There can’t be many riders who haven’t been bucked off a horse or pony at some stage. An experienced rider will recognise the signs which mean the horse is about to buck and can often avert the problem before it starts, but bucking is a thoroughly dangerous habit and once a horse becomes used to ditching his rider it is very difficult to retrain him.
There are a number of reasons why a horse bucks, an older or more experienced horse may buck purely for fun, this flinging up of his hind legs should not cause any problems to a rider. Other reasons for a horse bucking can be a sore back, which should be checked, plus the fit of the saddle. A sore mouth or feet can cause bucking. Mares can have ovary problems and of course, some horses may be overfed and not have enough exercise.
However, the bucking which results from a young, afraid or tense horse is very different and can be difficult to sit. Once the horse learns he can get his rider off he can be hard to retrain and in fact, may always be prone to bucking. Very often horses start bucking because they are started too quickly, and not given the time to relax doing the things they are being taught. This type of bucking is not naughtiness, but a reflex because of tension.
An experienced rider will feel the tension in the horse, possibly behind the front leg, or is humpbacked, and becomes stiff when it is saddled or mounted. Also if the horse lowers its rump, and/or holds it’s tail stiff and unflappable down when you try to lift/rotate it, it might be to tense to carry a rider or is carrying its neck straight up with a scared look, it might be to tense and likely to buck.
With a young and tense horse take every step slowly. Repeating time and time again, many times daily if necessary. Mount and dismount the horse constantly until you can feel him relax and that he doesn’t think this is a big deal. Only when the horse is happy and relaxed at this stage should you ask him to move forward. Do this only one stage at a time. A kick in the ribs can result in his back coming up and bucking. Make a huge fuss of the horse every time it takes a step.
When you are riding if you feel the horse becoming tense and likely to buck, try to turn the horse quickly before the buck starts that sometimes releases the tension. If the horse is already bucking try to turn the horse into a corner, many horses stop there. Horses that have a long history of bucking, are not very easy to stop. Some rare horses are also simply with a very bad temperament and buck out of pure stubbornness.
Be ready to have to sit out the bucks, or to be thrown to the ground. Riding in bogland (wet enough so the horse has a hard time bucking, dry enough so it won’t get stuck) is one way to help the horse getting accustomed to carrying a rider while not being able to buck very well, or even buck at all. When the horse has completely stopped bucking, ride it for a few meters, and then quit for the day. The next day, repeat the whole procedure, the horse should relax sooner, and you be able to ride it a bit longer. When training youngsters, keep the warning signs in mind and try to prevent bucking happening at all.
Rearing is the most dangerous of the vices that can face a rider. However, it is generally riders’ that are the predominant cause of horses rearing under saddle. Horses rear as an evasion although there is a percentage of horses that are just plain naughty Generally rearing is a failure to go forward and a failure of the rider to get the horse to go forward. This leads to frustration and confusion in the horse. Once he learns to evade by rearing it is very hard to prevent this vice from becoming established. Of course, other problems should be checked for first such as sore teeth, the bit is too strong, pain or sheer boredom from being ridden in the arena for too long.
In order to prevent a horse from rearing ensure that you vary your work with him. Intersperse work in the arena with hacking out and jumping. You will teach a young horse far more out on a hack than by going around and around in an arena and will hopefully avoid rearing as an evasion, especially if you have an older and more experienced horse for company.
Curing a horse that rears is not easy and certainly not for an inexperienced rider. There is an old wives tale which says that you should break a plastic bag of water or eggs over the horses head and it will think it is bleeding. It will then stop rearing. This does not work!
What does work is a high degree of experience, skill, courage and above all, timing. Horses that continue to rear normally will end up being put down. Unfortunately, this is generally the only safe option for them. A ton of horse coming down on top of you will kill you. A very experienced rider may use spurs as the horse rises to make him realise that he is doing wrong, but the timing has to be impeccable, otherwise, the horse will think he is being disciplined for putting his legs back on the ground.
Another, probably less aggressive way is to circle the horse as soon as he threatens to rear. With his head bent tightly around in a circle the horse cannot rear. However, if he does rear, throw your weight as far forward as possible and ensure that you are not hanging onto his mouth which could pull him over backwards. As soon as his front legs touch the ground circle him if you feel he may go upwards again.
If the horse is unwilling to go forwards and threatens to rear if you use your legs strongly, ride with a helper who should have a lunge whip to use across the horse’s hindquarters when he falters and begins to think about heading skywards.
With much of horse training, it is easier to try to outwit the horse before the problem begins than to try to cure him when the vice is established. Unless the horse is purely naughty most of the problems and vices are ‘man-made’ by bad riding or pain which should be preventable before they begin, or certainly before they become established.
by Jacqui Broderick
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