Most of us spend some point in our lives trying to stop a horse from bucking. I was taught that bucking is a terrible behavior that should be immediately reprimanded. And, so I used to whip my horse’s head around, lifting the rein to keep his head up, and kick the daylights out of the same side–I didn’t realize that I was basically disengaging the hindquarters, removing his ability to buck. As I grew up and began training youngsters and beginners, I realized there are many types of bucks, and not all of them are to be punished. Shocking, I know, but hear me out…
First, you have the “I’m young, exuberant, and feel really good, so I must buck” leaps of joy. I find it hard to get mad at youngsters who don’t quite understand what’s happening on their backs and deal with it by bucking, but at the same time, they must learn that bucking isn’t the desired response, so the answer is to ride forward. Very forward. Heck, gallop if you need to, but let them know it’s forward you want, not upwards. Sometimes a little smack of the crop behind the leg or a growl is warranted, but usually my fix is to longe the young’uns before I climb into the saddle so they can sort it out on their own. This kind of buck also applies to older horses who are learning to use their backs for the first time. I actually patted Johnny and told him “GOOD BOY!” today for this–it was the first time he’s ever bucked since I’ve owned him. (And it came after he did the best right-lead canter of his life–pretty amazing for my former track pony.)
Secondly, you have the “oh, ouch, my back is really tense and you plopping down onto the saddle hurts. I want you off. Now!” I used to ride a very cold-backed TB who, about 50% of the time, would launch immediately into rodeo bucks before I could even get a leg over the saddle (or he’d wait until I was barely seated–he was crafty). Once I built up his back muscles, the bucking resolved itself, but until then, he had at least 15 minutes on the longe to warm up before I climbed aboard. Again, it’s hard to hold the horse at fault when he’s in pain, but with him, the answer was not riding forward, putting him into further discomfort. It was stop the bucking, make him stand for a moment, praise him for being quiet, and then climb off to go get the longe line.
Thirdly, you have the “I’m not sure what you’re asking with your lower leg, and the tap of the whip doesn’t clarify. You are annoying me. Here, let me help you off my back” buck. These are the ones where he just lifts his butt into the air; there’s no back-cracking, head down between the knees, rodeo bronc action, but it must be regarded as incorrect behavior, so for these, I send pony into lateral work. Hehe, it’s my own little dirty trick. “Oh, you don’t like what I ask of you? Here, move sideways.” They can’t buck while they’re crossing their legs, and you can keep the hindquarters engaged so you can get right back into what you were doing previously.
Finally, you have the worst buck of all: the dreaded insolent horse. This horse is either soured from too many bad riders, having an absolutely terrible day, or has undiagnosed issues. He doesn’t want to go forward; he wants to rocket launch his rider into the air and maybe run her over for bonus points. These are the head-between-the-knees, back bowed up into the air, and hind kicks before the legs hit the ground kind of bucks. They’re pretty stinking hard to ride, and if you do manage to stay on, you’re headed to the chiropractor after your ride (and you’re hoping somebody is catching it on video). These are the ones that require immediate disengagement of the hindquarters and then reminded (firmly) that the horse must move forward. One technique we used on horses like this was to put the horse on the longe while rider sits in the saddle with a bucking strap attached. Every time the horse would start to buck, ground person immediately sends the horse forward–the horse can still buck while running, but they get much smaller and easier to ride. Eventually the horse gets the message that bucking is not the answer. **Note, we used this method AFTER determining medical issues were not the cause.**
So, there you have it: the four types of bucks. I hope the next time your horse decides to go airborne (and not over a jump), you can figure out whether it was a leap of joy or an intended rider launch. Either way, keep your heels down and ride on! Go eventing!