Bucking in Company

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Q: My ex-racehorse is calm and quiet when ridden alone on the trails. On group trail rides, he’s fine at a walk. But when the group starts to trot or canter, he gets excited and starts bucking. What can I do to stop him from bucking? 

Trail Riding
©Albert Bridge on geograph.ie/CC BY-SA 2.0

A: Ex-racehorse or not, every horse must understand the distinction between playing with herd mates and working dutifully while under saddle. Your horse respects you until his friends are along for the ride. Then the trail ride becomes one big Horse Party in his eyes.

First, before any more trail rides, spend time riding in an arena with groups of riders who are working at various gaits. Trot and canter past other riders, maintaining a safe distance of at least two horse lengths between other equestrians. If your horse begins to get playful, drive him forward with your legs in a large circle to regain his attention, and carry on. Next, make sure that your horse is getting enough exercise. A pre-ride longe or brisk turnout may help take the edge off so he’s less rambunctious on the trail. Finally, be honest about your ability to stick with your horse when you anticipate a buck. Do you go into defensive mode, clutching the reins and gripping on with your heels? Do you pull him abruptly to a stop? Unfortunately, these self-preservation actions only allow him to buck harder and reward his behavior. Instead, step deeply into your heels, lean back with your upper body and nip his head up with one rein. Then push him forward with your legs. Make him trot or canter for several strides past the bucking attempt before allowing him to walk.

Bucking is a dangerous vice. Not only does it ruin the pleasure of a group ride, but you could land in the dirt. A few rides with an experienced professional who can work through your horse’s naughty behavior, and critique your riding position, is a prudent investment.

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Cindy Hale
Cindy Hale’s life with horses has been filled with variety. As a child she rode western and learned to barrel race. Then she worked as a groom for a show barn, and was taught to harness and drive Welsh ponies. But once she’d taken her first lessons aboard American Saddlebreds she was hooked on English riding. Hunters and hunt seat equitation came next, and she spent decades competing in those divisions on the West Coast. Always seeking to improve her horsemanship, she rode in clinics conducted by world-class riders like George Morris, Kathy Kusner and Anne Kursinski. During that time, her family began raising Thoroughbred and warmblood sport horses, and Cindy experienced the thrills and challenges of training and showing the homebred greenies. Now retired from active competition, she’s a popular judge at local and county-rated open and hunter/jumper shows. She rides recreationally both English and western. Her Paint gelding, Wally, lives at home with her and her non-horsey husband, Ron.

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