Sunday, January 4, 2009

Bucking when pushed

I received the following question from a viewer. It's a good one and I'd like to share the answer with everyone.
R

Hi there,I just watched your show for the first time and was very impressed. I have a problem that I can not find the answer for. My 6 yr old Quarter horse gelding, has started to buck when he feels pushed or doesn't want to do something. Also, if a man gets on him. I have had this horse since a baby and have broke him. I am as green as he is. It scares me that he thinks he can buck when he doesn't want to go into a situation that he doesn't like. Do you have any suggestions ground work or bits ect. Please help. Why all of sudden he started bucking? I have checked my equipment and have had him vet checked for any problems. I know you are busy, but if you could find sometime to answer this, I would appreciate it. Thanks, BB.


Hi BB,

I'm glad you enjoy my show. I'm going to make a calculated guess that what you're talking about is not really bucking in the sense that rodeo horses buck, where all four feet are off the ground and the horse is determined to throw the rider off his back. What's much more common is that the horse does a little hop or simply kicks out with his hind legs. What we call this doesn't matter. It's an act of defiance, it can unseat the rider, and it's scary when it happens. It's happened to me. It happened to my wife yesterday, and it will probably happen to you again in the future on this horse or another one.

Why would your horse do this? It could be related to a medical problem or faulty equipment, but it's far more likely that he's simply testing you. To a horse, it's very important that whoever is calling the shots is a competent leader. It's like a child who gets a little sassy. He's testing the boundaries, checking out your mood, your determination to enforce the rules. It's a power play, of sorts, and if there is no negative consequence to this behavior, it can easily become a habit, which is harder to break.

Think about what you do when this happens. Do you stop pushing your horse and let him rest while you compose yourself? That's a natural human response. It's part of your survival instinct to back away from scary things. But if you do that, you are rewarding the horse's behavior. Instead of creating a negative consequence, you are creating a positive consequence - release of pressure and rest - thereby increasing the chance that he will do it again. And because your horse has initiated all of this with his behavior, he is the one leading the team, not you. That's unacceptable. YOU must be the leader because being the leader is the only safe role for you to play when you interact with a horse. And here's some very good news: Your horse will be perfectly content with your leading the team IF you prove you are competent to do so in a way he understands.

The solution requires forethought and preparation and yes, a little courage. The next time your horse does his little bucking act, you are going to create a negative consequence for his choice.

My first priority is that you don't get hurt, so I recommend adding a "night latch" to your western saddle. This is usually a stout leather dog collar that runs through the gullet of your saddle and over the pommel, creating a loop you can hold on to that gives you much greater security than grabbing the horn. Your fist can close around it completely. Real working cowboys and colt starters often have this on their saddles so don't think it's just for beginners. Any tack store or pet store should have this.

Secondly, you need a spanker of some kind. A riding crop works well, or it could be the end of a lead rope. It needs to be something you can carry easily while riding and apply quickly to make the horse uncomfortable when he makes a bad choice.

Thirdly, I want you to practice stopping your horse with one rein. You need to be riding in a snaffle bit for this (not a curb or leverage bit). Instead of pulling back on both reins to stop him, you will pull on one rein only. Pulling your horse's head to one side unbalances him and causes him to have to think about his feet instead of whatever else was on his mind. He has to step across with his hind feet ( called "disengaging the hindquarters"). He will circle about a few times, slow down, and stop. You may think that you are giving up control with a "gentle" bit like a snaffle. You're not. A snaffle, with its jointed mouthpiece, just allows you to work each side of the horse independently, which is best for doing the one-rein stop. By practicing this ahead of time, you will get used to the feeling, your horse will get used to the feeling, and you will build your confidence that you can really stop a horse this way.

With this preparation, you are ready to retrain your horse. Be sure you feel secure in the saddle, that your stirrups are not too long, and that your cinch is tight. Wear your helmet. Have your spanker ready and be sure you can quickly grab your night latch.

