Horse Training for the Brave at Heart: Beating Bucking*


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Horse Training for the Brave at Heart: Beating Bucking*

Morgan Murphy

Horse Training for the Brave at Heart: Beating Bucking*

As a rider, you must plan for a wide range of scenarios. You must relentlessly work on your balance and posture, your relationship with the horse and maintaining rhythm through a range of gaits. If you jump your horse over fences, you will spend years finessing your position so as to enable the horse's uninhibited movement while maintaining a graceful appearance. You will also develop the ability to "See the distance," meaning you will learn how to rate the speed of the horse vs. the distance to the jump so as to anticipate the need to slow down or speed the horse up as you approach the fence. (This is much harder than it sounds and can take years to learn.)


Regardless of the discipline you ride, you must always be ready for the unexpected. You could be moseying along on a trail ride or gently cantering up to jump and suddenly feel the horse's back legs leave the ground in a forceful buck. If you are caught totally off guard, you may fall forward and off, but, a good rider will sense the buck, maintain their erect position and stay with the horse. (Again, this is much harder than it sounds and even good riders can suddenly find themselves on the ground.)



Bucking is not a habit than any horse should be allowed to develop. Learning to anticipate your horse's bad bucking behavior and knowing how to address it can help you curtail the problem sooner rather than later.


Noted natural horseman, Pat Parelli, explains that there are two types of bucking; the reaction to fear or pain and, "the defiant buck." The first type, when a horse spontaneously reacts to a fearful or painful situation, tends to be sudden and jolting, whereas the second, when the horse is being belligerent, tends to be less sudden and less intense. If a horse is bucking regularly, it's important to determine that he/she is not in pain. Some of the common causes of equine pain include:

  • Poor saddle fit
  • Back issues particularly under the saddle
  • Injury during ridden work causing pain
  • Dental problems exacerbated by the bit
  • Poor fitting bit or a poorly fitted bridle.


If you suspect your horse is suffering from any pain or discomfort it is critical that you have a qualified veterinarian check him/her out as soon as possible.

Dealing with Horse Bucking
While there are countless situations that could be prompting your horse's bucking, all should be dealt with in a calm, consistent manner in order to deter the horse from making bucking a habit.

-When riding, keep your horse preoccupied and busy. Change direction, do circles, serpentines, turns on the half circle, changes of gait up and down, lateral work (specific types of movements that move the horse left or right as you move forward,) turns on the haunch, turns on the forehand, backing, etc. This will help keep your horse entertained and his mind busy.
-Mix the type of work you do up a bit. Ride in different rings, trail ride with other riders, do in-hand work. Keep the work interesting and consistently varied.
-Don't over feed your horse high energy foods.
-Don't pick the same spot to begin galloping when you're on the trail. Horses quickly learn patterns and, by running your horse from the same spot, you may find he starts to anticipate taking off and may buck as he becomes excited. By the same token, introduce your horse to a new jumping ring before you start flying around over the bigger jumps. Sometimes a new course in a new environment can prompt naughty behavior.

-Watch your horse closely for cues. Dropping his/her head and pulling in the hind quarters may signal that your horse is about to buck.
-When you sense your horse is threatening to buck, don't get over aggressive with the reins. This may tense him up further. Remain calm and quiet when dealing with a threatened buck. Also, do tight but relaxed circles, changing directions until he has regained his composure.
-Sit tall and deep in the saddle when you feel your horse may be about to buck. Keep your heels down, your shoulders back and maintain a light but firm contact with the reins. A horse cannot buck when his head is raised up. (Unless he's really dirty.) Keep him moving forward and engaged. Some horses use bucking to get out of being worked. If previous riders have hopped off or been bucked off when the horse started misbehaving, they may have helped to create this bad habit by rewarding the horse for his misdeeds. Maintain a firm leg and consistent hand. By keeping the horse working and focused, you will gradually teach him that bad behavior will not be rewarded. Make sure you quit riding only after he's behaved correctly and consistently. (Unless he is behaving dangerously, which means it's time to turn him over to a trainer.)

-If your horse tends to buck when excited at shows or while jumping, either lunge him both ways or turn him out in a proper turn out ring. Be careful not to lunge a horse excessively as it can lead to injuries by forcing the horse to lean onto one side.
-Avoid whips or spurs to force a horse forward. Using a firm leg and a light tap from a dressage whip should get a better result. Some horses react badly to whips and it may invite them to react with more bucking, so be sure to weigh the pros and cons of the training methods you use.

- Should your horse start to buck, be prepared to disengage his hind quarters with a small, sharp circle. By using one rein to move the nose towards his leg, he will be unable to buck. Using this method each time he attempts to buck can eventually get the behavior to stop.

-Whenever you ride a horse with bucking issues be sure to wear a helmet that fits correctly. Don't worry about being fashionable in these instances. Your safety should always be your number one priority around horses. If you feel you are unable to deal with the bucking problem, it is important to speak to a professional.

-Green colts are more likely to buck from the compression caused by the girth or cinch rather than from the weight of the saddle. You might want to use a soft mohair cinch, loosely cinched, gradually increased the tightness until the colt grows accustomed to wearing a properly cinched saddle.

* We encourage you to seek professional assistance with a bucking horse that is beyond your ability to school, IMMEDIATELY. For help with bucking you can contact your trainer. Parelli natural horsemanship also offers a course to help equip you with the skills to deal with unacceptable equine behavior.

*Image by Dagur Brynjólfsson courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

  • This is so helpful - my horse bucks and this is just what I needed