9 Reasons Your Horse is Bucking (and how to stop it) (2024)

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If you’ve ever had the misfortune of being on the back of a bucking bronco, you’ll know how uncomfortable (and downright dangerous) it can be. Horses will buck for all kinds of reasons, and sometimes a well-timed buck can seem to come totally out of nowhere.

9 Reasons Your Horse is Bucking (and how to stop it) (1)

Maybe it starts with a little crow hop after a jump. Maybe your horse throws a buck or two after you ask him to move forward. Or maybe he fully launches into a rodeo performance that sends you flying over his head.

If your horse has started bucking, here are 7 possible reasons why – and what you can do to keep your horse’s feet on the ground and your behind in the saddle.

Bucking is a natural horse behavior – but what does it mean?

Because horses can’t talk, they communicate through body language. A horse is bucking when he puts his head down and kicks his back legs into the air.

It’s normal equine behavior and part of their “fight or flight” response to a threat. In this case, the “threat” is the predator on his back (his rider) – and a buck is his version of “fight”.

A buck can be a small protest against a poorly fitting saddle, or it can be part of a series of wild jumps, kicks, and “crow hops” that you see buckin’ broncs performing at the rodeo (crow hops are when a horse seems to jump stiff-legged into the air with all four feet). It could also be a sign of loneliness in your horse.

While free bucking in a pasture is usually a harmless expression of playfulness or irritation, a bucking horse under saddle can cause problems for its rider – problems that can turn dangerous very quickly.

If your horse has picked up the bucking habit, it’s important to get to the root cause right away (otherwise, you might end up in the dirt).

Here are some of the common culprits for a bucking fit that should be addressed immediately, and what you can do about them.

1. Back Pain

If your mild-mannered and well-trained horse has started bucking out of nowhere, there’s a good chance he’s in pain somewhere and is trying to tell you – especially if that pain is caused by the weight of a rider.

If your horse has a sore back, he may buck you off to relieve the pressure on his spine (source).

Bucking is also a common symptom of a chronic underlying disease, such as recurrent ulcers or kissing spine.

If your horse is acting like his normal self on the ground and bucking only while under saddle, there’s a decent chance he has some kind of back pain that needs to be addressed.

What you can do about it:

Call your veterinarian right away. They may prescribe anti-inflammatory medication, administer injections, or give you further diagnostic instructions (such as an X-Ray or ultrasound).

Always consult a professional if you think your horse is in pain, and maintain a routine veterinary exam visit schedule to keep abreast of any issues.

2. Sore Feet or Lameness

A bad back isn’t the only thing that can cause bucking. A horse with an abscess or other foot injury may resort to bucking if his rider doesn’t take the hint and dismount.

He may carry his own weight just fine, but the added weight of a rider could put too much pressure on the injured limb.

What you can do about it:

It’s important to maintain good grooming practices with your horse. This includes checking his feet before and after every ride. Check for loose shoes, stray rocks, or signs of decay or disease.

Keeping a good schedule with your farrier for regular hoof trims and checks will help prevent foot and leg problems before they end with you on the ground.

3. Mouth Disease

If a horse can’t relieve painful pressure in his mouth by tossing his head – he may put his head down and try to relieve the pressure on his back instead.

Unfortunately, mouth pain can escalate a bucking scenario. When your horse puts his head down and you try to pull it up (and therefore put excess pressure on his sore mouth) – you both end up in a dangerous situation.

What you can do about it:

Don’t forget to check your horse’s mouth for foreign objects or broken teeth.

If the veterinarian and equine dentist have cleared your horse of any mouth problems, consider downgrading your bit to something else – or consult with a trainer to see where you can make adjustments.

4. Ill-Fitting Tack

You may have gotten away with throwing an old hand-me-down saddle on your horse before, but perhaps he’s put on or lost weight and it no longer fits him properly.

This is especially true for English saddles, but it can happen for those in Western disciplines too.

Horses can change shape and size just as easily as their human riders (if not more so). When a saddle is pinching at the withers or a girth is too tight around his belly, it can be pretty uncomfortable for the horse – and incentivize him to buck it off.

