How to Tame a Bucking Bronco

How to Tame a Bucking Bronco

Bucking is an unpleasant habit that can be embarrassing and uncomfortable if the result is a loose horse and an injured rider. Bucking shouldn't be tolerated because it will almost certainly lead to a dangerous situation.

Why A Horse Bucks

  • He doesn't want a rider. If you've ever watched the bucking broncos at a rodeo, it was no doubt a spectacular show. But if your own horse suddenly turns into a bucking bronco, this is another story entirely.

    Horses usually buck for one reason: they don't want to be ridden and therefore want to get the rider off their back. Exactly why they don't want to be ridden could have to do with the saddle: A poor-fitting saddle that presses against or pinches your horse's spine or back could make him want to buck. A leather-lined saddle on a cold-backed horse can also result in bucking.
    Maybe the horse was never properly saddle broken or has had bad experiences with cruel or inexperienced riders in the past, says Dr. Ross Hugi, an equine veterinarian in Mundelein, Ill. Once a horse has had those types of experiences, he may never be willing to be ridden.

  • He has too much energy. It could also be a matter of the horse having a lot of excess energy. "If you have a horse who's been inside for 3 weeks, when you turn him out there's a good chance he'll buck," says Dr. Kathryn Houpt, director of the Animal Behavior Clinic at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y.

    What You Can Do

    Whatever the exact reason, bucking is a habit that must be severely discouraged. Here are some steps Hugi and Houpt suggest you take:

  • Warm up the saddle before riding. If your horse is cold-backed, put a sheepskin numnah (pad that goes under the saddle) or other pad under the saddle. You may also want to saddle up for 15 or 20 minutes before mounting to give the horse time to warm up the saddle.
  • Make sure the saddle fits properly. The saddle will need to be adjusted if it is pinching the withers (the region over the backline where the neck joins the thorax) or pressing on the backbone.
  • Keep your horse's head up. As long as your horse's head is up, he can't really buck; he may be able to make a sudden leap forward or sideways but he won't be able to buck with the kind of force that would unseat a reasonably confident rider. Use a jointed bit or snaffle to help keep your horse's head up. If your horse starts to put his head down and buck, pull hard on the snaffle in a sharp upward motion, to get your horse's head back up.
  • Make your corrections timely. If you use a vocal reprimand, do so the second your horse starts to buck. Do not punish the horse the moment after he stops bucking. It is never a good idea to punish a horse after he has stopped doing something wrong. Your horse may think he is being corrected for stopping the behavior.

    In general, there is no reason to employ physical punishment in horses. Use techniques of positive reinforcement to modify behavior. This many take patience to work with the horse outside the regular training schedule. This process of retraining can be highly rewarding. Physical punishment is more often damaging and ultimately creates bad behaviors.

    Painless Behavioral Modification

    In her address to the AAEP in Nov., 2000, Sue McDonell, Ph.D., an animal behaviorist from the University of Pennsylvania, made several points about behavioral modification in horses that apply here.

  • The procedure / movement you are trying to train must be as painless as possible.
  • Compliance must lead to a reward, such as decreased pressure on the horse.
  • Ordinary resistance does not cause you to stop the activity. It's important to "ride out" problems within reason.

    To achieve these goals in the context of a bucking horse, you will need patience and an open area to work in.

    Know When to Get Professional Help

    Bucking may begin in a light-hearted way but it can quickly develop into a serious vice. If you're having no success curbing this problem, get help from a professional horse trainer or equine behavior specialist. Don't allow your horse to turn into a bucking bronco.

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