Jennifer specializes in articles about horse training, care, and purchasing.
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
Cassie Boldt on July 13, 2019:
I just got a horse, and a couple days after I got her I put her in the round pen, and then lunged her. Everything was going well so I decided to put on the saddle, and since everything was going good there were no bad signs I got on her. someone led me around and for about 30 seconds she was fine, and then she just started bucking. Can someone help me figure out what to do or why she did it?
Sabrina on February 07, 2019:
I have a 14 year old Morgan mare. She is a darling and I've had her and her sister for almost a year. When we first got her she was perfect. I jumped her, rode her on trails, and galloped her everywhere. Now, for almost a month, she has been bucking when I or our trainer asks her to canter. We have tried many different pads, saddles, and even had a chiropractor come look at her and she was fine. She's amazing on a lounge line but when you ask her to canter you have to hold on tight. Help?
Omar Carrillo on January 31, 2019:
I have a 20 yr old horse that has never bucked. My wife has been riding im for 3 years now. The boarding place chnaged his diet and started feeding him Alfalfa cubes. Since then he has bucked twice. Going up a levy and during the Rodeo Grand Entry. I attribute it to excitement and the Alfalfa is making him "hot". He is not a performance horse. I have taken him off the cubes and he is back on hay and Purina Sr Active. Lets hope he doesnt buck again.
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Heather brannon on October 18, 2018:
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Tina on August 28, 2018:
I was bucked off a Tennessee Walker and she was not taken none of my commands stop she bucked me off after about unblock that she bucked me off I broke 6 ribs my L7 and S5 in my back and broke my pelvis hit my head little brain bleed and concussion been riding horses since I was little girl this is the first time that's ever happened to me I was so scared now it's going to take me awhile before I get back in the saddle but I'm not going to let it defeat me I was going to buy her that day and rode her befor she was a great horse never knew.
jenniferrpovey (author) on September 03, 2017:
Definitely separation anxiety, Staci. At least you don't think you have a "special bond."
Is she stalled all the time?
Staci White on August 23, 2017:
I have a yarling a friesian cross that is 15 months over the past 2 months when ever i leave to go home she starts bucking and squeeling in her stall.she gets excellent care and has friends.when i go in her stall shes fine? Is this seperation anxiety? Or a phase
jenniferrpovey (author) on March 13, 2013:
I would seriously double check your saddle fit - it's possible he really is evading, and I've certainly known horses that do, but he could also be in discomfort.
Jmillis2006 from North Carolina on March 13, 2013:
My three year old quarter horse likes to try to buck to get out of certain things like loping I keep pushing him and he gets over it when he does not get his way.
littlepalmer on April 28, 2012:
Also, another good way to prevent being bucked off is to tighten your reins and bring their head around to their butt. It's another way to get their head away from the ground and between their legs. Plus, it's usually easier to control horses when forcing them into a circle, especially if it's bringing the horse's nose to their rear.
karmicfilly from Franklin, TN on April 23, 2012:
Glad to hear you give information on this area. As a lifelong rider I've been thrown more times than I can count in various ways on all kinds of horses. The worst was as a child of 8 years of age. I was paralyzed from the neck down as I hit my tailbone so hard on cement that it cause the temporary paralysis. Luckily and obviously it wore off but it made an impression that I would work hard to learn and not let this happen again. I learned but it still happens. If you ride, you will get bucked off sometime or another.
jenniferrpovey (author) on April 04, 2012:
First of all, Buckinghorse, make sure her saddle still fits and that she's not in any kind of pain.
Some horses habitually buck in the canter transition, but it seems strange that she would stop doing it and then start again suddenly, so I have to suspect pain may be an issue.
Do you ride English or western?
buckinghorse on April 04, 2012:
My horse just bucked me two days ago. She has bucked in the pass, when going into the canter but not a lot. I was working her in the arena and had a great work out with her and we were almost done. I was doing a transition, a trot to a canter and she bucked me with her hind end and off I went. I wasn't ready for the buck. a week before the buck, I was on the trail with two friends and one of my friends left. My horse got upset and started bucking because the other horse was leaving. I turned her and she stopped and we went on our way. She is a great horse on the trail and lots of fun in the arena. It's those occasional bucks that are amazingly good and pretty high. If not prepared off I go. I need help with stopping her from bucking. Any answers on what I should do?
jenniferrpovey (author) on January 27, 2012:
Here is the thing...are you sure he was trying to buck you off? Not every horse that bucks intends to unseat the rider. I honestly think some of them...especially flighty TBs and TB crosses...kind of forget that it might be annoying to the person sitting on their back.
Linkusbless on January 26, 2012:
The flighty/lazy TB also tried to buck me off. I was shocked I tell you. Shocked. It's really hard to stay on a bucking horse and I knew if he did it again I'd probably come off. I made him pace (extended trot) all the way home about 2 ks no time to think about anything other than the ground below. I was cross and surprised he really had tried to unseat me, but fortunately he didn't keep trying. A few days later he thought he'd try it again, and so I said a very gruff-- "Git out of it you BASTARD, DON'T YOU TRY!!" and with bit of an accompanying kick of my boot into his tummy it seemed to work. I was lucky.
Cat R from North Carolina, U.S. on January 26, 2012:
Been there, done that, tasted dirt, learned from it. grin
aslaught from Alabama on January 26, 2012: