Q: My 5-year-old Mustang mare is very docile. Recently, however, she’s started bucking when she doesn’t want to do something, such as when we work around the cones or do ring work. Any advice would be greatly appreciated!
A: This is an interesting training issue. Of course, before you address it from a training standpoint, it’s important to rule out any physical problems. If this behavior is new, it’s possible that your horse may have a sore or injured back, and the bucking is a result of pain. A veterinary or chiropractic exam should rule this out. Once you’re confident your horse’s behavior doesn’t stem from a physical problem, then we can address the training issue.
This bucking behavior is commonly seen in lazy or balky horses, and can be associated with a refusal or reluctance to move forward. Generally, the way this problem develops is that the horse doesn’t want to do whatever is asked and by way of protest, he throws a little buck.
It’s what happens next that creates or resolves the problem. Often, the rider is taken off guard with the buck. He or she gets flustered or frightened and feels compelled to take control, so grabs the reins and asks the horse to stop.
In our human mind, we think we need to regain control, regroup, then try it again. But a horse thinks much differently than we do. In his mind, he thinks, “I don’t want to do that, and if I just throw a little buck, she'll stop me, which is exactly what I want!”
So by stopping the horse, you have, in effect, rewarded his behavior and he has gotten success, so he’ll certainly do it again. He doesn’t have the ability of linear reasoning. He doesn’t put two and two together and realize that you’ll make him do it again. All he knows is the here and now, and what happens immediately.
The solution for this behavior problem is to make your horse actually work harder when he throws a buck, and let him stop when he’s relaxed and compliant. This will resolve the problem very quickly, since your horse is acting out of laziness. As soon as he realizes that bucking causes him to have to work harder, he’ll give it up.
At the very least, when you feel your horse get bucky, make him do something harder, even if it’s only circling a tight circle at a trot and only letting him stop when you feel his back relax.
However, this requires a great deal of skill and confidence. Depending on how ingrained this behavior is, your horse may fight before he gives in. An old adage in horse training says that it always gets worse before it gets better. So be prepared when you dig in and get after your horse, because he may buck even harder at first.
If you need help, don’t hesitate to consult a reputable trainer or certified riding instructor. And whenever you work your horse, be sure to wear an ASTM-approved/SEI-certified helmet, sturdy riding boots, and riding gloves.
I hope this helps!
For more information on equine behavior, see Julie Goodnight’s new book, Goodnight’s Guide to Great Trail Riding available from www.EquineNetworkStore.com. Also, watch the Horse Master television show, airing each Monday and Saturday night on RFD-TV.
Julie Goodnight (www.juliegoodnight.com) lives in central Colorado, home to miles of scenic trails. She trains horses and coaches horse owners to be ready for any event, on the trail or in the performance arena. She shares her easy-to-understand lessons on her weekly RFD-TV show, Horse Master, and through appearances at clinics and horse expos held throughout the United States. She’s also the international spokesperson for the Certified Horsemanship Association (www.cha-ahse.org).
Heidi Melocco (www.wholepicture.org) is a lifelong horsewoman, equine journalist, and photographer based in Mead, Colorado.