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What you can do about it:

Consult a saddle fitter to make sure his tack isn’t causing the problem, especially if your horse has gained or lost weight recently.

They can also give you tips for making your saddles fit better for short-term issues (trying different saddle pads or girths, for example).

5. Poor Riding

If the vet has given your horse the all-clear and his tack is fitting properly, it’s important to examine your riding.

Are you sitting too heavy in the saddle? Are you balancing on your hands? Is your horse confused or frustrated by what you’re asking him to do?

It’s always helpful to go back to basics and try to figure out if the disagreement you’re having with your horse is caused by your riding or something else entirely.

What you can do about it:

Taking a professional lesson with a trainer can be a wonderful way to get a pair of well-trained eyes on your situation (a bonus if that trainer works with bucking horses).

If you can’t get to a lesson right away, have someone take a video of you riding so you can identify where the problem spots might be – especially if your horse is bucking inconsistently or seemingly at random.

6. Excitement

While bucking isn’t desirable under saddle, sometimes your horse will just buck as a display of “feeling his oats.” If your horse is young, green, or just all-around excitable – he may be more prone to bucking than a sleepy schoolmaster.

However, he does need to learn that this behavior is not acceptable, otherwise you both could be in a world of trouble.

What you can do about it:

If your horse is constantly coming up fresh for your rides, consider more turnout time in the pasture.

If that’s not possible, try lunging him for a good warmup before you get on. This will also give you the advantage of seeing what sort of mood he’s in before your foot hits the stirrup.

Certain feed or supplements can also make a horse more jittery than normal – which can be handy in the show ring, but not so much for a casual ride around a paddock.

Check with your veterinarian or trainer for guidance if you’re considering switching or reducing supplements or feed.

7. Bad Habit

Horses are smart, and may quickly learn that they can buck off a timid or inexperienced rider to get out of work. Many trainers agree that bucking horses are the lazy kind – as hard-working and athletic horses tend to flee (source).

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Horses that don’t want to move forward may buck as a form of disobedience, especially when asked to canter or lope. If you’ve exhausted all other possibilities, it’s likely that your horse’s bucking is a behavioral issue, and needs to be retrained (source).

8. Ulcers

A sore back may come from overwork or a tweaked muscle, but it can also be something more serious. Many horses are afflicted with gastric ulcers – painful sores on a horse’s stomach lining that are caused by increased gastric acid production.

Rigorous exercise and traditional two-a-day feeding schedules can cause a buildup of acid in the stomach, which is why it’s estimated that ulcers may be prevalent in 50-90% of horses (even though many horses don’t show any symptoms). (source)

Because a horse’s stomach sits right in the middle of his body, putting pressure on these painful sores with a saddle, girth, or rider can cause an intense bucking reaction.

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Ulcers tend to be more prevalent in hard-working horses that are exercised regularly, which also means that you’re more prone to being bucked off if your horse is afflicted by them.

What you can do about it: Ask your veterinarian to check for ulcers, and they’ll use an endoscope for definitive proof.

Give your horse a break from rigorous training and riding, and increase turnout time if you can. Include some alfalfa into his diet, and your veterinarian may prescribe omeprazole and/or sucralfate to help.

9. Kissing Spine

Another common back problem that can cause bucking is overriding dorsal spinous processes or “kissing spine”. A healthy horse spine has some space between the individual vertebrae, allowing them to move freely without pain.

Horses that experience kissing spine will have two or more bony projections at the top of the vertebrae that “kiss” or overlap – causing pain and discomfort when they move in certain ways. (source)

This condition can be caused by poor training or ill-fitting tack, but it is still not well-understood. The horse may be fine on the ground or moving at a relaxed gait, but may buck unexpectedly if asked to move a certain way that feels uncomfortable – even if the rest of the ride has been perfectly calm.

What you can do about it: Kissing spine needs to be diagnosed by a veterinarian. It can be managed with muscle relaxers or other pain relievers, and steroid injections can also help.

Physical therapy, stretching, and proper exercise to strengthen the back muscles can alleviate the symptoms in the long-term.

