A horse bucking in the field or on the lunge because he feels good is one thing, but bucking under saddle is another, ranging from fairly harmless little bunny hops to terrifying bronc shows. Usually, a horse bucking under the saddle has a reason; the usual culprit and easiest to avoid is a bit too much feed and not enough exercise. Another is the need to escape some sort of pressure, whether this is physical pain or badly-fitting gear. The one that is perhaps the most dangerous and difficult to fix is habitual bucking ‒ he has learned by bucking the pressure stops and this is often the ‘bronc bucking’, not only terrifying but often impossible to “just sit out.”
The Good Things in Life
Maybe you’ve bought a gorgeous new horse and want him to look round and shiny….the only problem is he’s jumping out of his skin and you’ve either hit the dirt already or are worried you will do soon. This is probably the easiest bucking problem to cure: cut out or reduce the hard feed [grain]! The majority of horses will do very well on just good-quality grass hay unless they’re competing regularly or in a lot of work. Just hay will help tame your fresh beast until you feel safe and think he’s ready for hard feed again.
Letting Off Steam
However, especially in winter, every horse needs the chance to let off steam and be a horse. Letting them free in the indoor is a great way to do this, but in order to avoid injuries make sure they are warmed up first they should spend 20 minutes in the walking machine, or even better, in hand.
Why better? Because this is the perfect chance to help your horse learn what you expect from him: self control. That when you stop, he stops. Maybe some leg yielding on a circle, or even travers, shoulder-in and half-pass, all are possible from the ground and brilliant for warming up as well as an avenue for excess energy in body and mind.
Once he’s warm, ideally you have a helper in the arena so that you can prevent any sliding stops and spinning in the corners once he is turned loose. You can send him around the outside track, in trot and canter, both directions; 20 minutes altogether of trot and canter is usually plenty for most horses, even very energetic ones.
Walk him again afterwards until he’s cooled down, using this time to practise more ground work. Doing this once or even twice a week means he has a chance to let off steam when you’re not on him, making the chances of him bucking under you far smaller and preventing it from happening so easily.
Does Lunging Really Help?
Lunging before you ride is another option and probably the most popular; however, what we want to avoid is over-lunging. We want to lunge the horse in a way that helps him warm up, not to wear him out. A tired horse cannot learn. Letting him charge around on the lunge to get rid of any excess energy when he’s fresh is fine now and then, but sometimes this can lead to lunging every time we ride, and rather than the bucking disappearing, he simply gets fitter and fitter, with even more energy for bucking.
What we ideally want is to change our mindset, and that of our horse, so that lunging is part of his work routine and teach him to channel his energy into something other than bucking. This might be lots of transitions, spiraling the circles down, spiraling back out, going over poles, not just around and around in endless circles. Expect him to behave on the lunge as you want him to under saddle, so that you can go into the round pen or arena, ask him to walk on the lunge, and he waits for you to let him know he can trot and canter, exactly as you would if you were in the saddle.
Racing off and letting the horse decide the tempo isn’t what we want under saddle, nor is it on the lunge. This not only means he will start to learn that bucking is not an option, but also prevent injuries from zooming around wildly on the lunge. This also means you can lunge him for shorter and shorter periods before getting on, until you don’t have to lunge before every ride.
Is Your Horse Uncomfortable?
Horses thrive on consistency and knowing what we expect of them. This is not about being “tough” or “showing him who’s boss,” it is being consistent and aware of what you are asking. They also want to find a way to avoid undue pressure which leads to the next reason for bucking; pressure or pain.
If a horse has kissing spines, a saddle that pinches, or a rider that is unbalanced, they might search for an escape, and this can lead to bucking. In this case, getting their teeth checked and having a vet look them over is the first step. Checking if the saddle fits is the next step. Are they sensitive when you groom them? Is their back better after a few days off, or only lunging? Maybe your saddle doesn’t fit as well as you think.
Some horses are saints and won’t say anything; however, some horses are fairly sensitive and will make it clear they’re uncomfortable. Our job is to figure out what’s bothering them before it gets to the stage of bucking.
Is your horse uncomfortable on the lunge without a saddle? Or only once a rider hops on that he gets upset? There are some horses that will be almost asleep at the walk and once asked to trot suddenly wake up and start bucking. In this instance, send him forward in trot and canter on the lunge and do lots of transitions to wake him up, until you can get on without worrying about a volcano underneath you. Or doing some walk-trot transitions in hand for five minutes before you get on might help, too.
Ask For Professional Help
If a horse is bucking out of habit, perhaps during the breaking-in process the girth was done up too tight and too fast and the “bucking out” didn’t go to plan. Or perhaps he has simply learned that the rider leaves him alone if he starts bucking. It can be really difficult to untrain and is also very dangerous. If your horse really bucks, getting the help of a professional is your best bet.