Now ask your horse to do something that he has previously resisted. This time you will be ready with a surprise for him! When he bucks, instantly spank him sharply on the rump. This is not a little love tap, but a good whack that he will understand. As quickly as you can, grab the night latch with one hand and pull his head around with the other rein. He'll probably lurch forward a few steps. That's okay! You're ready for that. You're deep in the saddle, pushing against your stirrups, and already busy stopping him with one rein. Don't be angry. Don't be frightened. Be determined. He will probably go around in circles several times. That's normal. Don't release the rein until he has come to a complete stop and relaxed. Then release the rein and reward him. Give him plenty of praise and stroke him affectionately on the neck and rump. Create a POSITIVE consequence for his good choice, i.e., yielding to your leadership by stopping his feet and relaxing. Give him a minute or so to think about this. Then do the whole thing again.

A couple things are happening here. First, of course, the horse is getting an unpleasant result from his choice. Horses don't like to be spanked any more than we do. Curiously, if you react quickly and do it without anger, the horse is not likely to blame you or become frightened of you. You want him to think he did this to himself. You just happened to be there when this occurred. Second, by proving to him that you can control his movement by bending him and causing him to have to circle around to keep his balance, you are demonstrating your leadership of the team. Horses like to be straight and they like to be in control of their own movement.

By the way, I'm a believer in the "gentle as possible and firm as necessary" approach to using pressure with a horse. In this case the degree of firmness required is fairly high to be absolutely certain the horse gets the message. With repetition and consistent application of consequences, the degree of firmness needed diminishes. We work toward gentleness and lightness in communication, but the horse has to know you are willing to do whatever it takes to discourage unwanted behavior.

Your horse might learn the first time, but it will probably take several repetitions, and several days of consistent training in this manner to really convince him it's not in his best interest to throw his little temper tantrum. Try to work with him several days in a row and do not let other riders on him, at least not during this crucial training time. That will just confuse him and undo some of what he's learned from you. At this stage in his life, he needs one rider. You!

You mentioned groundwork. Groundwork does two things: it establishes the rules of the relationship (that the human leads and the horse follows) and it establishes a language of pressure and release that the horse understands. Groundwork goes a long way toward preventing riding problems because it works on the relationship. It can also help with riding problems that are relationship based, as I believe yours is. So, bottom line, I think a good program of groundwork, such as that used by Clinton Anderson, will definitely help. However, because this bucking behavior has occurred several times, a pattern has been set and you also need to break that pattern with the riding solution I described.

Always look for opportunities to reward your horse for good behavior but don't be afraid to punish him for bad behavior. He will actually feel more secure with your leadership if you show him there are boundaries of acceptable behavior. By the way, the same goes for the sassy child. He is often crying out for good parenting, to be reminded of where the limits lie.

I hope this has helped. Plan ahead and be safe. If you get too frightened or you feel the situation getting out of hand, stop. You can always train your horse another day.

Good luck!
Rick Lamb

16 comments:

bob sanders said...

Hi BB, you are not alone. My wifes mare does the same thing while under ground work. Pulled me down last saturday while trying to do simple circles. Then she went for the gate. After I got back up, we went back to circles and loaded in and out of the trailer 4 times. R, thanks for the suggestions. We'll keep working with her as soon as the 4 letter "S" word goes away (S-N-O-W). bob

jd said...

When doing the ground training that Rick recommends, I would be sure to teach your horse to softly give to lateral pressure.(both side all the way to his sides) Without this he can still resist a snaffle.

As to the swat on the butt, I would start out not being to aggressive about it. My old boy has been bitten by horse flies a few times on the rump and does a pretty good routine of crow hopping.

JD

grace said...

Is this a sort of low energy horse in the pasture? The sort that prefers to stand under a tree rather than nose about? Very laid back (lazy) horses tend to resent it when someone insists that they W-O-R-K.
You might be able to find a motivator that is in the horse's interest, like nice grass. Ask for a little energy, ride to it, and stop and allow horse to graze a moment.

Does anyone think clicker training might work here?

Rick said...

