From Docile Horse to Bucking Bronco

Having looked at an unwanted behaviour arising from barrier frustration i.e. stall confinement for the previous post, I thought I’d take a look at an unwanted behaviour under saddle for this one. I had an experience a couple of summers ago where undetected pain may very well have been the underlying cause of the horse’s behaviour.

I was riding a horse I had been leasing for a few months, a generally docile fellow who suddenly turned into a bucking bronco when I asked him to trot. It was a warm summer day, nothing unusual weather wise, and the caretakers were quietly cleaning the outdoor paddocks and putting out hay.

After a short warm-up, I signaled for a trot, and the horse suddenly went on a wild bucking spree! The poor guy clearly wanted me off of his back but I really didn’t want to be ejected. Luckily, he’s a rather slender horse and I was able to hang on with my legs and keep a grip on the reins while holding on to the pommel of the saddle. After about 10 minutes of bucking, walking backward and rearing once or twice, he settled down and I was able to walk him around the arena once before dismounting.  

Revisiting this now, I am keenly aware that leg pressure is the signal to “go!” and my attempt to hang on with my legs would have been giving conflicting cues to do just that as I was trying to get him under control, which likely prolonged the incident. Instead, I should have been focussed on maintaining my balance by putting my weight into my seat and heels while trying to lift or turn his head to break the momentum of the bucking. Hindsight…

Anyway, I was completely dumbfounded and had no idea what could have triggered the horse’s performance that day. It was a short while later, maybe a couple months, that I came across an article a woman had written about a similar experience she had had. The difference being it had occurred to her that the cause of the behaviour could be related to ill-fitting tack. Sure enough, when she carefully removed and inspected her horse’s saddle, she found a small twig attached to the underside of the saddle pad.  That tiny twig had been poking her horse in the side and triggered the unwelcome behaviour. I’ve wondered ever since whether the horse I was riding that day also had a tiny twig poking his side.

Other possible causes of uncharacteristic bucking or rearing under saddle can be poorly fitting tack, an undetected injury or illness, or simply confusing signals from the rider. The latter of which will be addressed in a future post.