Why do horses buck?
Wild horses use bucking as a form of protection from predators. And as a foal, your horse would’ve practised bucking to teach their boundaries to field friends.
However, when horses frequently buck while ridden and handled, it can become a big problem – since their behaviour could cause accidents.
It’s important to take steps to discover the cause of your horse’s bucking, before it becomes a horrible habit! While there are many reasons your horse may buck, there are also steps you can take to eliminate the reasons for their bucking until you find the best way to fix it…
Step 1: Eliminate discomfort
Bucking as a reaction to pain
Your horse may be bucking because they’re in pain.
Finding the root of their pain can be tricky, but having a vet check your horse over should shine a light on any glaring problems.
Bucking because of their rider
Inexperienced riders may frustrate horses who can’t understand what’s being asked of them. Equally, inexperienced horses could start bucking because they can’t comprehend what their rider wants them to do.
Young and unbalanced horses are more likely to struggle when carrying riders who are too heavy for them or riders who are unbalanced. Whether a rider is the right size for their horse to carry depends in many factors:
- Rider height in comparison to horse height.
- Rider weight in relation to horse’s carrying capabilities.
- Rider’s riding ability (an unbalanced rider is more difficult for a horse to carry).
- Horse’s experience level (young and unbalanced horses will find carrying a rider more challenging).
To work out whether you’re the perfect match for your horse, have a chat with a vet!
If your horse is bucking because you are unbalanced, you could always have a few lessons with an experienced riding instructor who can support you to improve your balance in the saddle.
Further information about understanding how your horse carries you can be found in the British Horse Society (BHS) rider size guide.
Bucking due to uncomfortable tack
Wearing tack that pinches or rubs can cause horses to have a meltdown and buck. For this reason, it’s essential that you check your horse’s tack fits correctly and is comfortable for your horse before riding or exercising them in it.
Booking an appointment with a qualified saddle fitter, every six months or so, will help to ensure your horse’s tack is fitting correctly and is as comfortable as possible.
Top tip: Keeping tack clean can lessen the chances of dirt getting stuck and rubbing uncomfortably against your horse’s skin!
Step 2: Health check
We’ve all been there; toothache is terrible. So, it isn’t surprising that our horses hate dental discomfort, too. If your horse shows any signs of dental pain, contact your vet immediately.
An incorrectly fitted bit can cause many problems too, including pain to the:
- Corners of their mouth.
- Bars of their mouth (gums between their front and back teeth).
- Roof of their mouth.
Regularly checking your horse’s bit is the correct fit, and keeping it clean, will eliminate the possibility of bucking due to bit pain.
Leg pain can lead to bucking when horses feel it’s the only way to communicate to their rider that something’s not quite right. Landing after a jump can put a lot of pressure on your horse’s front legs, for example.
Sometimes, horses have underlying injuries that cause unsoundness but don’t present as lameness. It can be difficult to detect some limb injuries, so it’s best to contact your vet if you think your horse is bucking because of a bad leg.
‘Kissing spines’ is a common cause of bucking in horses of all ages. Horses who suffer from kissing spines are more likely to react violently to being tacked up and may even buck before their rider is on board!
If you’re concerned your horse’s bucking is caused by back pain, please contact your vet.
Due to the discomfort caused by gastric ulcers, horses may buck while being ridden. Additionally, horses with ulcers may be reluctant to be tacked up – especially when the girth is tightened.
Always contact your vet if you suspect your horse has ulcers.
Does your horse’s food give them too much energy? If so, having too much energy could be a reason for their bucking.
For help with your horse’s diet, you could contact a qualified equine nutritionist for advice – alternatively, speak to your horse’s vet.
Step 3: Dealing with over-excitement
That tense, electric nervousness that energises competition days can get a little too much for some horses, who end up bucking to release their excess energy.
Before travelling to compete your horse, it may benefit them to attend some clinics or lessons away from home, to allow them (and you!) the chance to find an effective calming routine.
Going for a gallop
The anticipation of a good gallop can send some horses over the edge! Instead of galloping at the same place on every hack, try mixing things up and riding different routes or only asking for gallop when heading up a hill.
Jumping for joy
Whether you’re taking them to a show jumping competition, cantering the cross-country course, or doing some schooling over jumps at home, your horse might start bucking with the thrill of doing something they enjoy!
Warming your horse up properly is key to preventing them from bucking. Many riders choose to lunge their horse before getting into the saddle, to ease the tension and ensure their horse’s muscles are prepared for the session ahead.
Step 4: Get help!
Provided your vet has ruled out health concerns as a cause for bucking, a saddler has ensured their tack is comfortable, and you’ve worked on managing their excitement, your horse’s attitude may be to blame for bucking.
Behavioural concerns can be addressed by a qualified equine behaviourist or through regular riding lessons with an experienced riding instructor. To find a suitable, local riding instructor, try the BHS find a coach service (for free!).