Wednesday, April 17, 2013

That Bucking Thing

                                                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.



Francesca Prescott said...

Hi Laura, I think you've twigged it! Funny that it should take solving your friend's problem (presumably), to figure out what was going on with Sunny.

As for the three categories, Qrac is definitely in the reactive, spooky, sometimes PITA one. Emotional, just like me! He's a horse that prefers to do the same trail loop over and over, and with no surprises, please!

Laura Crum said...

Cesca--My two previous riding horses (now retired), Gunner and Plumber, were the reactive, spooky type, so I know just what you mean.

dunslidin said...

That is interesting, I just got a wonderful 2 year old and he was started by my fab trainer. As soon as he got comfortable with me and my house he got lazier and lazier until he balked and kicked out at my leg (of course at my trainers). He told me it was time for my spurs and to really get into him and then just move on. Nagging with my heels (I'm sure I was doing that to keep him going) was going to make him learn worse habits quickly since he is so smart. Put my spurs on, he tried to balk at the lope and wham, wham and he was done with that. He tried it both ways and straight once but it only took him one time each way to figure out it was better to go than to be spurred. I wasn't prepared for this since he is a really nice bred reiner (and everyone keeps telling me he is a little hot) and my older gelding is a lot of foundation and he was more reactive. Just having spurs would make him go YES YES, I'm a good boy. Every pony is different in so many ways. Love my new guy, he has a great personality and I think will become a sweet partner.

Laura Crum said...

dunslidin--When I trained young horses we rode them all with spurs (except the super sensitive ones), though we didn't spur them very often. The spurs were there for the reason you say, so that we didn't have to "nag with the heels". Your new horse sounds like a good one.

Anonymous said...

OMG you are so on the ball with your description of the three horse types! I was reading about the balky/bucky ones nodding and thinking, yes that's Flurry; and the reactive, spooky ones, thinking, oh yes, that's Aero! (What's PITA, by the way?)
Isn't it funny how explaining something to someone else helps you to see it clearer yourself? I learned that years ago in school, not sure if I've ever applied it in my horse life though... maybe subconsciously

Laura Crum said...

Martine--I agree--writing about things (explaining them) DOES help me to see things more clearly. And PITA is pain in the ass. I don't usually use these modern little "acronyms" (is that the right word?), but I kind of like that one.

Anonymous said...

Your post is so timely! Just the other day while riding with my friend on a trail ride, I was riding one of her horses- large pony cross. Sometimes on the way back from a ride he will do 3 small bucks and act like he is in a hurry to get home and I have always been able to get him to stop and just walk calmly back. But, the other day when we turned for home up a hill he did his 3 little bucks, I got control of him and a few strides later he bucked again 3 times but this time bolted off after the third buck. Of course, since he unseated me, I fell off. Now, this pony is pushing 30 and has never bolted before. He started the small bucks at age 25. By the way he never stopped. Found him back at barn. We were only riding at a walk. Do you think he is just too old to still be ridden? Any thoughts?

Laura Crum said...

Anon--Its hard to say without knowing the pony. It could be that he wasn't reprimanded for the bucking so has escalated it in an attempt to get out of work. However, "pushing 30" is an old horse/pony. My horse, Plumber, began showing balky resistant stuff when he turned 20. It was clear that downhills and loping were uncomfortable for him, probably because of arthritic changes. He'd been a good riding horse all his life, so we retired him at twenty and he is still quite content at 24 in his large paddock. Its possible your mount just feels that he's done enough work for one lifetime. I do believe that's how Plumber felt.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Laura - He is not my pony but a friends. I too believe he is done with being ridden. Thanks again for your insight.

Sunny said...

My mare, who I got when she was 14, was a reactive, spooky mess. Now, after 3 years of consistent handling and riding, she is almost at the "yawn" stage. But guess what? Rider requests that would have in the past elicited a spinning, wide-eyed teleporting spook, requests like "you will trot briskly past the open arena doors" now are either accepted and gone along with, even if hesitantly so, or...she gives a half-hearted one leg kick out/ mini-buck. I growl at her and boot her on, and she goes, albeit grumbling the whole way.

So, this makes me wonder if the forms of resistance a horse shows are more of a continuum than three exclusive choices. Laura, remember when you wrote about how Sunny changed over the time you've had him --changed for the better-- and showed less resistance to some routine management things (I think it was being wormed?) You didn't really have to "train" him to accept the wormer, he just took it?

That's kinda what I'm wondering about here --if maybe there's a continuum of possible resistant horse behavior, starting with bolting, moving to spooking/reactive, and ending with bucking/balky. And maybe, horses express their resistance with the form of resistance that suits their level of comfort?

I don't know...but I sure enjoy thinking about horse things! Sunny

Laura Crum said...

Sunny--Me, too. I sort of roll this stuff around in my mind all the time. I agree that as a horse gets comfortable with a rider/owner ver time (and it does take time), the horse's resistant behaviors become less violent and more token. I think that's because the horse comes to trust rider/owner and accepts the persn as leader/boss--if the handling has been consistent, fair, firm and reasonably skilled. So I'm with you there.

But, in my experience, those three categories really do exist, in terms of a horse's basic nature. You see it more when training young horses--horses that haven't been messed up by someone else. My guess is that your mare was messed up by poor handling (or lack of handling--a fourteen year old horse that has stood in the pasture most of its life is going to be a tough project) and that she is now showing you more of her true personality.