bothering them but they do use their behaviours. I don't believe in 'naughty' horses, sometimes bad habits can be developed but 9 times out of 10, they're simply trying to communicate with us and it's our job as their riders and partners to always be on the look out for changes in their behaviour.
Does the tack fit properly? Is the horse sound? Is it only on one rein? Is it only in one pace? Is he showing any sensitivity in his back or in his mouth? How long ago did he last have his teeth looked at? Are there any rub marks anywhere on the horse that could be causing pain? Has his feed been changed recently? Has his daily routine just been changed in any way?
There are an infinite number of reasons and combinations of reasons why a horse might start bucking and what might be the cause of one horse's bucking may be completely different for the next. To make matters more complicated, the cause of the bucking might not be immediately apparent and a fair amount of investigation might need to be done to work it out. It wouldn't be fair to try and work on or through the bucking under saddle until you've eliminated any physical or mental issues that are causing the problem.
2. Another reason why a horse my start bucking is a temporary loss of balance. Often, young horses when learning to canter, may pop in a little buck on a corner particularly when going into canter to help them get their legs in order. This often disappears in time with a balanced and experienced rider.
If your horse is losing balance before they buck, again you need to question why. Is it because you're not sitting balanced with equal weight on both seat bones and in both stirrups? Are you leaning heavily through one rein that pulls the horse out of balance? Are you nervous and therefore tensing up as you ride? Or is it a true imbalance of the horse? A useful way to work out whether the rider is causing the issue is to pop the horse on the lunge and assess whether the horse manages to find his balance without the rider on top. Is he still bucking or is the problem fixed? As with all of these things, it's well worth having professional, experienced eyes watch you work with your horse to see if they can help you work it out. If it is a rider issue, then good coaching is the way to go to iron out the problem.
No doubt someone well-meaning will advise you to give the horse a smack so he knows not to do that again, but believe me, that's never the answer. Remember, they're trying to communicate and even if they are just bucking for the sake of being naughty, and I don't believe they do, is beating them into submission something you want to do?
3. Perhaps the most difficult situation to deal with is when the bucking has become a habit, you've exhausted every possible avenue and ruled out or dealt with any pain, anxiety or rider related cause and he still continues to buck. What do you do then? It's a case of breaking that habit and creating a new, more positive behaviour pattern.
Let's take for example, a horse who bucks going into canter on the left rein. You had everything checked, and you discovered this was a balance issue due to a weakness in the horse's inside hind leg. This weakness made it difficult for him to 'come through' on that leg with any clarity in the transition, so he would through in a buck to fix his back legs. The vet, physio, farrier and coach worked together to help build up strength in that back leg, the transitions are much cleaner but there's a tension in the horse when asking for left canter which is being put down to anticipation and habit.
One way to move past this particular habit is to change how you're asking for this transition that's causing an issue. Sometimes, we can get into a habit of asking for canter in a particular corner of the arena and simply changing that 'spot' can make a difference. Perhaps you can try asking at 'X' on a circle or half way down the straight side. You can also try doing some canter work out in the fields. Another option is to place a ground pole diagonally from the corner towards the middle of the arena and ask the horse to 'jump' over the pole on the ground during the transition.
Distracting the horse with something else can often work wonders and so often, we've fixed canter issues over poles and small jumps.
This is not an exhaustive post and there will be dozens of other reasons why your horse has started bucking but I hope this will help you start to figure out why they're doing it and therefore make it easier to work out a plan to help fix and manage the issue.
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