You may be baffled about your horse's bucking during ground work, but breaking possible reasons down into categories can help you sort through it and determine acceptable limits. Bucking is a horse’s instinctive mechanism to remove predators from his back; even without such worries, bucking translates into a natural expression for play, fear, anger and sometimes a tactic to simply get his way.
Pay attention when your horse bucks during ground work. If he’s been off work for a few days or longer, or in a stall, he may buck just to release excess energy. If your horse is young and inexperienced and bucks when you ask him to canter, he may not have the physical balance or strength to do it correctly -- a few bucks can help such a horse correct his hind legs so he’s pushing off the correct leg when cantering. Similarly, if your horse has not had much experience with a saddle on his back, he'll instinctively buck to get it off. Particularly in this case, he learns that no matter how hard he bucks, the saddle is staying on; he eventually learns to accept it. Ensure the saddle fits properly and isn’t pinching him.
Allowing Time to Buck
If your horse bucks at the beginning of every ground work session, he's probably getting out excess energy before settling down to work. Give him that opportunity. Put him in a round pen or arena and free-lunge him -- let him run around the pen and buck freely to get it out of his system. Then attach your lead rope or lunge line and get to work with no bucking allowed. If you don’t have an enclosed pen or arena, let him buck for the first few minutes on the lunge line.
If your horse is not young or inexperienced, continues bucking after you’ve allowed him to release excess energy, turns his hindquarters to you when bucking or starts bucking when being ridden, you need to set stiffer limits on the ground. Start by correcting during lungeing, whether free lungeing in a round pen, or on a lunge line. As soon as he starts to buck, make him change direction. Do this as many times as it takes for him to exercise easily and quietly without a single buck. Stopping and changing directions quickly is a lot of work, plus he has to pay attention to you.
If changing direction isn’t working or your horse tries a different way to defy you, go back to ground work training to teach him to respect you. With a rope halter and lead rope, pull on his lead rope until he flexes his neck with his nose pulled toward his stomach. Do this on both sides. Then, ask him to move his hindquarters over, crossing his hind feet, in response to pressure from you while keeping his front feet still. Repeat on other side. Stand in front of your horse and walk toward him with the lead rope raised. He should step back. If he doesn’t, shake the lead rope slightly. Continue shaking until he steps back, then praise him. Finally, begin lunge lessons from the beginning so he is moving softly and quietly around you, without pulling, in response to verbal cues for walk, trot, canter and whoa.
To prevent or correct your horse's bucking under saddle, habituate him to stimuli on his back in addition to the saddle. Start by throwing your lead rope across his back and hindquarters. Repeat this by rubbing him with your lunge whip. Incorporate different objects in your ground work sessions, such as tarps, plastic bags and umbrellas. The more he is exposed to these objects the more desensitized he will become -- thus disengaging his bucking instinct.
- Equisearch: The Buck Stops Here
- Odessa Johnson, Trainer and Owner, Crimson Jewel Stables, New Braunfels, Texas
Based in Central Texas, Karen S. Johnson is a marketing professional with more than 30 years' experience and specializes in business and equestrian topics. Her articles have appeared in several trade and business publications such as the Houston Chronicle. Johnson also co-authored a series of communications publications for the U.S. Agency for International Development. She holds a Bachelor of Science in speech from UT-Austin.