If you ride, one day you will find yourself on a horse that bucks. It’s a natural defense a horse uses to launch a predator from his back. Bucking can be an expression of youthful exuberance, abundant or nervous energy, or pain. A horse may also react to an environmental stimulus by bucking. Biting horseflies and stinging bees are notorious for sending horses into bucking fits. Conflict between horse and rider is another reason a horse may fling his hindquarters into the air.
When a horse bucks he drops his nose between his knees, stiffens his forelegs, and kicks upward with his hind feet. How difficult it is to ride depends on how hard a horse bucks, how long he bucks, and the skill of the rider. If you find yourself on a horse that’s bucking, here’s what you need to do:
Easier said than done, but panicking shuts down your cognitive processes. That means you’ve stopped thinking and you’re not helping your horse. Breathe, speak quietly to your horse, and focus on the ride. Keep your legs long and your heels down to lower your center of gravity and increase the likelihood of staying on. Tightly gripping with your legs (or spurs!) will increase your horse’s energy and throw off your balance. Sit deep on your pockets and soften your lower back, allowing your hips to fluidly follow your horse’s movements.
- Flex your horse’s head
When a horse bucks he braces his body and stiffens his forelegs. Flexing his head is the first step to regaining control. Ride with both hands on the reins. Shorten one rein until you can see the side of your horse’s face. Turn your horse’s head by making the rein short instead of pulling backward which can throw off your balance and his. Pulling on both reins equally will give your horse’s something to brace against and encourage him to keep bucking.
- Move your horse’s shoulders
Ask your horse to step to the inside of a sharp turn. Lead his head into the turn by lifting and opening your inside rein (the inside rein is the rein toward which your horse is flexed). This rebalances your horse. The less weight he has on his forehand, the more weight he has on his hindquarters, and the more likely his back feet will stay on the ground.
- Send your horse forward
A horse propels himself with his hindquarters, but a bucking horse lacks forward momentum. Flex your horse’s head with a shortened inside rein. Hold the rein in the “open” position away from his neck to mobilize his shoulders. Then drive him forward with rhythmic leg pressure on both sides of his body.
- Use a pulley rein
Shorten both reins. Hold one taut (not tight) and you brace your hand against your horse’s neck or the saddle horn. Lift the other rein up and back and sit deep in the saddle. Use pulses of pressure to encourage your horse to shift his weight back and lift his head. This is an emergency technique can be hard on the horse. It should be used with caution and only when all else fails. Once you have your horse’s head up, follow steps 1-4. It’s also perfectly sensible to dismount if it feels uncomfortable or unsafe to continue the ride.
Dale Rudin is a CHA-certified riding instructor and clinician with a mindful and balanced approach to horsemanship and riding.