How to stop a horse from bucking – safely

Question: My horse likes to buck. I was told to pull on the reins hard and lift them high, but he can pull them out of my hands. Yesterday he pulled and took off. He has not done that before.

Answer from April Reeves: I answered a post similar to this, and this is what I said:

In over 40 years of riding and teaching I have never known the ‘pull back both reins high’ technique to work, and here’s why:

1. When a horse moves to buck, it’s impulsion is forward. To get the horse to stop the buck, you need to change that forward impulsion. Since the hind legs are the creators of impulsion, you need to disengage the hind legs, or ‘drop them out of gear’.

2. If you pull up on the reins, you risk putting yourself in a position that’s now very vulnerable to getting hurt quite badly. With both hands up in the air, it would take an incredibly strong person to be able to ‘hold’ a bucking horse’s head high. In a battle of strength, a bucking horse will always win. If you are in the position with your hands held high, you have now exposed your entire front and face to having the horse toss you, smack your face with his head if he comes up, or getting tossed from having your ‘balance center’ up too high.

3. Pulling both reins will never stop nor change the reaction of a horse that has gone into an instinctual brain. Horses by nature will push against pressure.

4. To disengage the bucking horse, you need to do some homework first. I teach this to every student that comes my way, English AND Western. It makes no difference. Softly but firmly take your horses nose almost to your knee. Do not yank a horse. It’s about ‘following a feel’. When you have his nose against his side, let him go the second you feel him ‘give’. Drop his head INSTANTLY. This is the reward. Wait for 5 seconds, then take the horse up on the other side, the same way, making sure you do not pull aggressively or yank the horse. Follow the feel, ask him to stay close to your knee until he gives, and release completely. The ‘give’ will feel as though there is suddenly no weight what so ever in the reins.

Do this for three days, while standing, for about 10 times per side. Then the next 3 days, do this exercise from a walk and trotting.

If the horse moves his feet while his head is bent, let him. Just sit quietly while he moves his feet, makes a fuss or what ever he does, until he is standing quiet and soft, THEN RELEASE INSTANTLY. The release is the important part. It is the release that teaches.

Once you feel comfortable with that, try it at a canter. If your horse canters quickly, keep trying the exercise at a trot.

What you want to accomplish here is to have the horse ‘shut down’ the instant he feels his head being pulled around tightly. Once you have established the horse stopping, softening and shutting down, you are on the road to keeping a horse from bucking.

I do this every day the minute I get on the horse. I also do this to establish bend and lateral flexion.

Never speak while you are doing these exercises. The horse must learn to take the responsibility for his bad behavior, and you speaking only gets in the way of his learning. If he does his bending exercises well, I will rub him on the neck. I speak very little while riding as horses ‘speak’ to each other by actions and emotions.
Never let your emotions get in the way of your training either. Do what you have to do, then drop it. Stay away from emotions. Horses do not go back to the herd and say “did you see what he did!! Tomorrow I’m going to get him for that!” Only humans think this way.

If you are out on a trail or in the arena, and your horse goes to buck or bolt, you must apply this technique instantly. Should the horse get momentum and speed, turning his head sharply can cause him to loose his balance. Timing is crucial here.

Another thought: if you are having these kinds of problems with your horse, send him to a reputable trainer who uses these techniques, or get instruction from one who teaches this.

3 responses to “How to stop a horse from bucking – safely

  1. That’s fantastic advice and its great to know that I’m on the write track… cheers!

  2. My 4 year old was acting out ( as if he were going to buck ) so I tried this very excersize .. it was during this that he started to really buck ( he has a bad temper and really hates when I correct him ) .. I am in the hospital with many injuries including broken ribs. Please help me with this. Any advice would be so appreciated.

  3. Debra Jones: I have yet to meet a horse with a bad temper. I have met countless extremely sore horses that get tired of being forced into positions that create pain. At this juncture, a vet is necessary, not a luxury. Four year olds are young, and they need slow training, in the sense of not being pushed, as they lack confidence. I actually don’t ride 4 year olds much; I start them under saddle with basic cues and turn them out in the winter to pick them up again in the spring. They now have a good basic understanding that has not gone away, and a more mature attitude. People believe that horses started late are behind, when in fact, if your work is consistent and fair, the opposite is true. Your horse needs to see a vet first. After that, I would strongly suggest lessons. While reading helps, nothing replaces a qualified instructor, even if its just once a month. I have tons of students like this, where I give them enough work to do and then return to find some very lovely horses. We move up a level each month. If you can find such a person and strike this deal and it works, keep them. I hope you get healed quickly, and get a second chance to work and keep your horse.

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