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Bucking Horse with People Problems

Hi Franklin

I am new to the horse world and recently bought a 13 year old Chesnut Mare three months ago. I have spent hours and hours with her getting to know her, grooming her, and leading her etc. All of that time has paid off. She recognizes me and comes to me (whinnies and comes running at times to come and see me).

At first I didn't do much riding with her, because I was wanting to find an instructor who would be willing to take the time, and work with me as a novice rider. I was told when I bought my horse she had been out in the field for quite sometime, but with some riding (by someone with expirence) that would get her back into the swing of things, as she was used in parades, "musical rides", and on trails. I trusted that advice as it came from the previous owners and a reputable horse trainer who had experience with this particular horse. So, I had someone ride her who had more experience then I did and the first few times I saw that she would buck when asked to trot or canter. The rider rode it through despite the odd buck here and there.

Once I found myself an experienced riding instructor I began to take lessons. In addition, a friend of mine is also taking lessons on my horse (with the same instructor). Thinking that this bucking issue was just because she wasn't use to being ridden, we thought that lunging her before hand would benefit (she is GREAT on the lunge line, responds well, and bucks only occasionally when asked to go from the trot to a canter - I thought that buck at that point was a playful one). The instructor was also willing to ride my horse to give the horse lessons too. On the first lesson the horse bucked a few times with my instructor on her back. My instructor rode them out, and assured me that it was probably because the horse was a bit rusty, and after a few more lessons she (the horse) would be fine.

Over a month has passed since then. My instructor now will not ride my horse due to the aggressive bucking behavior that my horse does. Instead of the bucking disappearing, its getting worse. Just this last week my friend who has been riding my horse and taking the lessons, was almost thrown several times, by very aggressive bucks. Inaddition to the bucking, if there is anyone standing in the general area (such as the instructor) my horse will turn and attempt to kick out at her.

Ironically, when I ride, my horse has not bucked me.....yet. It would appear she only bucks those with more advanced riding experience. My first lesson went VERY WELL. I was pleased with my horse and exctied with how the lesson went. I trotted for the first time and my horse responded well. However since then, when I ride, she refuses to move forward. Instead, she backs up contiunously and or turns circles eratically. My first lesson of course was before the episode this week with the aggressive bucking. The bucking that took place this week while my friend rode, was described as high, and all fours were off the ground and got progressively worse, until the point where my instructor (understandably) was concerned for the safety of my friend and told her to get off after my friend rode out the bucks. The bucks also started after my horse had a slight break in the lesson (approx 10 minutes while another rider took to the ring). My instructor is at a loss as to what to do. Infact, she doesn't feel that my horse is rideable at this point, due to safety concerns. My instructor feels this is not a physical issue but that of behaviour.

The gentleman that runs the barn we board at is an experienced horse trainer, and he has said that he will be able to break her of this bucking. Is this true? Infact, he is the one who has had experience in riding this same horse in the past, before I bought her. Will my horse become a horse that I (as a novice rider) will be able to get on, and feel comfortable and safe on? What can I do to help stop the bucking, and or train her that its unacceptable (even though she has yet to buck me)? And how can I stop this backing up, cirlcling behaviour, as well as the turning as though to kick out at those who are in the general vicinity?

I don't want to have to get rid of this horse, because of the bond that her and I have established. Naturally though safety is the number one concern. I want to be able to ride my horse, and feel safe and comfortable in doing so. I'm hoping you can offer me some advice on these issues. Should I be looking for a different horse?

P.S. I forgot to mention she is a cribber too.

Thanks Very Much

Hi Nita,

Most 'riding' instructors are only that and teach riding. They do not teach 'horse' or, although they never admit it, know that much about equine psychology. They tend to go to "show him who is boss, take charge and control, ride them through it, etc." They tend also to make a horse out as being 'bad', which takes responsibility for the unwanted behavior off of them as less than competent trainers. Be that as it may.......

First thing to look at is pain somewhere occuring with the horse. I would have a veterinarian check the back and mouth of the horse for sources of pain. I would also have a very knowledgeable person check the saddle fit of your saddle to make certain it is not pinching the horse. 9 times out of 10, pain is the cause for behavior like the bucking you are describing (assuming the horse is warmed up and handled on the ground before riding). Even after the source of the pain is discovered, the animal is so habituated to its pain that it anticipates it and the bucking behavior (backing, not wanting to go forward, etc.) continues for quite a while. Old habits are hard to break for us all. Eliminate the possibility of pain first by having a vet look the horse over thoroughly.

You do not mention any ground play with the horse at all. Handling, dancing, playing with the horse on the ground either in a round pen or on a long line is an essential and extremely valuable aspect of handling and training horses. It is over- looked most all the time. So-called trainers, riding instructors and stable owners neglect this extremely important aspect of appropriate conditioning of horses and riders. One should never just get on a 'cold-backed' horse (fairly quickly out of the stall). A minimum of 15-30 minutes should be taken all the time to school the horse on the ground before it is ridden. I mean beyond lungeing. Playing on the ground with a horse gets the horse engaged with the handler and doing everythng you want (moving forward stopping, backing, as well as transitions of speed and direction) as well as including building your bond of trust (most important). If the horse is saddled while being played with on the ground, that is helpful. Also, a rider can be added after 15 minutes or so, and kept on the lunge line to assist the horse in learning to carry a rider forward, backward and through turns. Ground driving is also a basic part of any good training program. It is neglected and rarely done as well. I wonder if anyone there knows how to do it????

Playing games and dancing with horses on the ground before riding them eliminates a lot of unwanted behavior (after a vet check for pain). When under saddle and being ridden, a huge amount of time should be done at the trot doing figure eights, small circles and, of course, a lot of leg yields. Cantering is the icing on the cake and should not be done until a smooth, wonderful trot under all circumstances and conditions is achieved. If the horse is pain free with a good fitting saddle and appropriate bridle/bit, and most of all a gentle-handed, good 'seated', competent rider who is willing to be patient enough to do the miles and miles of trotting circles and figure-eights, the behavior you describe will vanish in due time. Usually, folks are not willing to take the time, everyone wants a quick fix and nobody wants to take responsibility for what they do not know. I have yet to be with a horse that with good vet care and maintenance, time, patience, appropriate handling and training, did not become a happier, well-adjusted horse. Look to the human for the problems, not so much the horse.

Most horses have 'people problems' as opposed to the other way around. The bucking and everything else this horse is doing is a symptom of fear (fear of pain or anticipation of pain or fear of no good leader being with it on the ground or on the saddle) so the horse feels it needs to fend for itself to feel 'safe'...i.e. bucking, kicking out, etc). The horse is not being bad and should not be punished or pushed into its fear. If you proceed with a patient training program as I have outlined, results will be forthcoming soon enough. Whether or not this is the best horse for you, I cannot say. It would seem you do not have the skills yet to train this horse (I cannot say whether anyone else there has either). Seems everyone is trying to force the issue and "ride the horse through" it all. This is not training the horse. This is what is done in rodeos. Think about it........................................

Sincerely, Franklin

P.S. Cribbing is the worse stable vice there is. It is frequently learned behavior from another horse. I know of no remedy. Sometimes a cribbing collar can help or painting something terrible tasting on the objects cribbed on (fence posts and rails). Sometimes the behavior stems from anxiety caused by an environment that is less than calm, peaceful and happy. Sometimes it is from not enough turn-out (time out of the stall).

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