How To Respond When Your Horse Starts Bucking

Bucking Horse Tips: What You Need to Know

If riding and working with horses is your passion, you will inevitably deal with a bucking horse. Every time you get in the saddle, you put your trust not only in your own abilities as a rider but also in an animal, many times your size. That can be scary, but arming yourself with knowledge can help.

How should you respond when your horse starts bucking? When your horse starts bucking, do these things:

  • Stay calm
  • Sit back on your pockets
  • Stay relaxed through your hips, back, and thighs
  • Try to pull your horse’s head up
  • One-rein stop to disengage your horse’s movements

 

To really ride through a buck without panicking requires both knowledge and experience. I can help you with the knowledge part; however, there is only one way to gain the experience part…unfortunately. While these tips won’t guarantee you from falling off, they will go a long way in being able to ride through the buck and correct your horse. To get a more in-depth look at riding a bucking horse, keep reading!

Riding a Bucking Horse Step #1: Stay Calm

Easier said than done! Anyone who has experienced bucking will tell you that you need to stay calm and take a deep breath. When you experience your first buck, it can seem so fast that you may forget to breathe, let alone deeply. 

That said, this is step one for a reason. Staying calm will help you to relax your muscles. Your first instinct may be to pull back on the reins and grip your legs in an attempt to stay in the saddle. If your body is rigid, your back and hips are not moving with the horse. You will lose your balance, and your chances of being thrown will greatly increase. It will also further irritate your horse.

The second thing staying calm accomplishes is communicating to your horse that you are not anxious (though you may very well be). Horses feed off of our energy – that’s Riding 101. If you are calm, your horse is more likely to be calm. If you are panicking, your horse is more likely to panic. You may not think you are communicating your feelings to your horse, but you are…always.

Riding a Bucking Horse Step #2: Sit Back

To help secure yourself in the saddle while a horse is bucking, you need to sit back in the saddle. Imagine trying to sit on your seat pockets, rotating your hips in, and keeping your shoulders back. When a horse is bucking, it’s easy to get pitched forward and over the horse’s neck. Unfortunately, recovering from and staying on the horse is harder once you’re in that position. 

Your balance remains over the horse’s back when you’re sitting back. When you pitch forward, your balance falls over the horse’s shoulders, which will easily displace you. If you grip with your legs, you’re going to get pitched forward. Staying relaxed through your thighs enables your body to move with the horse, even as they are bucking.

One reason your horse may be bucking is because they are stressed. To learn how to read the signs of a nervous horse, visit my article Signs a Horse is Anxious, Nervous, or Stressed.

Riding a Bucking Horse Step #3: Pull Your Horse’s Head Up

When most horses buck, they throw their head toward the ground to create the momentum needed to kick up their hind legs. If you find yourself riding a bucking horse, try to pull their head up and keep them from throwing it down. While the horse may be able to give a few little bucks with their head up, they won’t be able to get the momentum needed to bust some bronco moves.

Sometimes, shortening your reins and yanking your horse’s head up can be enough to stop them from bucking. 

Riding a Bucking Horse Step #4: The One-Rein Stop

The one-rein stop is known as a horse’s emergency break. All of a horse’s power comes from its hindquarters. The hindquarters propel a horse forward into motion. When you’re able to control the hindquarters, you can get your horse to stop bucking. With the one-rein stop, you’re disengaging the horse’s hind end or disengaging its power booster.

 

  • To execute a one-rein stop, you will reach your hand down one rein and pull the rein out and back toward your hip. This will flex your horse’s neck and will pull his head to the side. When done correctly, the horse’s head should be at your knee.

 

  • Your goal is to turn the horse into a tight circle where he has to cross his back legs one in front of the other. At first, the horse may resist and fight your rein; just keep a steady pressure.

 

  • The other aspect of the one-rein stop is that you should keep your horse moving in a tight circle. If the horse’s head is pulled back to your knee, they can take off in a straight line. They could also come to a halt and potentially rear. To keep your horse moving on the circle, take the leg that your horse is turned toward and apply pressure slightly behind the girth. This will encourage the horse to step its hindquarters around and keep moving in the circle.

 

The emergency stop works against the mechanics of the buck. It pulls the head up and away from the horse’s knees. It disengages the horse’s hind legs as they are crossing over one another to form an arc. Finally, it keeps them moving forward, taking the weight off the front legs.

The one-rein stop is your best chance at pulling your horse out of the buck. That said, it will not work in all situations. If your horse spooks, his survival instincts will take over, and no amount of pressure will keep him from fighting for his life. Other behaviors are more common for a spooked horse, but bucking is not unheard of. 

How to Correct a Bucking Horse

What you may want to do after your horse bucks will not necessarily be what you should do. The first time I experienced a bucking horse, I was startled. It was only a few hops, but it was on a young and excited draft, and I wanted off. I was trotting circles, and this horse did not like trotting circles. My instructor convinced me to stay on, but I would only agree to walk laps for the rest of the lesson.

Regardless of why your horse is bucking, by dismounting, you are teaching your horse that he gets to return to his comfortable paddock when he throws you. This will only serve to create a habit in your horse, and this is a habit that is easier to prevent than break.

Instead of dismounting, you should immediately and calmly go back to whatever activity you were engaged in when your horse started bucking. In my example, I should have gone right back to asking for a trot. By not doing so, I taught my horse that she could get out of boring circles by bucking. That was probably unfortunate for the next rider who did a lesson on her.

Of course, there are baby bucks and big bronco bucks. If you are thrown (and uninjured) and able to jump back in the saddle, that will be your best move. If you are too shaken, that’s okay. If you are unable or unwilling to get back in the saddle, immediately get your horse on the lunge line and make him work – harder than he was working when you were riding. This can serve as a lesson that unseating you is of no benefit to him. 

Knowing why your horse is bucking can make correcting them easier. To learn why horses buck, visit my article Why Does My Horse Buck: Complete Behavior Guide.

Why Do Horses Buck?

Bucking can be a one-off, or it can be an ongoing issue. If bucking becomes a problem, you will want to rule out the potential that your horse is in pain. If there is no physical reason behind the buck, your horse may have developed a bad habit; they may be impatient, frustrated, young, and inexperienced. They may not even be trying to unseat you at all, but rather he may buck out of excitement just as he does in the pasture to release a burst of energy. 

I made a Youtube video that covers this subject, so if you’re more of a visual learner, you can watch it here:

 

Gaining Confidence In The Face Of Bucking

The first couple of times you are faced with a bucking horse can be frightening. On top of the scare itself, the simple fact that you were shaken can be an additional blow to your confidence. I can attest to that personally – the first time I rode through a buck was no problem at all in hindsight. I was not in danger of falling off; I sat it just fine. But the fact that I was startled was enough reason to develop a fear around the episode. 

This is one of those situations where things have to get harder before they will get easier. You may be afraid to get back on your horse after you’ve gone through an episode of bucking – even if you were not thrown. You will need to ask yourself if getting back on the horse and working through your fear is worth the growth you will experience as a rider (I can answer that for you; it is.) Trials make room for growth. An accomplished rider is called “experienced” for a reason.

 

Did you know that you can use the one-rein stop to get control of a bolting horse? To learn more, visit my article Horses That Won’t Stop When Riding: What You Need to Know.

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Carmella Abel, Pro Horse Trainer

Hi! I’m Carmella

My husband and I started Equine Helper to share what we’ve learned about owning and caring for horses. I’ve spent my whole life around horses, and I currently own a POA named Tucker. You can learn more here.

Thank you for reading, and happy trails!

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