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Childs Horse is Bucking

Hi Franklin.

I feel awful inside.

We sold a horse recently to a family new to horses. It was not a pressure sale - they were looking for a middle aged gelding that they could send for training at a barrel racer's so that their daughter and the horse could progress together. We split the cost of a month's training with the potential buyers who indicated that if they liked the horse after a month's regular training with a barrel racing trainer, they would buy him. They went ahead with the deal. Their daughter, who is 12, rode the horse regularly for a month at the trainer's first, and he passed his vet check with flying colors. Everyone involved said that they felt good about it, the daughter was thrilled, the trainer was confident that all would go well, and so on. We bid him goodbye, signed the bill of sale, and cashed the cheque.

Tonight they took him to 4H, and after two hours of riding, the horse bucked their 12 year old daughter off. The trainer then got on in order to control him, and he bucked her off.

I am terribly upset that this happened. In the 2.5 years that we owned him, he never bucked. In the month and a week that they've been riding him at the trainer's, he never bucked. I just hate to think of this young girl becoming frightened and hurt by him. I really wanted this to go well. The buyer also signed a bill of sale that says that he assumes responsibility for the horse, so I know that on paper, this technically isn't our problem... but it's still a terrible situation.

What would make a horse start bucking after two hours of riding? His vet check was two weeks ago and he came out clean. I am shocked and stumped by this behaviour and would appreciate any input you could provide. All I can guess is that something was hurting and after two hours, he'd finally had enough, but I am not sure if that's a reasonable explanation or not.

Thanks, Jill

Hi Jill,

Sorry it has taken a while to fully respond. I am teaching in Greece and my time online is currently limited. Lets see if I can offer some possibilities to consider regarding this unfortunate situation. The first thought that ocmes to mind is the same on you had (pain somewhere in the animal's body). Vet checks are essential when purchasing a horse. However, I have never seen a vet palpate a horse's back for back pain during a vet check (equine chiropractor). Additionally, rarely have I seen a vet look in a horse's mouth for potential teeth problems during a pre-purchase exam, unless specifically requested to. Also, looking in the animal's ears for some problem (mites, ticks, etc.) would be in order. Any discomfort or pain in the animal's body anywhere can cause the change in the horse's behavior. Some trainer's are great at 'reading' a horse and others, although they would never admit it. Many trainers have an agenda that is much more important than the animal's overall well-being and responses to the training. When the animal starts to show resistance (problems), it is not noticed until the issue becomes so big that the horse dramatically reacts (bucking). I would make an educated guess that this situation came on for your horse over some time, was not noticed in deference to the agenda of training for competition, and finally the situation got too much for the horse. I would certainly take a close look at the trainer for not spotting the issues before they got to this point. You might see a "not my fault" attitude and blame going to the horse, or somewhere else other than with the trainer. Truth is, the trainer is supposed to be the big professional here and, I think, the ultimate responsibility lies there. If the horse bucked the trainer off as well, this is potentially more evidence that you have the wrong trainer.

Additionally, the training itself, the routine, the actions required of the horse, the attitude of the trainer, your daughter's attitude and skill (or lack of), the training program itself and the tack are places to look for potential issues as well. You have intuition. Use it. Tune into what you guts are telling you about it all. A horse lives or dies through its intuition. You can learn from the horse in this way. Also, if the horse was running and practicing running barrels for two hours, that is too much. I don't blame the horse for its behavior if that was the case. The trainer should know this. If a horse is going to compete in anything, the day of the competition it should not be over ridden before the actual performance. A mild warm-up is generally most acceptable. Also, steady and appropriate conditioning, not over conditioning, is most preferred. Look at the animal's diet too. A good vet, well educated in equine nutrition should be consulted.

As you can see there are many things for you to consider. Do not make the horse wrong or bad here and neither should the new owners. Show them this email. Again, I must emphisize the ultimate responsibility her lies with the trainer. Extremely good vetting, ferrier and equine chiropractic would certainly be helpful too. Good Luck.

Sincerely, Franklin

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