Thanks for the comments!
Bob, I always wear gloves doing groundwork in case something happens like you describe. JD, good idea about lateral flexion exercises as a way of enhancing the one-rein stop training. When you practice these things in a controlled setting, they work a lot better in an emergency. Also, the idea of this solution is to make the horse uncomfortable for his bad choice. There can be absolutely no doubt in his mind. We know he's going to react. That's why we have prepared to ride it out. For sure this will be a confrontation of sorts, but sometimes that is necessary to get to a better place with a horse. It's very important for this horse to learn that bucking is not acceptable. Grace, clicker training uses only positive reinforcement (rewards) to encourage a horse to repeat good behavior. I don't know of any way it can change negative behavior. Anyone else have an idea?
R

Henwhisperer said...

I have had to do this very thing on my 6 yo QH mare. She is smart (not always a good thing) and lazy. She used to always buck, or hop, when pushed.

Last summer she decided that she would not pass by our neighbors property and she stuck to her guns. I did just as Rick has suggested. It took 5 weeks for her to stop her nonsense. 5 weeks. But in those 5 weeks my confidence grew greatly because I stopped being afraid she would buck me off, learned how to stay focused and not get mad or emotional in anyway. I learned how to ride it out.

So, stay with it. Then you will be ready for the next challenge!

Akashe said...

You can ignore the bad behavior and reward the good behavior. Go back to ground work, backing, stopping, lateral work, yield the haunches/shoulder. Reward the good behavior (doesn't have to be treats could be a good scratch or making a big fuss over him) but you may need to get this horse motivated to please. Listen to the horse. Is he lazy or is he scared that something bad will happen in the next gait? Does he lack confidence or the will to please you? When you think you have the reason figured out and the motivation at hand then get back in the saddle and flex both sides (most of this is Clinton Anderson's ground work). Ask for the walk and reward(what ever motivates your horse). Then ask for the trot. If you get a little buck IGNORE it. Reward when you have a nice trot (3 steps!). Repeat with canter/lope. You may have to ignore a habit to break it. But you can do a one rein stop and start over so that you can reward. The main focus becomes the behavior you DO want not the behavior you don't want. Picture it in your mind as you ask. That beautiful transition you've seen out in the paddock. Keep that image and ignore anything else. The farther we get from dominance the closer we get to true NH. Listen to your horse and spend time with him without an agenda, asking nothing from him. Just my two cents. : )

Akashe said...

It occurred to me that the way I train is very different sometimes. Most everything I do is at liberty including grooming and trimming. The horse is free to leave and NOT work with me at anytime. So when a horse goes to the trouble of kicking out or offering a little buck they are by then screaming at me their displeasure about something. Before I started working with the horses at liberty I'd ignore a buck but if I thought it was in defiance I'd smack. I've since been taught, by a horse, that the more aggressive I am the more aggressive he gets! Yikes! Now I ask politely. I know at first this sounds like the horse is 'getting over' or 'in control of the situation' But it doesn't really turn out that way. We are a team and he wants nothing more than to please me. The lengths he'll got to to offer what he thinks I want is astounding and embarrassing. Here's the kicker, he's a young stallion and I never use force, or chains, or up the pressure with him. I simply say NO when I don't want the behavior (space and mouthiness issues)if he doesn't stop, I walk away and his training session is over. To him this is terrible punishment. If he does stop, I continue by creating a mind picture of what I do want and the most pressure I use is a light tap with a dressage whip to indicate a body part.(Clinton Anderson is one of my favorite clinician BTW.) Like C/T this is a whole nother level of connection with your horse. I hope this is making sense and is in some way helpful. It's no fun to be afraid or worried when your with the love of your life. Now I'll zip my lip! Or should it be my fingers?

Rick said...

Henwhisperer, thanks for the comment. Your name is hilarious by the way. I'm sure there's a story behind that!

Akasha, beautifully put. Please don't ever zip your lip (or fingers for that matter). Your thoughts are valued here!

