What Is Bucking?
First, let’s define what bucking truly is. What a lot of people call bucking is when the horse’s front legs stay on the ground and he kicks up his back legs. That’s not bucking. Bucking to me is what you see at the rodeo: All four feet are off the ground, the horse’s head is down low, his mouth is open, and he is bellowing like a cow giving birth.
Kicking up or “crow-hopping” is a simple demonstration of the horse’s lack of respect. What type of horse usually kicks up? A fat, lazy horse that doesn’t want to go forward. When you ask a horse like this to go from a jog to a lope, and he kicks up with his back legs, it’s his way of telling you to get lost. Most hot, nervous horses don’t kick up that much because they want to go forward.
On the other hand, most horses that are really bucking are not showing a lack of respect. They are most likely reacting to fear: fear of you being on their back, the girth, the back cinch, your legs, the spurs, something that jumped out of the bushes in front of them or a tree branch that brushed against their sides. Something caused the horse to use the reactive side of his brain. That’s how most horses learn to buck.
Sometimes, once a horse has dumped a rider three or four times and has gotten used to bucking, he starts bucking out of habit, not so much out of fear. At this point, what may have started out as a fear issue has now turned into a lack-of-respect issue.
Whether your horse is kicking up to demonstrate his lack of respect or truly bucking out of fear or habit, there are several ways to fix the problem. If he’s kicking up because he doesn’t want to go forward (which is most often the case), go back and get his feet moving better on the ground. Preferably, put him in a roundpen, and then point up in the air with your hand to signal him to move forward, cluck and spank—first spank the ground, and if necessary, spank him—until he lopes around the roundpen. Get him so hooked on you that as soon as you ask him to move by pointing with your hand, he immediately responds. If you get rid of his laziness and lack of respect on the ground first, when you get on him he’ll be a lot more willing to go forward. In fact, if you thoroughly do your groundwork, more than likely kicking up under saddle will no longer even be an issue.
When you do get on the horse and ask him to lope, first squeeze with both legs to ask him to go forward. Wait for a count of two, and if he doesn’t go, cluck. Wait for another count of two, and when he doesn’t go forward, spank him from side to side with the end of your mecate or a dressage whip. If you spank with rhythm and he kicks up with both his back legs, what do you do? You spank him again: WHACK, WHACK. You may have to spank him several times before he realizes that every time his hind legs leave the ground you will make him feel uncomfortable, but when he leaves his feet on the ground and goes forward, you will leave him alone.
I’ll be the first to tell you that you have to be a confident rider to go through this process. If you’re not, either make sure you do your groundwork thoroughly and correctly so that your horse will go forward as soon as you squeeze and cluck, or have a more experienced rider ride the horse for a few days to get his feet moving at the lope.
Tying a horse up after you’ve worked him hard does two things: It gives him a chance to get his air back and it gives him a chance to process the work you just did. This is not punishment—it is allowing him to absorb the lesson. The very worst thing you can do after working with your horse on a particular issue, especially one as serious as bucking, is to put him in his stall and feed him. Once he gets his mind on eating, you can be pretty sure it’s no longer on you!