Though a few famous show jumpers were known for their exuberant displays after clearing challenging obstacles, bucking and playing after a jump isn’t admirable behavior. Not only can it unseat a rider, but it’s marked as a major fault in hunter, equitation and medal classes. Once it becomes a habit, it can adversely influence the rider’s performance. Because the rider expects the horse to misbehave after the jump, they ride to short, deep take-off spots so they can maintain control on the landing side. In effect, they’re sacrificing the approach to the jump for fear of what might happen on the other side. Just in case you’re ever saddled with a demonstrative demon, here are a few tips on how to fix the problem.
- Have your coach or groundperson double-check your position. Without realizing it, your lower leg may be slipping back in mid-air. That means your heels are bumping or gripping your horse’s flank about the time his front feet hit the ground. A sensitive horse could respond by bucking or kicking out, especially if you’re wearing spurs.
- Are you holding your position on top of the jump and when you land? If you’re tossed up and out of the tack in the air, and then fall forward on your horse’s neck as he lands, he has to struggle to maintain his balance. Though that’s not an excuse for him to buck or play, he might be displaying his annoyance. Consider strengthening your position at lower heights for a while.
- Could the horse be sore-footed? An otherwise trustworthy horse that suddenly begins to buck or misbehave upon landing after a jump may be experiencing pain. Bruised or thin soles are just one reason why a horse’s feet might sting when landing after a jump. Have your vet investigate this possibility.
- Once you’ve ruled out other causes, short-circuit your horse’s bad habit. Ride to the appropriate take-off spot; don’t anticipate your horse being bad. Yet the moment he lands, isolate one rein (we’ll use the right rein here as an example) and lift it up and back in a motion similar to a half-halt. But unlike half-halting or simply holding with both reins, the one-rein approach won’t allow your horse to lean on your hands and drop his head. Lift up and back with the right rein as you continue forward with a strong canter. After three or four strides, circle right. If your horse attempts to buck or play, send him forward on the circle while repeatedly half-halting with the right rein. Next time, isolate your left rein and circle left.
- Another schooling option is to place a ground pole about 10-12 feet (12 feet if it’s a high, wide oxer) away from the jump on the landing side. In order to canter over this placement pole, your horse has to keep his weight on his hindquarters. This will prevent him from lugging down on the bit and leaning on your hands, a prelude to bucking. If these tactics don’t solve the problem, seek advice—and consider paying for some professional schooling rides—from a local trainer who has demonstrated success in reforming sport horses with behavioral issues.