Monday, October 22, 2012

He Bucked Me Off

                                                by Laura Crum

            You don’t expect an older, solid horse that you have ridden for years to suddenly decide to buck you off. But such were the surprised words of a friend of ours the other day, when his older, solid rope horse broke in two and bucked the guy off in the course of a roping run. And yet, as our friend admitted later, this was actually pretty predictable, as such incidents often are.
            Because this horse, like many horses, was/is a touch cinchy, and our friend, who had arrived late at the roping practice, had dramatically shortened his usual warm up routine with the horse, and basically pulled the cinch tight, loped a few circles and went on to make a run. Which didn’t work out. (The guy was fine, by the way.)
            This got me thinking of other times when I’ve seen friends get bucked off, and the times I’ve been bucked off myself. I’m not talking here of coming off when a horse spooks or jumps, but the times when a horse has bogged his head and bucked until his rider came off, which is something quite different. I’m pretty good at riding spooks and sudden jumps, but a horse that has truly dropped his head and gone to bucking will dump me every time.
            The usual cause of such bucking is precisely what happened to my friend. Not enough warm-up on a cinchy horse before the horse is asked to exert himself. And this really is pretty predictable. Flanigan, probably the best horse I ever rode, was cinchy, and required a long, careful warm-up which involved tightening the cinch in stages, much slow work, and some fast work before he was asked to make a roping run. Otherwise, he bucked.
            I had a healthy respect for his bucking, so I always warmed Flanigan up carefully. But my friend, Wally, who was partners with me on the horse, was a tougher sort of cowboy, and though he TRIED to warm the horse up well--he always intended to, mind you--if he arrived late at the roping and the first pot had started, well, he’d just go ahead and make a run whether Flanigan was properly warmed up or not. And this didn’t always work out so well.
            I will never forget one particular day at the Oakdale roping arena. Wally had arrived late, warmed Flanigan up briefly, and had to make a run. Flanigan “broke in two” right after Wally had roped the steer and bucked Wally off. Wally landed smack in front of the heel horse, who ran over the top of him-didn’t touch him with a single foot, but Wally remembers looking up at the horse’s belly and thinking—this horse isn’t a QH, he’s a paint. He’s got a big white spot on his belly. Not something I’d probably have noticed at that moment, but as I said, Wally’s way tougher than I am.
            Anyway, Wally got up from the dirt, caught Flanigan, and led him over to me (we were partners on this horse). “Where’s the horse trader,” Wally said. “I’m selling this SOB right now.”
            “Over my dead body,” I told him. “That was YOUR fault. You didn’t warm him up.”
            Well, Wally and I didn’t sell Flanigan, and he went on to be the best horse either Wally or I ever rode. We both won on him at roping (Wally far more than I), and I rode him on many, many pack trips in the Sierras, where he was a true rock star.  He was always cinchy and needed his careful warm-up—when he was twenty years old he bucked with Wally on the first steer of the day. But I truly trusted this horse, who, by the way, never bucked me off. When I decided to take my six month old baby for his first ride, the horse I chose was Flanigan. (We kept Flanigan until he died—of an inoperable colic at 21 years old).
            So, I’m thoroughly accustomed to dealing with a cinchy horse that needs a lot of warm-up, and my buddy who got bucked off last week ruefully acknowledged that, “Yeah, I should have warmed him up better.”
            But there are other sorts of buckers. I think of Breeze, a horse I broke and trained when I was younger. Breeze was an easy colt to break and never gave me any trouble. He seemed cooperative about everything, if a little lazy. I started him as a three-year-old and all went well. As a four year old, I continued his training, and, at this point, I started asking this horse to move a little faster and try a little harder. I would work cattle on him, and when he didn’t move quickly when the steer moved, I would get after him a little. (For those who don’t approve of this, I can only say that this is how 90% of all cowhorses are trained, and I was doing as I had been taught by the professional trainers I worked for—I might do things differently, now.)
            Anyway, lazy Breeze seemed to be getting it. He started to “fire,” that is, move quickly with the cow when the animal moved. I was pleased with his progress. I even thought of buying him from my uncle, who had raised him and owned him. But…
            I ran into the professional trainer who had trained and shown this colt’s mother and brother. The brother had been a big winner for the trainer, and so I asked the guy what he thought. Should I buy Breeze?
            The trainer looked at the ground and didn’t say anything. I know enough about trainers to know that they don’t like to talk a horse down that’s in their barn. So I said, “I’m seeing that you wouldn’t buy him.”
            This trainer was a friend, and he looked me in the eye. “That horse’s brother is a nasty SOB,” he said. “Yeah, I won a lot on him, but that horse was a real pain to deal with. And the mother was the same.”
            So, OK, I didn’t buy Breeze—but I kept riding him. And he seemed like a real nice horse, just lazy. I kept getting after him to get him to try a little harder, and one day I found out what that trainer had meant. With absolutely no warning, Breeze bogged his head and bucked me off hard. I was Ok—I got back on, I kept training this horse. But I was a whole lot more careful after that.
            Breeze tried to buck me off several more times. When my uncle started riding him, he bucked my uncle off. He eventually made a rope horse and got sold to a rancher. But the interesting thing? Breeze had five full brothers and sisters. They were trained by different people—not me. Every single one of them was a “coyote” bucker—a horse that seemed cooperative, gave no warning, and would suddenly break in two and buck until the rider was dumped. It was genetic, as my trainer friend had implied to me when I asked about buying Breeze.
            So that’s another sort of bucker—and it’s a sort I never want to deal with again. Fortunately, my riding horse these days is gentle. Crowhopping (which I don’t mind) is the worst he’ll do. (To me, crowhopping is bucking where the horse doesn’t put his head down.) And my life is plenty exciting enough taking easy trail rides with my son on our gentle horses.

