Thursday, November 16, 2017

A Day of Buck Reckoning

I must have an extreme sense of self-preservation because I could not sleep last night with my mind firing off, what seemed an infinite amount of data, about my ride on Beautiful Girl yesterday.  I was tossing and turning as my fingers, legs, stomach, skin--my whole body--was processing the feel of that ride with the image of her bucking my trainer off.

And there were words and questions just reeling and reeling.  Was she mad? Was she startled? Is she a dirty bucker? Can you stop a buck? What might provoke a buck? Can I handle being bucked off? ....on and on.

The bucking did not jive with what I felt in saddle yesterday.  It didn't jive then with what I'd always known of her.  She wasn't a bucker, she was a backer.  Any time Bee was scared, she'd back up--not kick out or buck.  But she definitely bucked that evening.  It was big.

And, I did see her buck a few times on the line, in saddle,--AFTER the bucking incident--which is perfectly normal for horse, but not so much for her.  I didn't make a big deal about it, but continued to push her forward on the circle and she quit.  Was that good enough to break a habit--if she'd formed one?

Tossing and turning (keeping my husband awake) I played the moments (my ride & my trainer's) over and over--and compared them to one another.  Then I remembered--

I have it all on tape!  I took a gazillion photos and a couple videos leading up to the buck.  It seemed so smoothe--so boring even--I stopped taping--

right before the buck.

At 5:00 am, my eyes popped open.  And, the first thing that came to my mind was--FIND THOSE PHOTOS AND VIDEOS!

I did, and now I'm going to reconstruct the evening here.  I'm looking for data from Bee--warning signs--something to learn from.  I AM NOT questioning my trainer, and I ask that you not either.  It was Bee's 5th ride and she she hadn't shown any signs of bucking up to that day.  My trainer took her time at every step and only proceeded to the next when she felt safe to do so.  This is all about me analyzing my horse so that I can have a plan for future rides.

Here it goes:

 We practiced loading and unloading her into two different trailers, taking our time with each.

When my trainer felt she was calm, she secured the panel, then she closed the door and sat on the wheel well of the trailer (from the outside) to observe Bee as I drove down the driveway.  Bee was calm, so she gave me the thumbs up and we proceeded to the arena.

Unloading and walking to the roundpen.

Letting Bee check things out.

Bee is alert and looking at another horse we'd brought in a separate trailer.  That horse is nineteen, but very scared in new situations, and he was acting up.

 Allowing Bee to check out the tack and mounting block.

Bee is still alert.

She gets her moving again.

What do I see in Bee?

1. She's not giving 100% attention to the rider.
2. She's resisting transition to the trot.
3. She checks in with me and the other observer--another sign of distraction.
4. My trainer has the perfect amount of contact with her in the bit.

(not seen on video)

5. At the time of the buck, she was moving on the rail in a straight line.
6. Before the buck, she was moving at a trot, and she showed no signs of resistance or agitation.
7. The buck seemed to have come out of nowhere, as if it was purely involuntary.
8. After she was done bucking, she stood calm, my trainer remounted, and she rode on perfectly.
9. One added bit of info: this was the first time she'd been taken off our property in 9 years.  That's pretty big.

How do I analyze that?

There are many times our horses aren't tuned into us 100%, but Bee is a green horse, and it's more important than ever that I have her undivided attention each step of the way.

I think, too, I will probably keep her in a circle for a while before letting her move out on straight lines--and then only short segments.  She needs to practice bending and moving--and it is more difficult to buck in a circle.

I will also keep contact in the bit for now.  I need to have that slight feel of her mouth at all times--if it becomes bracey, I know something is brewing, and I'm in a better position to pull her head up and around.  It all gives her another level of support from me and reminds here that I'm up there.  On that note, I'll continue to do some ground driving so that our communication through the bit becomes more and more rock solid on its own.

She needs lots of encouragement, so I'll stop her more often and give her praise and rest. She likes to please.  Leah hates to be told "good girl", but Bee melts when she hears it.

She has to be introduced to going new places slowly.  When I do trailer her away, the first few times I'll only pony her--no in saddle work.  Bee is a horse that has to have each step solid before proceeding to the next--no holes.

Oh, and I'm going to do all of our work at the walk until she's solid carrying a rider and yielding to leg and bit.  There's no reason for me to push her to the next gait before she's mastered the first.

I don't know if I'll face a buck from her someday-but I can sure narrow my chances with preparation.  I'm pretty positive she did not do it to be mean or to fight.  I believe wholeheartedly it was done instantaneously as a reaction to something that she perceived might hurt her.

I'm heading out this morning to ride her.  I'm asking my husband to take some video which I'll share later.

My next post will recap everything I've done to train Beautiful Girl since the bucking incident. We've done quite a bit.


  1. It sounds like a good analysis. My experience is that horses buck to release tension too. It's not intended to get poeple off (at least not at the beginning).

    1. Ah, you are right about that--let off some steam. Very true.

  2. So as I was looking at the photos and the videos, my thoughts were that the horse was checking out mentally, and not with her handler at all. No softness and connection. I don't get on them when they are like that- I learned that the hard way. It's part of the reason I haven't been riding Rosalee much this year, she keeps checking out mentally. The answer for me is more ground work, find more ways of keeping the horse with me mentally.Like you have been doing with the obstacles and ground driving.
    It will be interesting to follow your progress with her!