Sounds like you have created an ideal relationship with that particular horse. Congratulations! We are all after that. I think you're on to something about the difference that liberty makes in the relationship. (Maybe that's why it's so important in the Parelli system ...)However, I do think it's important in the formative years of building that kind of relationship to be ready and willing to assert your leadership with a horse, even if it means a bit of a confrontation. That's the responsibility of any kind of leader, whether it's a parent, a teacher, an employer, a superior officer, anything. The leader cannot shy away from unpopular decisions. The good news is that when you do have to insist that a horse respect your wishes, and are very clear about it, the horse gets it and you are less likely to have that confrontation in the future (another point Clinton pounded into my head in my four years on the road with him).
R

Akashe said...

Well put Rick! Four years huh! Lucky Guy! Safety always comes first, of course. I've noticed though every time an issue comes up the horse is trying to tell me something.

Thank you for making me feel so welcome! I think your doing a wonderful job at being a resource and a teacher. Keep up the good work!!

Marion said...

Thanks to everyone for your comments; very helpful to me. This might sound a bit 'off the wall', but I've discovered if I can laugh my way through a situation while dealing with it, it helps me to stay non-emotional...its hard to get angry when you're laughing..and my firm-up becomes decisive rather than confrontational.

Rick said...

Good idea, Marion. Keeping our emotions in check is so important. Almost all emotions work against us in some way or another when working with horses.
R

Deb said...

Dear Mr. Lamb,

First of all, thank you for your top-notch show and the online audio files, which have helped me more than anything. Secondly, sorry this is going to be a long story...

I am faced with a dilemma. We recently purchased horse number 3, intended to be my horse. She is an 18 yr old Arabian and I am a very beginner level rider. I have her on trial until the end of the month. While I have studied horse care, horse training and watched and listened to countless experts, I have limited hands on experience with horses, aside from just daily care (that I'm great at!). Anyway, when I first decided to buy this horse, she seemed very calm and I road her several times without incident, mainly just at a walk. Yesterday, I had my first lesson on her and it was so awful that I am entirely questioning my abilities to even own a horse. The lesson was a catastrophe. When I asked for a trot, she would go into a cantor. Once, she even began bucking and head tossing. Twice, she kicked at two other horses in the arena while I was on her, which scared and embarrassed me. I could feel the other riders seething at my lack of skills and my apologies after the lesson were answered by silence. With the help of the instructor, at least the lesson ended on a positive note, as she took one lap at a trot around the arena with us, holding her inside rein. After that, I was able to trot her on the long stretches, even though I had to bring her back down from a cantor several times. The instructor was very patient and encouraging. I should mention that during this month trial, the mare is at a stable, due to come to our home the end of the month.

My dilemma is this... One of our other horses is my old horse, the family's beloved gelding. He is 27 yr old ArabX. Last year, we unknowingly purchased an alpha mare, realized she was too much for us and sold her. Before the new owners picked her up, she kicked the bejeezes out of my poor gelding. He nearly died. He is all better now, but after seeing the new mare trying to kick at other horses (I was told she had no vices), I am reluctant to bring her home. The last thing I want is for the gelding to get kicked again. The instructor told me this mare used to act like this with her current owner, but stopped after her riding skills and confidence improved.

I'm sorry this is so dragged out, but all the details are important. My rational side is trying to explain why she kicked and carried on. I have seen her ride fine with experienced riders, so my inexperience is definitely most of it. Also, I noticed at the end of the lesson that I had mistakenly left her saddle pad off, the spongy pad that goes between the blanket and her dressage saddle. I am a western rider, taking English lessons (posting being handy with Arabs). So I am wondering if the missing pad contributed to the awful lesson. Also, we are near a full moon and I believe she is going through her "mare" cycle. We were told she does "act up" around that time. Does that mean she shouldn't be ridden then?

All I know for certain is that yesterday made me question my right to even get look at a horse. Now, I know I am going to be scared to get back on her, but realize that is what I need to do. Or perhaps I should learn how to lunge her , then just keep her at a walk until she starts to trust me. But that's kind of giving up, isn't it? The third consideration is to back out the deal and continue my search for a calm horse (probably a gelding next time). In my defense, I can trot on my old gelding and he did not put up a fuss. He is perfect and I've never had a single problem with him. Our ten year old son now rides the gelding, so I need a safe, sane mount as we want to ride together. I am concerned this mare is going to kick the gelding while we are under saddle.

