If you’re riding a horse, one of the last things you want to have happen is bucking. Bucking is an attempt to remove you from the back of the horse and can be caused by a wide variety of reasons. Sometimes it may just be a behavior the horse has learned to display when he doesn’t feel like cooperating any more. Bucking can also be caused by surprise, discomfort, and other triggers.
When trying to stop a horse from bucking, the first step is to understand why the behavior has started in the first place. In most circumstances, bucking is a defensive mechanism. The horse has a physical or mental trigger that is bothering him and the bucking helps him to feel better. When horses feel threatened, they bring the head down, funnel the energy through their shoulders, and lash out.
In many instances, the instructions to stop bucking behaviors are about teaching the horse that bucking doesn’t relieve the attack pressure they feel from their physical or mental trigger. Trainers or riders would stay on the horse until there was no attack energy left in the animal, with the goal to “break” the horse from its fight-or-flight habits.
In reality, bucking is an athletic trait that we want to be able to harness into a behavior that we see as more positive. We want to establish a relationship with the horse so that he doesn’t feel an attack pressure when sporting a rider. This means we need to teach them to funnel this energy elsewhere instead of breaking them.
Would you rather have a horse that wants to jump a high fence? Or a horse that sits in his paddock all day, never moving, because his spirit is broken and he doesn’t know how to defend himself properly?
Begin to Stop Bucking By Teaching the Heeding Process
When a horse is going to start bucking, you’ve got about 2 seconds to recognize what is about to happen. The horse is going to put his head down, shifting his weight onto his front end. If that can movement is successful, a large torrent of energy can be released through the shoulders and hindquarters.
You have three opportunities to stop this behavior before it starts so you can capture the energy and direct it to something else. This is the Heeding process.
Heeding is the ability to pay attention to your horse at all times. You know every stride of the horse and know how the horse tends to respond in different situations. Because you have this knowledge, you can recognize when the horse is about to throw his weight forward.
As soon as the horse begins to duck his head so that his weight can be shifted, squeeze your legs into the horse. Ask the horse to keep moving forward with the same rhythm as before. Give this command the instant you recognize that bucking is about to begin. Even if you missed the head coming down, you can still squeeze with your legs and ask the horse to keep moving forward as the horse begins to shift his weight.
Even if the horse has managed to shift all of his weight, you still have an opportunity to issue a command to move forward by squeezing your legs. Use both legs in the same squeeze and rhythm as you would in any other circumstance. If you are afraid and apply more pressure than normal, it may confuse the horse and become a secondary trigger that continues the bucking behavior instead of stopping it.
Keep Driving with the Horse to Encourage an Energy Transfer
I don’t feel like my horse will respond to side pressure from my legs when the fight-or-flight mechanism is engaged. Isn’t there something else I could do?
When you’re riding a horse, you’ve got plenty of aids at your disposal that can help you teach the horse to transfer the energy from bucking into forward movement or a jump command. You can shift your weight in the saddle when you sense the horse ducking his head to encourage him not to proceed with that behavior. You can also keep your back and stomach soft, following the motion of the horse, continuing the process of driving forward.
But the commands can’t just be drive, drive, drive. A horse that is not relaxed in his stride is a horse that is waiting for a trigger so that it can institute bucking or another self-survival tactic. You need to drive, then relax. Drive, then relax. And continue on in this pattern.
A natural reaction to bucking from riders is to stop the movement of the head. The problem with this reaction is that it tends to tighten you up as a rider. You’re stopping the forward movement of the head through muscle strength alone, which means the horse can buck you right off if he continues on anyway. If you allow forward motion with your hands, keeping your seat and back relaxed, then you’re going to stay more in the natural rhythm and stride of the horse.
Now as you give commands to the horse to stop bucking and move forward, the first few times are going to make you feel like you’re on a rocking chair. There will be a lot of movement back and forth. As long as you are calm and keep your cool throughout the process of discussing with your horse what he should be doing, over time the horse can learn that your command can funnel the fight-or-flight energy into something you both liked to do.
What If My Horse Bucks When He’s Fresh Out of His Stall?
Many horses tend to buck when they’re fresh out of their stall because of the pent-up energy they have from being in there. The freedom allows them to stretch out, feel free, and get some of that extra energy out. It’s sort of like having three kids stuck at home with nothing to do. Eventually that energy needs a release… and that energy release usually results in a behavior that is somewhat destructive.
If the horse is only bucking after you bring him out of the stall, you may just wish to allow him to expel that energy. Once the extra energy is gone, the horse may be fine and ready for a ride. Sometimes you may wish to work him with the lounge or put him into a round pen. Both options may help to expel the extra energy without bucking, so the safest course of action really depends on what your goal happens to be with the horse
Competitive riders will want to harness the energy from bucking, so wasted energy fresh out of the stall will affect the ride. You’ll want to teach the horse to stop bucking much in the same way you’d stop him during a ride. For recreational riders, however, the round pen or the lounge may be safer solutions to implement.
When a Horse Bucks Because of Pain or Discomfort
If you have a horse that is bucking because they are uncomfortable for some reason, you don’t have the same energy to channel. To get the behavior to stop because of pain or discomfort, you must provide relief to the horse.
Sometimes a horse bucks because the tack is painful for some reason, so he’s trying to escape from the equipment to find relief. If a saddle is not fitted properly or there is a problem with a shoe, a horse can decide that bucking might be the best option to try relieving the pain that is being experienced.
You may need to consult with your veterinarian if you suspect pain or discomfort is causing the bucking, but you cannot locate the source. Remove the source, you’ll stop the bucking.
In older horses, bucking can seem like it is because of discomfort, but in reality it is just a game. Some older horses like to show people that they are the ones in charge during a ride. If you suspect it is a game, then this is a reflection of your relationship with the horse. Spend more time with him, maybe get after him a little less, and you might see some positive changes in the behavior.
Knowing how to stop a horse from bucking means having the skills to ride yourself and the horse through the energy transfer. You don’t need to crank up the head of the horse or strap yourself down for a wild ride. You just need to teach the horse that there is a better way to use the energy which comes from the fight-or-flight mechanism. Your confidence in the horse can give the horse the confidence he needs to transfer this energy.
Like with the “breaking” process in the past, by adding pressure to the horse and making use of your aids, you can teach your horse that bucking won’t offer him the reward he wants. Once the horse realizes this, he’ll give up the behavior for good.