    1. Yes, my trainer can ride through most things, so she is more willing to take risks than I am. I have to have that connection. I just got in from our ride and I'm getting ready to post it. She was a bit more bracey today, so I'll be ground driving her again tomorrow. It may be good to stagger the two things for a while to get, and keep, her soft in the bridle. Balancing a rider just throws a whole nother BIG element into the mix.

  3. You are doing your horses a really big favour, and yourself too, by being so analytical. I think it's going marvelously.

    1. I agree. I can't help but be analytical, and it's good for us both, too. I'm they type that puts everything together as I go to sleep. I've learned to master many a sport that way--and instrument. My mind just chews and chews and rehearses and rehearses and they have found that ruminating like that does INDEED make changes in the brain. So, that's cool.

  4. It does seem as though Bee is a little bit checked out mentally in the pictures. Since I'm not a trainer I don't really feel qualified to give a lot of advice, I can only say what I've done from experience. When I've started green horses I took it very slow. We walked and walked some more until the horse was comfortable and listening. We did lots of circles and bending. And I know there is a tendency to want to do more but with every lesson as soon as I got what I asked for the horse got lots of praise and I always ended on a good note. It could have taken ten minutes or half an hour. We never went up to the next gait until the lessons were solid in the walk. And then if the trot was frustrating we went back to what was solid and repeated that so there was always a way for the horse to feel good about itself. So that's what I did, not everyone agrees but that's their prerogative. Good luck and have fun.

    1. I wholly agree! I think we do sometimes push our horses, and don’t even know it, and get lucky. It’s often hard to tell if we’re being overly cautious, and holding them back, or pushing them too fast. Cowboy, for instance. He’s a rock solid trail horse, but whenever I took him on big group rides he’d lose his mind. At first I thought he needed more group rides, but last year I realized he’s never going to be comfy with a big group of new horses. He’s an omega horse and he does not trust that situation and never will. Back to green horses though, I had a friend who trained and I got to watch her every day. She’d have 7 horses all year round. She’d get to the barn at 6 am and leave around 9 pm. I never saw a horse buck on her First rides and I asked her about that one day. She said if the horse bucked, she didn’t do her job right. That being said, Beautiful didn’t buck on her first 4 rides either. But leaving our property and being in a new place, new horse, was obviously too much for her.

  5. I'm not a trainer, so take anything I say with a (big) grain of salt. What I see is "too fast" leading to "overload" - your comment that the bucking seemed almost unintentional - her circuit breakers just popped because it was all too much. She was never settled (I don't look for 100% attention on the rider/handler as that's unrealistic even with a trained horse, but I'd like to see them come back to me and relax - a sigh, lowered head or licking/chewing) - head high, very looky and just stressed out although she wasn't acting up. She looked particularly worried just as your trainer was getting on. Going very slowly with her and making sure she's completely relaxed before taking the next step - no matter how long it takes - would be a good idea. Or even backing up a few steps - particularly in a new situation - to a level where she's comfortable again and then trying to move on from there, but making sure she's comfortable and can relax and let go of tension before the next step.

    Getting on a horse that's worried - even if you're a good rider and can deal with the consequences - is almost never a good idea - I've done it myself with predictable results. And you want her to have positive experiences during her training - even more important with a green horse - and to think of work as a relaxing place not a stressful one - and bucking/losing it is even more stressful for her than it is for the rider.

    But as I said, I'm not a trainer . . .

    1. Thanks, Kate. You’re absolutely right. Good point about the 100% attention, too. That’s never a real possibility. I actually like my horses being aware of the surroundings. Last month, Leah spotted a Moose in the trees and alerted to it. I praised her, stopped the ride, made a plan about how to avoid it, and adjusted. Cowboy alerts a lot, too. I always pat them to acknowledge their information, survey it, and make a decision. They’re happy with that.

      That’s reassuring about the “circuit breakers”. Reassuring because it confirms my instincts that we can avoid another incident if I can be patient and sensitive to her signals of stress.

      After that night, I realized it has to be me doing the rides because a trainer is trying to get things done for you; you’re paying them and they probably feel like they need to do something more. But it’s not fair to Bee or my trainer since I am the one doing the ground work. If I wouldn’t get on her, why should I ask someone else to?

      Patience is not easy for me, but the very strong desire to avoid any negative experiences for Bee is teaching me to be.

  6. It's been my experience that when starting a horse under saddle or in just riding them after some time off, they tend to exhibit their worst behaviors around the 3rd to 5th rides. I think it take the first few rides for them to catch on to the routine, and after they they start testing to see what they can get away with, and they are also still anxious at that point. But once it becomes routine and the anxiousness goes away, everything improves.

    1. You have a point there, too, and it was the 5th ride. My trainer’s assessment that night was that movement and riding would help Bee relax. It did for a while, but something definitely snapped. I think some horses are more stoic than others and hide their anxiety a little better. She does anyway. Becoming routine and decreasing anxiousness will happen, but we have a long way to go, at least when riding away from home. Good thing it’s winter! I have something to work on. Patience. Patience.


Please feel welcome to join our discussion by telling us about your own thoughts and experiences.