by Laura Crum
I finally figured it out. For several years my Sunny horse had an odd little vice that I didn’t really understand. Over time it happened less and less often, and I somewhat gave up trying to sort it out. He was getting over it, and that was good enough. But the other day, while helping a friend who had a problem with her horse, I finally “got” what Sunny had been doing.
So here’s the story. My friend's gelding had recently started bucking when he was fresh. He’s an older horse and they have a good relationship—she just thinks he got into a bad habit since she hasn’t ridden much this last winter. Anyway, lately, when she rides him, he’ll try to buck with her.
Its just “I feel good”, somewhat rebellious spring bucking. But my friend is my age and she does NOT want to come off. It’s hard on us older gals. So she asked me what I would do. She wants her horse to quit bucking ASAP.
Well, there’s the obvious. Ride him more, ride him harder. But my friend works full time and doesn’t have time for that. This is an older horse who has tolerated infrequent riding and behaved well for many years. She needs a way to show him that bucking is not OK no matter what.
I thought about it. My friend’s horse was warming up quietly enough at the walk and trot and bucking (usually) when she asked him to lope. She jerked his head around and got after him with her heels when he did it and so far she could always stop him and he hadn’t bucked her off. But she wanted him to quit bucking, period.
I asked her if she could tell when he was about to try it and she said yes. She could feel him hump his back.
“OK, then,” I said. “I had a colt I rode in college who liked to buck, and an old horse trainer that I knew taught me how to stop him. You need to carry something like a leadrope. Or ride with long split reins. As soon as the horse humps his back, before he gets any further, even if you only think he is humping his back, or he might be thinking it, you say something loud and harsh, and you over and under the horse with your leadrope or whatever you have. The idea is to get the horse’s head to come up and have him jump forward. Turn the buck into a mini-bolt, essentially. Then, once your horse has jumped forward, you keep that energy moving in a positive way, maybe a circle or a long trot. And every time you feel the horse hump his back, you repeat this. Pretty soon you don’t have to hit the horse. You say, "Here now," or whatever you say, and his head will come up and he’ll scoot forward.”
And suddenly, as I was saying this, Sunny flashed into my mind.
Because Sunny’s odd little habit was (always near the end of a ride) to hump his back and sort of kick up and scoot forward at the same time. His head didn’t go down, it came up, so he wasn’t really bucking. But his heels would pop up. And he jumped forward. It was always just one jump, and it didn’t threaten me, but it annoyed me. And I couldn’t figure out why he did it, or even what he was actually doing.
Why give me this gesture at the end of a ride—when he had been pleasant and cooperative throughout the ride? I blogged about this once, and folks wrote in with answers, many of which involved saddle fit and pain issues. But I knew that the horse gave no sign of pain at any point in the ride, or afterwards, when I unsaddled him. It seemed to me that it was more a gesture of defiance—“I did what you asked, but I’m nobody’s sweet little horse.” Something like that. Flipping me the bird, as it were. Which fits Sunny’s personality.
Over the years I’ve owned him, this gesture on Sunny’s part has become less common—he hardly ever does it any more. When he does, its usually if I repeat the same ride too often—it feels to me that he’s expressing displeasure, as in, “We had to do this loop again?” I’ve learned to mix up what we do, and he and I have become good partners and the funny little buck/jump has mostly gone away. But I still never knew what the heck he was doing. And now I do.
Or I think I do, anyway. Because Sunny is essentially the sort of horse that, when resisting your direction, will balk or buck. And here I will say, as a sidebar, that there are three main types of horses. The balk/buck type, who are essentially laid back, lazy horses. The spooks (like my Gunner and Plumber), who are sensitive, reactive horses. They will never stubbornly defy you, like the bucker will, but they spook and prance and jig and can be a right PITA at times. Then there are the bold, chargy horses, who will try to run off with you. I trained a mostly TB horse and he was this sort. I wasn’t used to it. The cowhorse bred horses were usually the sensitive spooky type, and the ranch bred horses were often the balk/buck type, but this TB didn’t spook much, and when he did he went forward, not sideways. And if you didn’t get a handle on him, he’d just keep going. So this sort of a horse will bolt when he’s resisting you.
An aside here—all three types of horses are capable of bucking, spooking or bolting…I’m not saying that any horse will ONLY do the one resistant thing. I am saying that most horses fall into one of these three categories, each with a “signature” form of resistance which will be by far the most common problem with that horse.
Anyway, I was perfectly aware that Sunny was essentially the balk/buck type and I knew he’d been trained by some tough cowboys in Mexico. Sunny has never actually bucked with me—just his funny little crowhop/scoot move. And it occurred to me now that Sunny had probably tried to buck with his Mexican cowboys and they had probably over and undered him quite smartly every time he did it. So that now, as a mature horse, when he offers a small buck as a gesture of defiance, he immediately jumps forward, prepared to be spanked.
I’m pretty sure that’s the answer. And I would like to say a big thank you to those Mexican cowboys, who made darn sure that this cute little palomino horse knew better than to try to buck his rider off. Because Sunny’s “vice” is no threat and I don’t really mind it. But had he shown any willingness to truly buck, I would have sold him ASAP. I am not up for dealing with being bucked off at this stage in my life.
So there’s my explanation for Sunny’s odd little bucking thing. Do you think I’m right? Has anybody else had a similar issue with a horse? And look at the cute little guy. You wouldn’t think he’d be ornery, but he is the sort of horse that wants to test you. Fortunately he stays within reasonable limits, and we get along just fine.