So that is my whole story. I am hoping you can offer some advice, as I only have until the end of the month to decide whether I have the ability to keep this mare under control. RIght now, my confidence level is not very high.

Thank you so much for taking the time to read this.

Deb Collins
Chittenango, NY

Deb said...

Dear Mr. Lamb,

First, thank you for producing such a great show and the online audios, which have truly been a Godsend. Secondly, I'm sorry this is such a long story.

I am faced with a dilemma. We recently purchased horse number 3, intended to be my horse. She is an 18 yr old Arabian and I am a very beginner level rider. I have her on trial until the end of the month. While I have studied horse care, horse training and watched and listened to countless experts, I have limited hands on experience with horses, aside from just daily care (that I'm great at!). Anyway, when I first decided to buy this horse, she seemed very calm and I road her several times without incident, mainly just at a walk. Yesterday, I had my first lesson on her and it was so awful that I am entirely questioning my abilities to even own a horse. The lesson was a catastrophe. When I asked for a trot, she would go into a cantor. Once, she even began bucking and head tossing. Twice, she kicked at two other horses in the arena while I was on her, which scared and embarrassed me. I could feel the other riders seething at my lack of skills and my apologies after the lesson were answered by silence. With the help of the instructor, at least the lesson ended on a positive note, as she took one lap at a trot around the arena with us, holding her inside rein. After that, I was able to trot her on the long stretches, even though I had to bring her back down from a cantor several times. The instructor was very patient and encouraging. I should mention that during this month trial, the mare is at a stable, due to come to our home the end of the month.

My dilemma is this... One of our other horses is my old horse, the family's beloved gelding. He is 27 yr old ArabX. Last year, we unknowingly purchased an alpha mare, realized she was too much for us and sold her. Before the new owners picked her up, she kicked the bejeezes out of my poor gelding. He nearly died. He is all better now, but after seeing the new mare trying to kick at other horses (I was told she had no vices), I am reluctant to bring her home. The last thing I want is for the gelding to get kicked again. The instructor told me this mare used to act like this with her current owner, but stopped after her riding skills and confidence improved.

I'm sorry this is so dragged out, but all the details are important. My rational side is trying to explain why she kicked and carried on. I have seen her ride fine with experienced riders, so my inexperience is definitely most of it. Also, I noticed at the end of the lesson that I had mistakenly left her saddle pad off, the spongy pad that goes between the blanket and her dressage saddle. I am a western rider, taking English lessons (posting being handy with Arabs). So I am wondering if the missing pad contributed to the awful lesson. Also, we are near a full moon and I believe she is going through her "mare" cycle. We were told she does "act up" around that time. Does that mean she shouldn't be ridden then?

All I know for certain is that yesterday made me question my right to even get look at a horse. Now, I know I am going to be scared to get back on her, but realize that is what I need to do. Or perhaps I should learn how to lunge her , then just keep her at a walk until she starts to trust me. But that's kind of giving up, isn't it? The third consideration is to back out the deal and continue my search for a calm horse (probably a gelding next time). In my defense, I can trot on my old gelding and he did not put up a fuss. He is perfect and I've never had a single problem with him. Our ten year old son now rides the gelding, so I need a safe, sane mount as we want to ride together. I am concerned this mare is going to kick the gelding while we are under saddle.

So that is my whole story. I am hoping you can offer some advice, as I only have until the end of the month to decide whether I have the ability to keep this mare under control. RIght now, my confidence level is not very high.

Thank you so much for taking the time to read this.

Deb Collins
Chittenango, NY

Deb said...

oops sorry for the double post.

Deb said...

Hello, Just wanted to post an update. I promise to be brief this time. After 3 sleepless nights I decided to back out of getting the mare. Thankfully, the current owners were more than understanding. Have come to my senses and will look for a gelding this time. Thank you. :D

Rick said...

Hi Deb,
Thanks for the kind words.
Sounds like you reached a good decision. You're right to be looking for a very experienced, older horse. If you have any misgivings at all about a given horse, keep looking. You should start the relationship with excitement and confidence, not dread and worry.
Best,
R