Ask an Expert

Bucking at the Canter

April 13, 2009

AQHA Professional Horseman Patrick Hooks of Texhoma, Oklahoma, offers advice to a reader whose horse bucks at the canter.

Question:

I have an 11-year-old palomino Quarter Horse whom I have owned for a year and a half. While we are cantering, my horse bucks. I have had his saddle fit checked, and I have had a chiropractor work on him, yet he still bucks several times in the canter. I’m not sure how to break what seems to be becoming a bad habit.

When I first bought him, he was not bucking, but he seems to have developed this bad habit over the past six months. While I have a pretty good seat, I am concerned that I will get hurt if this behavior continues or, worse yet, someone else may get hurt.

I would appreciate any suggestions you can make. I don’t think he’s in pain as I have had the vet check him. Help!

Marla Schneider

Answer:

Any time I help with a problem, whether I’m present or not, I think about four separate categories: mental, physical, emotional and mechanical. Each category is self explanatory, except for mechanical. That’s what I think of as the rider’s duty of horsemanship, including being aware of the horse’s foot fall and movements. In this case, here’s how I went through the checklist:

Mental – The horse’s intelligence isn’t in question.

Physical – The owner has taken the proper steps to determine that there isn’t any physical handicap or injury. This should be done first, before all the old tricks are tried and before the frustration of the rider is taken out on the horse. In addition, Marla told me that she has purchased an excellent saddle pad as a preventive measure. Good job, Marla !

Emotional – When I contacted Marla for more information, I found out that her horse bucks when he is around other horses and in an outside environment. He is reported not to buck at a walk, trot or in an arena environment. The horse is stall-kept with turnout. He doesn’t pin his ears or “pitch” when he bucks, meaning that his head isn’t positioned between his front legs, squealing like a stuck pig under a fence.

Mechanical – Marla’s horsemanship level at this time doesn’t cover the foot fall of the horse. My concern was to determine if the horse was cross-firing (dropping a hind lead) and kicking up in the hind end in order to correct himself. This needs to be ruled out as a potential cause of the problem. Study the diagram at right for proper foot placement at the lope

Without seeing the horse, I’m leaning heavily toward the emotional side as a cause of the bucking. The prison cell-prison yard theory comes into play with this horse. When he is ridden outside, the environment is much larger than indoors. Naturally, this freedom raises the emotions of the horse. Also, the herd instinct and playful nature when around other horses comes into play. He feels good … but it’s too much for Marla at this time.

I’d also consider that this horse may not be fully broke. It takes 21 days to form a new habit and 90 days to break an old one. His original training time is undetermined, and he has been off duty for some time. I would ride this horse as though he was a new colt until I could get a feel and read him correctly. Until this is determined, Marla may want to consider some professional help.

I have to take into consideration Marla’s ability as a rider and age. She simply wants to have a trail horse and has no desire to ride broncs. So teaching her to keep in time with the front end and pull down is out of the question. However, for safety, I do suggest a night latch on her saddle fork.

I’d like to see Marla get her horse tired before asking for a lope or heading out into the open. Actually, I would like to see him worn out. I would try trotting some circles and figure eights, then offering a downward transition to the walk. She can build up to loping figure eights, finally adding simple lead changes to the figure eight pattern. This will give her an opportunity to improve her horsemanship.

Once I could see a little sweat and physical tiring, I would then offer the lope to the horse as a reward. If he remained under control, I would give him a nice gesture for a few strides and come back down to the trot then to the walk so he wouldn’t think he was to be loped into the ground. Once he had a job daily and Marla feels comfortable with her seat, then I would offer loping circles without all the drilling exercises.

If his conduct continues after being given a fair chance, then he needs to be ridden at lope by an advanced horseman who will give him all the loping he wants after he bucks, plus a little extra. It wouldn’t hurt him at all to cover several miles daily at a good long trot.

My hunch that the horse may not be truly broke continues to enter my mind. I would hire a pro to take him for a spin or two, maybe go all the way back to some round-pen at-liberty training and see what he really knows.

Hope this helps, Marla. Be safe!

And remember, “There’s one bit that works on all horses, a bit of knowledge.”

Patrick Hooks, AQHA Professional Horseman