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. http://harnessphoto.blogspot.com/2012/08/book-review-cutter-by-laura-crum.html