Bucking: Why Does a Horse Do It and How to Stop It?
What Happens When a Horse Bucks?
The word 'buck' refers to a particular kind of misbehavior in which the horse plants both feet on the ground, and then throws its hind end upwards.
Bucking is how a horse gets rid of a predator and some horses, when they buck, are intending to get rid of the rider. However, that is not always the case. Horses will also buck for many other reasons. Sometimes, a horse will leap forward and then buck.
Rodeo broncs are specially trained to buck violently in order to test a cowboy's ability to stay on. Although some rodeos are shady, most professional rodeos treat their bucking stock (both horse and cattle) very well.
The bronc is encouraged to buck, in part, by a bucking strap that is placed around its loins. The strap does not cause pain, but it does cause some discomfort. Most broncs have short careers, and the majority are turned into riding horses—the horses used to wrangle the bronc out of the arena were often broncs themselves at some point.
Most horses, however, are not trained to buck and, in fact, some people consider it the worst misbehavior a horse can perform due to the high risk of the rider coming off and getting hurt.
So, why does a riding horse buck?
Pain or Discomfort
A bucking strap is designed to make a horse uncomfortable. This should lead in to the fact that sometimes a horse will buck because it is experiencing pain or discomfort.
An ill-fitting saddle can cause bucking. For some uses, a western saddle is fitted with a back cinch that is designed to prevent it from slipping forward. If the back cinch is too far back or not tightened correctly (paradoxically, this is most often caused by it being too loose) it can easily turn into a bucking strap. Most trainers recommend not using the back cinch unless you actually need it.
A horse who bucks may also be 'out' and need a chiropractor, or experiencing hind end lameness. I have also known horses to buck because they are tired physically or mentally.
Some horses will buck out of excitement or joie de vivre. If you see a bunch of horses running across a field bucking, they're likely burning off excess energy.
Needless to say, it is not a good thing when your riding horse gets excited and starts bucking under you. Some horses will do a small buck when striking off into the canter. The famous showjumper Ryan's Son was notorious for popping two or three bucks at the end of a round.
A horse bucking out of enthusiasm usually still has its ears forward, although that may not be easy to tell when you're trying to stay on.
Enthusiastic bucking generally means that the horse needs that excess energy burning off. Lunging for a few minutes before riding can help get the buck out of the system. Going for a good long trail ride is often a good idea. So is doing more complicated exercises, so the horse is thinking about something other than bucking.
This is when the horse is bucking to get out of work. In this case, the horse is likely trying to intimidate the rider into getting off. It can often be identified because it is associated with other unpleasant behaviors such as balking, dropping the shoulder on corners, trying to bang the rider's knee on a tree or wall, etc.
In some cases, this can graduate into a deliberate attempt to throw the rider. There is a big difference between a horse that is deliberately trying to throw you and one that is either expressing pain or thoughtlessly throwing a buck in because it feels that good. The horse that intends to get you off by bucking will spin or twist to the side (watch how the broncs do it—those horses are experts at putting a highly skilled rider in the dirt—it's their job).
If a horse really wants to get you off by bucking, he will. Trust me. Such horses need to be retrained by somebody who has good fall training, a good seat and knows how to handle the behavior. This often means a trainer used to dealing with soured or dominant horses.
What to Do If Your Horse Bucks?
When a horse bucks, they stop. They are not moving forward at the time of the buck. Therefore, if a horse tries to buck with you, the best thing to do is boot it in the ribs and really try to drive it forward. They can't do a high buck and move forward at the same time.
If you know the horse might buck, consider bridging your reins. Bring the left rein over the horse's withers into your right hand, then cross the right rein back over into the left hand. When the horse bucks, push your hands down against its withers. First of all, a horse that is bucking seriously has to put its head right down, which is harder to do if it's pulling against its withers. Second, this gives you something to brace against and makes it much easier to stay on.
If a normally well-behaved horse suddenly starts bucking, check the saddle fit and get its back and teeth checked - it's probably pain.
If the horse has been off work for a while, it's probably freshness and enthusiasm—the horse needs more work and to be given things to think about. Lateral work, if the horse knows it, can be great as it's harder for the horse to buck out of a lateral movement and it really engages their brain and gets them focused. Consider lunging for a few minutes before riding and also think about getting out of the arena and going on a nice long trail ride to get rid of some of that extra energy. Do bear in mind, though, that the horse may be out of shape—don't push him too far or hard.
As I already mentioned, the horse that has learned to buck in order to get out of work or who is seriously attempting to throw its rider needs expert retraining. They need to be worked with by somebody who is fit, healthy, and experienced with the issue.
If the horse actually does get the rider off by bucking it is very important that somebody get back on the horse. Ideally, this should be the original rider, but I obviously don't recommend getting back on if you're injured. If the horse bucks somebody off and is taken right back to his stall, he may learn that bucking gets him out of work.
I do not recommend riding alone on any horse. It is even more important not to ride alone on a horse that has a history of bucking.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
© 2012 jenniferrpovey