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Problem horse bucks a lot

Dear Franklin.

I was wondering if you could help. My horse bucks every time she changes gait. Her tack is correct and there are no medical problems. She lunges just fine with no bucking. This problem is causing me a lot of worry please helps. I had a qualified person check out her tack and they said it was fine. I thought that was the reason for it. I had the vet look her over and also a chiropractor. I am really worried about this. She doesn't do it when I lunge her only when I ride in the arena. If out on the roads there is no problem but she will toss her head before changing gaits. She's not lazy but she shares her field with another horse. Would this affect it in anyway? I don't think she's being lazy.

Yours, Leigh

Hi Leigh,

Thank you for your question. As you have ruled out anything organic, this is a behavioral issue of your horse and a dangerous one at that. Have you considered doing more on the ground than mere lunging? If you horse is not fully bonded with you and does not have a strong relationship of trust with you, even changing speed and gaits can be a scary thing for the horse. It seems to me to be a confidence issue. Your horse is not bad, merely somehow afraid of what you are asking of her. Lunging is fine as a simple warm up, but horses need more. They need a healthy dosage of leadership and guidance as well to develop the trust that tells them it is safe to do all you ask (even jump thru hoops of fire).

The concept of a lot of 'right and appropriate action' on the ground with your horse is a good place to begin to establish this bond of trust. Trust is established thru you asking for various things from your horse, simple things she can do, she does them and gets praise (not food). She knows she has done a good thing if you just sincerely say "good girl". Saying 'thank you' means a lot and not just to horses. She should be praised for every little try she makes to do as you are requesting. This sets the horse up to win a lot, do as you ask and have everything go well. Horses need a leader with them every second, every moment. They are afraid if the leader is unsure, confused, uncertain, out of focus, detached, nervous, hyper, doesn't know what to do, out of balance on the ground or in the saddle, too heavy handed and any other number of undesirable things. Get creative with what you do on the ground with her. Begin to 'send' her places on the end of a line (short and long). Lunge her over low jumps, have her stop on the other side and jump back over to you. Send her in and out of gates, stalls, and trailers, around cones, into tight places and back out. Get creative and get very patient. If you horse shows what you think is resistance it is really only fear. You must try to intuit and determine what the horse is afraid of. Once you figure that out you can re-introduce the scary things to the horse in a way that establishes trust in you as the great leader.

Consider letting go of riding for a short time as your agenda with your horse. Consider her feelings of safety and trust as what needs to be addressed first and foremost, before riding. Do the ground play. Ask for assistance if you are unfamiliar with what to do or how to do it on the ground. If you wish I may be able to coach you thru some of this either on-line coaching (chat sessions) or via the telephone. There are a few possibilities. But, I sincerely wish to prompt you to address the emotional aspect of what is going on here for your horse. That is the real issue..the emotion of fear. As far as being 'lazy' is concerned, horses are naturally lazy and for good reason. In the wild, if a horse runs too fast too far it will too tired to run any more and will be killed by a predator. Horses want to only run a short distance. Then they want to stop running and will circle back to investigate what the treat was. There may not be the danger they thought. On the other hand, maybe there was and they will run away again. But do not criticize your horse for being a bit lazy. It is normal and not a bad thing. I rather have a calm horse than one that is energized by fear.

Another thing to consider is re-starting the horse under saddle. Taking the horse back to the basics of it's training and begin the process again. Perhaps something was overlooked in her initial training. This is a real possibility. Please consider doing this if you have the time and skill. If you do not, consider a good, gentle, reliable trainer with excellent references from satisfied costumers. If your horse is not getting turned out enough or doesn't really have a 'job' to do or is not doing anything all week until you come to ride her, this is part of your problem as well. Horses like a job as well as consistent and appropriate handling. Some regular exercise is needed as well. If there is variation in any of her routine that is not in line with how she is handled normally, this will produce fear. Fear will stop a horse from moving forward, backward or anywhere. It will prevent a horse from any compliance with a human. Tune in and think about what I have said, tune in to your horse, look inside yourself for your feelings and beliefs. See if there is doubt or uncertainty and not just about the horse's behavior. Sure you have fear of getting hurt. But what else is going on inside as well. Consider your horse knows all and may be responding somehow to your internal process. Just something else to think about.

Anyway, thank you again for your question. I hope I have been able to offer some helpful suggestions. I look forward to hearing your responses and thoughts.

Sincerely, Franklin

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