A behaviour expressed in variety shapes and sizes:

  • one buck or multiple.
  • a sharp kick out with one or both legs,
  • stationary, stalling, rocking, humping or while running.

A buck can also follow a flight incident like an exclamation mark on the tail end a spook.

Why does my horse buck?

Equitation scientists agree it’s an avoidance behaviour. A defensive behaviour to dislodge a threat or annoyance. Some horses seem to be more apt to buck than others, while others opt for other evasions (rearing, running). In all cases, what began as an isolated incident can quickly become a learned behaviour when it works!

Exuberance/Play Prey animals get wound up. The faster their legs go, the more adrenaline rises, which generates more excitement. Keep emotions low.

Pain   First, it is wise to rule out any physical discomfort that could contribute to your horse’s behaviour. Back pain, internal issues or joint pain may also motivate a horse to buck in search of relief.

Pressure points caused by an ill-fitting saddle can affect your horse the way uncomfortable shoes affect you.  I’m regularly sliding students’ saddles back off the shoulder blades. Having them slip their fingers under the front panels to discover – ouch- this part is really digging in! Reputable saddle makers and researchers offer much accessible info online - guidelines to determine proper fit.

 Look for a physical cause first in quest to solve horse puzzles. One caveat - we can get bogged down, frozen, looking for an elusive source of pain, meanwhile permitting a behavior problem. To allow bucking is to confirm the behavior so that even after the problem is resolved, the behaviour may persist. The horse has linked a canter transition or landing a jump with bucking.

Fear- Defensive tactic. Horses are hard-wired to buck. While more prone to flight than fight, once a horse has tried unsuccessfully to get away from the threat, his default is to aggression. If threatened or startled from the front, he’ll throw his head up, strike out with front feet or spin away. If threatened or bothered behind the girth, he’ll buck or kick with whatever force he needs to avoid/relieve threat/pressure.

Irritation: This problem rears it’s ugly head frequently with novice riders.  The increased pace of the canter and resulting instability of the rider magnifies problems that might not be seen in the walk or trot:  mixed cues, a “noisy” or gripping leg.

 If that pressure is relieved (rider’s leg is displaced, rider is unseated, falls off or stops the riding session) the horse discovers a pay-off.  Much the same as kicking out to dislodge a biting fly and pay-off-it goes away. Horses do what works. By finding release at the right moment….or sadly, the wrong moment, he has just trained himself.

Let’s look at some solutions in the next post!

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