A horse that bucks is dangerous and not much fun to ride. Here, I’ll share some of the best tips we’ve heard for keeping your horse from developing a bucking habit, plus correcting it if one’s already in place. First…
Don’t teach your horse to buck. How does this happen? The worst-case scenario is (1) giving your horse a reason to buck; (2) coming off when he does buck; then (3) stopping and putting him away for the day. From your horse’s perspective, that’s a short course in Why Bucking Is Good.
To head off bucking, you can’t beat groundwork, in a round pen or on a longe line. Groundwork helps get the sillies out plus reminds your horse to be respectful. The amount of groundwork you need before mounting on any given day depends on your horse and the circumstances—is he high-strung? Does he live in a stall? How much training has he had? Has he been idle for a spell? Is it a brisk or windy day? Will other horses be around?
All these factors will affect how much you need to do on the ground to get him dialed in and ready to work under saddle.
If you’re starting a colt, groundwork is especially important. “If you have to spend two weeks or more preparing your colt for that first ride, do it,” advises clinician Clinton Anderson in “5 Safety Tips for Colt-Starting.” If your young horse never learns that bucking “works”—that is, gets you off his back—he’s much less likely ever to develop a bucking habit.
What else can prompt a horse of any age or level of training to buck? Feeling “fat and sassy” from too much rich food. Find out what your horse needs to be healthy and in the right flesh. If, based on his metabolism and the amount you ride, that’s hay or pasture only plus a vitamin/mineral supplement, that’s fine. Overfeeding him isn’t loving him; it’s endangering his health…plus inviting him to act up.
Pain and irritation can also be buck-inducers. Make sure every part of your horse’s tack fits well and doesn’t rub, pinch, bunch, abrade, or otherwise vex him.
Mind your cueing, too. A classic snafu is a timid rider who cues for a lope but then doesn’t give her horse his head so that he can lope. As author Heather Smith Thomas points out (in “No More Bucking”), “If your horse doesn’t understand what you’re asking or finds it difficult to respond because of how you have or haven’t set him up, he may buck out of frustration.” If you need a trainer’s advice to know whether you’re cueing correctly, get it.
Dealing with a buck. If, despite all your safeguards, your horse tries to buck anyway, being prepared will help you deal with it. First, realize there’s a difference between a crow hop and a true buck. If it’s just a crow hop, observes Clinton Anderson in “No Bucking Broncos,” all you may need to do is get your horse’s feet moving forward.
If it’s a real buck and you wind up getting bucked off, he recommends you use a long line (one you carry with you just for this purpose) to start vigorous longeing immediately. That way, you don’t risk getting bucked off again by climbing back on, but you still teach your horse that bucking invariably results in hard work.
How to tell if a buck is coming? In “The Buck Stops Here,” clinician Dan Keen says, “Your horse will feel board-stiff, and his body may swell beneath you.” He adds that a buck can also follow on the heels of a spook. He suggests, as many clinicians do, that the way to stop a buck cold is to immediately tip your horse’s head to the side and “pull him in a tight, no-buck circle.”
If, ultimately, you feel uncomfortable dealing with your horse’s bucking, get help from a riding instructor or horse trainer. The skills you and your horse gain will be more than worth what you spend for them—plus they’ll pay you dividends into the future.
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