            So, anybody else ever dealt with a bucker? I’d love to hear your insights.

And for those who would like a free electronic copy of my first mystery novel, “Cutter,” set in the world of cutting horses, I will be offering a free Kindle edition starting this Weds, and ending this Sunday. I’m a newbie at this Kindle stuff, and I’m not sure if you have to be a member of Amazon Prime or not to get the free copy, but I did my best to get it up there for free. So if you have any interest in checking out my mystery series featuring equine veterinarian Gail McCarthy for free, here is the link to buy Cutter—now 99 cents, but free this coming Weds, October 24th, through Sunday, October 28th. And below is the link to a review of Cutter by Dom (A Collection of Madcap Escapades, listed on the sidebar), who is a horse trainer and a fine writer herself. I think this review gives a very good idea of what the book is like.  


Val said...

I had a twelve year streak of not falling off broken by a very dirty bucker. He was newly purchased as a 14.1 hand lesson horse (intended to be safe for kids) and I had been working with him on the ground and under addle for several weeks, with no hint of a buck in him. One day, I went to get on at the mounting block and he took off bucking with his head between his knees. I literally never got my seat in the saddle and the reins were yanked beyond my reach. He threw me into a fence, but I managed to dive between the rails. I have a permanent dent in my thigh muscle where my leg struck the fencing. I am thankful it wasn't my head.

We "returned" the lesson prospect and the former owner admitted that the horse did that sometimes. Needless to say, I was furious that the pony had been sold to us with this information withheld.

I believe this horse would have fallen into the second category in your post!

I am reading Cutter right now!

Laura Crum said...

Thank you Val! I would love it if you let me know what you think of Cutter--positive and/or not so positive. Reader feedback is always interesting to me.

And I REALLY hate those "coyote" buckers. I've known a few. They act fine most of the time, and then with no warning--bam. I'm glad you weren't hurt worse. But still, no fun at all.

fj thomas said...

Just about every time I've gotten bucked off its been my fault. Its always been because I got in a hurry and didn't warm up like I knew I should have, or I got too confident and pushed my horse to do something I knew they weren't ready for. I do own a sneaky bucked as well that I broke out. Just like the one you mentioned he was easy to break but lazy. As he got older his true colors started coming out. Every time he's launched me off its been at the end of a ride after he'd been worked. Last time he broke my ribs. I've had him 9 years and he can ride like a top or he can be an sob like you said. No middle of the road! Great blog!!

Laura Crum said...

fj thomas--You are braver than I am. I would have to get rid of a horse that would launch me unexpectedly and break my ribs. I can't deal with that any more. Glad you like the blog!

Breanna said...

This just happened to me the other day, except I didn't come off! I just got a new horse, less than 60 days on him and 5 years old. He's got a bit of a stubborn streak, but he had never bucked with me until one day we went to team penning and he decided he wanted to go back to the trailer. I think he knew I wouldn't let him, so he just decided he would offload me and take off! Unfortunately for him it didn't work, though he sure gave it a good try!

Laura, just bought Slickrock for Kindle, I'm really enjoying it so far!

Laura Crum said...

Breanna--Good for you! It is really great when a rider can stick with a horse that bucks and show him that that little trick won't work. Goes a long ways towards getting them over that vice. I was never any good at riding a bucking horse, though I got pretty handy at stopping them from bucking before they started. I could feel the thought go through their little body/mind and I'd get after them then.

