Maybe you’ve heard that when a horse has their head up, it cannot buck. Or perhaps you’ve been told that you should sit deep into the saddle, keeping your heels down and your shoulders back so that you can give the reins a good pull. The fact is that bucking with horses is a tool that has been used by this animal for centuries as a self-defense mechanism. If an attacker is on their back, then the mechanism of bucking protects them so they can begin to escape.
So a horse begins to buck because the pressure of having a rider on their back feels like an attack. To address the bucking behavior, the horse must begin to learn that rider pressure is a safe trigger instead of a warning trigger. This, however, is just one of many reasons why a horse may be bucking at any given time.
Bucking can also be a form of play for younger horses. Some horses that have high levels of nervous energy might also start bucking to relieve that anxiety. Sometimes a horse may begin bucking because they are experiencing pain.
So when you have a horse beginning to drop the nose, stiffen the forelegs, and shift their weight forward, then you know bucking is about to happen. Here’s how to break a horse from bucking so that you and your horse can be safe.
#1. Make sure that you’re able to relax.
It’s something that’s easy to say now, but very difficult to do sometimes when you’re about to experience a bucking horse. Yet if you’re able to stay relaxed, this emotional energy will transfer over to the horse and provide an added sense of calm. If you start to panic, then you stop thinking about what you’re supposed to be doing as well.
So even if you’re dealing with a horse that bucks severely, make sure that you are breathing and keeping your tone of voice with the horse as calm as possible. Focus on the ride instead of focusing on the bucking. If you are on the horse, then this is where keeping your legs long and your shoulders back will help because it can keep you on the horse.
Do not squeeze your legs or hit the horse with spurs if you happen to be wearing them. This will only give more energy to the horse and increase the ferocity of the bucking behavior.
#2. Flex the horses head instead of forcing it upward.
By flexing the head of the horse, you will encourage a turn or a tight circle. This stops the fighting between a horse who wants the head down and a rider who wants to keep the head up. Make your rein short because if you pull backward, you can throw off everyone’s balance and end up with the horse on top of you. Pull equally, but with one rein shortened, and you’ll encourage the horse to stop bucking.
#3. Make sure you are moving the shoulders of the horse.
If the horse is focused on making a turn, then there isn’t as much of a focus on bucking. Lead the head into a turn and open your inside rein so that the horse can maintain balance. This forces the weight of the horse to be directed more towards the hindquarters, which will make it more difficult for the bucking behavior to continue.
#4. Keep the horse moving in a forward direction.
Bucking requires a horse to stop its forward momentum because it must stand on its front legs in order to kick out with the back. Even if the horse decides to jump and spin instead of plant and kick, the forward momentum of the horse is reduced and eventually stopped because the energy of the horse is being put toward bucking instead of moving forward.
If you can flex the head of your horse with a shortened inside rein and hold it in an open position away from the neck, you’ll be able to mobilize the shoulders. This will help to encourage the horse to drive forward, creating a rhythm that can be felt on both sides of the body thanks to the rider pressure. Once this occurs, there is less of a “back attack” trigger in play for the horse, reducing the chances that bucking will occur.
#5. You can also use a pulley rein to stop bucking.
If your horse is being stubborn and doesn’t want to stop bucking, don’t just assume that the horse sees itself as the “herd leader.” It could be that the horse is simply sensitive to back pressure as a trigger and it has a high need to defend itself. In this instance, using a pulley rein may be able to stop the behavior.
You’ll want to shorten both reins. Hold one taut, but not overly tight. Then you can brace your hand next to the horn or the neck. Lift the other rein upwards and sit back deep into the saddle. As you are doing this, use pressure pules to encourage the horse to either shift weight back to the hindquarters or to move the position of the head.
Once you can do this successfully, you can follow the first four options that are listed above.
Should Bucking Behaviors Be Addressed by a Veterinarian?
Bites from flies, mosquitoes, and other insects can start up bucking behaviors faster than you can actually say “bucking behavior.” Pain is often a trigger that starts bucking and the behavior won’t stop until the pain is relieved.
Although the back of a horse can accommodate a rider, not every rider may be mounting a horse properly. If the saddle placement is not correct or the horse feels like the rider is too heavy, bucking behaviors can start because pain is occurring. In this type of situation, removing the pain will stop the behaviors.
This means health issues could be causing the bucking. Instead of intensifying the pain or stress triggers, it may be wiser to dismount and contact your veterinarian to see if there is a health issue that needs to be addressed.
Riders should also be comfortable with the idea of a dismount if they feel unsafe. Sometimes this is seen as giving the horse a “victory.” Dismounting from a bucking horse does not encourage the behavior to continue. It simply gives you the opportunity to address the behavior at a future time when the horse may be more receptive to instruction.
Knowing how to break a horse from bucking often means reading the body language of the horse and then responding to it in an appropriate fashion. Don’t just draw back on the reins and shift your weight backwards to pull up the head. If you do, a strong enough horse might just buck you right off. Follow these steps instead.