One of the most common questions in the horse world centers around how to stop a horse from bucking. People often think their horse is just fine and then they wonder, “why is my horse bucking all of a sudden?”
One of the most frequent stories I hear on that subject goes something like this:
“I was out riding my horse along on the trail the other day, and a branch fell out of the tree (or a squirrel ran by, or the other horses started going faster, or there was a sudden loud noise, etc., etc.) and my horse just all of the sudden bolted off and started bucking.”
“He’s never done this before, and I don’t know what could have caused it. How do I help him hold it together and stop my horse from bucking when these unexpected things happen?”
The truth is, if there is an ‘all of the sudden’ moment, there are some missing pieces in the horse’s education. You may not even be aware of these ‘holes’ in his confidence and understanding until an event or situation brings them glaringly to the surface.
Why Oh Why?
While there can be multiple reasons why a horse resorts to bucking (especially when it’s all of a sudden), here’s the top 4 reasons and what you can do to stop a horse from bucking.
1. Stop A Horse From Bucking Tip 1 | He Needs To Loosen Up
Your horse has never been allowed to travel freely with someone on his back. And he’s been confined by pressure on his face. If a horse is not loose in his feet, he’s not loose in his mind. It’s like riding on top of a pressure cooker. The energy builds and builds until it gets to the point that it explodes.
You MUST train your horse (and yourself) to be just as confident at a lope as you are at a walk. Doing up/down speed transitions and being able to walk, trot, and lope on a loose rein will do wonders. This has been the game changer for countless horses/riders.
2. Stop A Horse From Bucking Tip 2 | He Doesn’t Want You Up There
The horse is not entirely comfortable with a rider being on his back. Your horse may actually think of anything or anyone located above him as a predator. Just because he tolerates you being on his back doesn’t mean he’s 100% okay with it. There are some ‘fencing’ exercises you can do that will give him this vital trust.
Sit on the top of a panel and spend some time bringing your horse directly underneath your knees until he easily comes in and stands there with you sitting above him. I had a horse in my string on a ranch one time that was notorious for bucking guys off. After a few ‘fencing’ sessions, the bucking stopped, and he became a real asset to me and the ranch. I cover fencing a lot more in my Groundwork Checklist.
3. Stop A Horse From Bucking Tip 3 | His mind hasn’t been trained to handle increased pressure
A great example is soldiers. They’re sent to boot camp and trained how to perform under pressure. Your horse must be able to do it too. A good way to do this is through what I call ‘mashing’. The intent of mashing is to teach the horse how to handle stress in a functional way, which is being able to move away from it calmly and not bracing for fight (bucking) or flight (bolting).
A calculated but increased amount of pressure is necessary to build that stress level and teach the horse how to have calm control of his body even when his mind is stressed. It builds general stress resilience in the horse. It is a mistake to always tip-toe around your horse.
Cause some commotion and help him learn how to process it without losing his cool. One example would be that after you saddle your horse, stand beside him and move one stirrup around a little. Does he jump around? Does he stand there frozen in fear? Or does he handle it like a confident pro?
If it bothers him, begin by moving that stirrup just a little but not so much that he freaks. When he becomes more brave about it, stop moving the stirrup as a reward. Gradually increase the activity of the stirrup as your horse gradually learns that it’s not a big deal.
That is just one example and I’m sure you could think of 100 more that follow this same concept. It’s a life skill and one of the best tools to stop a horse from resorting to bucking when the pressure is on. I did a podcast on this exact subject. You can listen to it here.
4. Stop A Horse From Bucking Tip 4 | Pressure and Release
The horse is looking for relief from some kind of pressure and doesn’t know where to find it. When a horse feels pressure, and can’t find a way to relieve that pressure, he starts randomly trying different things. It could be bolting, bucking, rearing, or a less dramatic attempt (like head tossing) to look for his way out. We need to become experts at showing him the way to that relief.
When we become better at timing when we apply pressure, and when we release pressure, our horsemanship has risen to a new level. For example, without proper rein management, the horse is getting mixed signals. When this happens, it’s impossible for him to understand HOW to find the way out of the pressure he’s feeling.
If you have tension on the reins at the same time you are asking him to move out freely, the horse will become frustrated and confused. Additionally, If you add rein pressure to slow down his speed, but don’t release that pressure when his feet actually do slow down, he will never understand that slowing down was the correct answer.
The goal is to adjust the amount of pressure according to how the horse responds. As much pressure as necessary but as little as possible, with good timing. In many cases, giving your horse an alternate, positive way to find relief from the pressure he is feeling will stop him from bucking.
As with any ‘horse problem’ always rule out physical factors such as pain or bad saddle fit. But in all likelihood, your solution for how to stop your horse from bucking is contained in this list.
But if your horse started bucking all of a sudden, these 4 tips should help tremendously!
For more tips on dealing with a ‘problem’ horse, go here: Out Of Control Horse.