So glad you are enjoying Slickrock. Thank you for the comment.

Alison said...

I've been riding for 55 plus years and have never heard the terms "coyote bucker" or "broke in two." They are both perfect descriptions so need no explanation. I learn something new every day!

Gayle Carline said...

First time I came off a horse, it was because 1) I didn't warm him up, 2) I got both spurs into him, and 3) I stopped actively "riding" him forward. It was a recipe for putting my butt in the dirt.

My two horses now have never bucked. My gelding crow-hopped with me one day, so I took him back to the round pen to longe a little more. Turns out he didn't feel well - he'd broken his left hind sesamoid.

Joyce Reynolds-Ward said...

I spent a lot of time learning to ride bucks as a kid. Kinda goes with the territory of learning to ride on a green-broke Shetland pony. Bareback, 'cause my parents wouldn't give me a saddle until I "had a seat."

(Needless to say, I didn't start my son that way!)

But my second horse, Sparkle, a 15.2 QH mare, was a bronc. She was a very dominant mare with an attitude, came to us because she chased the owner's kids. I didn't run. I also knew she bucked a bit, because my dad would back her for me the first few months before he'd let me ride.

Let's just say I stuck on through sheer determination when she *did* buck. Sparkle reared into her bucks along with bogging her head, and she'd twist her hind end up in classic sunfisher mode. Only a determined kid....She did buck me down, later, long after we'd established a solid working relationship. Steady trail horse, hated arena and show work. She'd been started in a mechanical hackamore and that was part of the problem. Once I put a solid bit in her mouth, things got a lot better.

I've also seen some brain-fried buckers going through the trainer. There's just a certain look in the eye that tells you the horse's brain isn't right. Whether it's mishandling or genetics is hard to say sometimes, but I've seen and heard of enough lines of cranky horses to believe it. My trainer (an old-timer) believes that in breeding for temperament over the past thirty years, we've bred a lot of broncs out. Certainly doesn't seem to be as many of them as there used to be!

Mary said...

I didn't have much experience with buckers, but I was self taught on a bolter. Before he came to me, he was always tied to a big truck tire that he would drag around (horrible story) and he had the strength in his neck to prove it. I couldn't turn him around to save my life, sometimes I stayed on and sometimes I bailed, depending on what lay ahead, usually very low hanging tree branches, translation, fir trees. I got very good at flying dismounts...I always got right back on and we did finally reach an accord, and I went on to win quite a few ribbons on him.
I am right in the middle of reading Cutter also, and am loving every bit of it. I don't want it to end. I will be wanting the next in line after this one, really good stuff!

spotz58 said...

I had a beautiful QH gelding that was meant to be a nice hunt seat show horse, but bucked if you pushed him out of a walk. I bought him that way (dumb 20-something!) and thought I could fix him. I kept him for a year, sent him to a trainer (sent back with refund of fee), tried all sorts of stuff, but when he began coming back to kick me after unloading me (like I said, dumb 20-something) I gave up and traded him for a saddle. The saddle is quite well-behaved and hasn't caused me any problems in the 30 years I've had it, but the horse...the trader thought he would sell him as a bucking horse, but the stock guy turned him down because the horse flipped over repeatedly in the chute when they tried him. I really don't know what happened to the horse, but I do know I saw him in the trader's pasture for at least 3 more years. He was just so pretty, but too rangy to make a halter horse!

Laura Crum said...

Alison--I love those "western" terms that all the cowboys use--I always tried to use as much of that slang as I could in my novels.

Gayle--I have so been there with the doing it "wrong" and getting dumped.

Joyce--I agree with your trainer. I saw many more broncs when I was young than I have seen lately, and I agree that breeding for temperament is part of the reason.

Mary--Chronic bolters scare me just as much as chronic buckers. I never wanted anything to do with either. A cinchy horse or a spooky horse I can deal with. And I'm so glad you're enjoying Cutter. It makes me really happy when readers of this blog tell me they like my novels.

spotz58--Yep, some horses just have that "bad gene." There's no fixing them. Or that's been my experience anyway. Coming back to kick you after unloading you...whoa. That's a new one in my book. Glad you survived him.

Cindy said...

I bought a paint mare a couple of years ago, and she would buck if you didn't warm her up. She actually had a lot of issues that needed dealt with, but the one time I recall the best was the day she bucked me off three times in a row. It was my own fault. I knew she needed to be warmed up, but when I started to, she was acting so much better than usual, soft and easy, so I took the short cut and paid the price. Rode the hair off of her after that third time on the ground, but it was the last time I ever got on her. I gave her away to a young gal who spent a year working with her and now she is a lesson horse as well as an up and coming barrel horse.

Then I replaced her with a paint gelding, who I still have today. He is my pride and joy. I got him from a friend, who got him from a guy who got him from another guy who used him for team roping. He changed hands so many times because about the 7th or 8th cow he would take to bucking and face plant guy #1 over and over again. The other two owners had similar issues. Trax (my horse) also has a bad habit of running away with people. He came to me with a hard look in his eye and a sincere mistrust of humans. This comes from an entire life of interaction with the "cowboy up" frame of mind. No one ever took the time to gain this horses trust, to be a solid leader to him. They were harsh and rude to him, and he will not tolerate being treated that way. He is a horse with boundries. I have spent the last year working with him, gaining his trust, establishing leadership and it has made the difference in who this horse is. He follows me everywhere now. I will ride him anywhere. I would take him up a tree and down a foxhole without even batting an eye, and he would go without question. For a horse that no one could handle, he has turned out to be the right horse for me. He has not ever really bucked with me (a few crowhops is all), but then I always always always work him first, especially if any time has gone by. Also I know his limitations. I am slowly but surely helping him overcome those limitations, and everyday he amazes me in the level of trust he bestows on me. A level of trust he has never known before.

What these tow horses taught me is that there is much to be said for the right horse for the right person. I couldn't work with that mare, but that girl could. She loves her and will keep her forever. On the other hand I took a horse that few people could enjoy and have built a relationship unlike I have ever had with any other horse.

Francesca Prescott said...

I've never had to deal with a serial bucker, or a random bucker (touch wood!). I don't think I've ever been bucked off; the times I've fallen off (as far as I can remember) have been caused by other monkey business, such as suddenly blocking in corners (this was when i was about twelve and riding school horses, a horse I was often given would be trotting or cantering along happily and then suddenly slam on the breaks in the corner and chuck me over his shoulder). Later, my show jumping mare (yeah right!) used to slam on the brakes right at the very last minute and let me jump without her. Kwintus once gave an enormous buck while in canter and almost unseated me, but I landed back in the saddle. Qrac spins, and sometimes does a weird bucky thing when going into canter, but he's never gone psycho on me (touch wood...). I've seen his "airs above the ground" when he's in the paddock (and he's displayed some serious repeated liftoff!) and thankfully he's never let rip with me on him as I wouldn't stand a chance! Good post :)

Laura Crum said...

Thank you, Cindy. I totally agree with you--the right horse for the right person is the ticket. Flanigan, the horse I talk about in the post, came to us after the previous owner had been so afraid of this horse's bucking that he literally tried to starve him into submission. It took six months of just feeding Flanigan before he could be ridden. And yet both Wally and I will say he was the best horse we ever had. Just as you point out about your horse, Flanigan was the right horse for us, even though he might not have been for others.

Cesca--Thanks--and you know, I never much minded a horse that would jump "up" and keep his head up. Its the ones that put their head down that get to me. I remember seeing Qrac's
"airs" at that show, and he looked pretty ridable. That' the kind of horse I like. How is he doing by the way? I hope the gelding went well and he can come home.

horsegenes said...

Speaking of those old cowboy terms... how about "colts are walking on air" I love that saying and boy does it describe how a young horse can feel under you.

Laura Crum said...

kel--I love that phrase, too!

Joyce Reynolds-Ward said...

Laura--I am so with you about bolters. The last one I rode was in a school setting, when we went for a trail ride on a golf course (a very highly rated, British Horse Society-rated facility in Florida which is now closed). I'd been assured that the mare had a "western whoa." She was also very high, reactive and spooky. When we reached the section where they normally cantered, I asked for a canter--and she spooked and bolted. I asked for that whoa in the way I know--sit down, back, say that long, drawn-out "whooooa"--and she took off harder. So I got up in the irons (riding hunt seat) and rode two-point until we reached a sandy place where the instructor was, and I circled her in the sand until she stopped (no way was I trying circles on the Florida clay hardpan we were on until that sandy spot, I wanted a soft spot to bail if I needed).

I tried out that whoa when she wasn't spooking--nope. Didn't have it. Didn't realize until later that they might not have meant the reiner "whoa" but the Western Pleasure spur stop whoa. Nonetheless, while I can ride a bolter, I really prefer not to do that. If I'm gonna thunder around at speed, I want it to be under control...and the reining mare knows just how to do that (but she's not fond of bolting, though she does like a good fast gallop).

Laura Crum said...

Joyce--Yeah, those "blind" bolters really terrify me. Just as bad as the unpredictable buckers, who will really "turn the crank". I was never tough enough to deal with either. Actually, I never had any interest in being that tough.