What you can do about it:

If you don’t feel comfortable retraining your horse yourself, consult a professional trainer. There are a ton of tools and tricks out there to help your horse learn that bucking won’t, in fact, get him out of a hard day’s work (source).

Just remember to take it slowly and as safely as possible, and starting with groundwork will almost always be your best bet.

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Bucking in Horses

Bucking is a natural behavior in horses and is part of their "fight or flight" response to a perceived threat. It involves the horse putting its head down and kicking its back legs into the air. Horses may buck for various reasons, and it is important to understand the underlying causes to address the issue effectively.

Common Reasons for Bucking in Horses

The article mentions several possible reasons for a horse to start bucking. Let's explore each of these reasons:

  1. Back Pain: Back pain can be a significant cause of bucking in horses. If a horse is experiencing discomfort or pain in its back, it may try to relieve the pressure by bucking. Back pain can be caused by various factors, including a poorly fitting saddle, chronic underlying diseases like ulcers or kissing spine, or muscle soreness. It is essential to consult a veterinarian to diagnose and address any potential back issues in your horse [[1]].

  2. Sore Feet or Lameness: Horses with foot injuries or abscesses may resort to bucking if the added weight of a rider puts too much pressure on the injured limb. Regular grooming practices, such as checking the horse's feet before and after every ride, can help identify any foot problems. Maintaining a good schedule with a farrier for regular hoof trims and checks is also important [[2]].

  3. Mouth Disease: Mouth pain can escalate a bucking scenario. If a horse is experiencing painful pressure in its mouth and cannot relieve it by tossing its head, it may put its head down and try to relieve the pressure on its back instead. Checking the horse's mouth for foreign objects or broken teeth is crucial. If the horse's mouth has been cleared of any problems, downgrading the bit or consulting with a trainer for adjustments may be necessary [[3]].

  4. Ill-Fitting Tack: Using ill-fitting tack, such as saddles or girths, can cause discomfort for the horse and incentivize it to buck. Horses can change shape and size, so it is important to ensure that the tack fits properly. Consulting a saddle fitter can help determine if the tack is causing the problem [[4]].

  5. Poor Riding: Sometimes, bucking may be caused by the rider's actions. Sitting too heavily in the saddle, balancing on the hands, or confusing the horse with unclear cues can lead to bucking. Going back to basics and examining one's riding technique is important. Taking professional lessons or having someone record a video of the rider can help identify any problem areas [[5]].

  6. Excitement: Bucking can also be a display of excitement in horses, particularly in young or excitable horses. Increasing turnout time in the pasture or lunging the horse for a warm-up before riding can help manage excess energy. Consulting with a veterinarian or trainer regarding feed or supplement changes may also be beneficial [[6]].

  7. Bad Habit: Horses can learn that bucking off a timid or inexperienced rider allows them to avoid work. Retraining may be necessary to address this behavioral issue. Seeking guidance from a professional trainer can be helpful in retraining the horse [[7]].

  8. Ulcers: Gastric ulcers, painful sores on a horse's stomach lining caused by increased gastric acid production, can lead to bucking. Pressure from a saddle, girth, or rider can exacerbate the pain. Consulting a veterinarian to check for ulcers and making dietary and management changes, such as including alfalfa in the horse's diet and prescribing appropriate medications, can help manage ulcers [[8]].

  9. Kissing Spine: Kissing spine is a condition where the dorsal spinous processes of the horse's vertebrae overlap, causing pain and discomfort. This condition can lead to bucking, especially when the horse is asked to move in certain ways. Diagnosis and management of kissing spine should be done by a veterinarian, and treatment may involve muscle relaxers, pain relievers, steroid injections, physical therapy, stretching, and proper exercise to strengthen the back muscles [[9]].

It is important to note that each horse is unique, and the underlying cause of bucking may vary. Consulting with a veterinarian, trainer, or other equine professionals is crucial for accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment.

I hope this information helps you understand the various reasons why horses may buck and how to address the issue. If you have any further questions, feel free to ask!

9 Reasons Your Horse is Bucking (and how to stop it) (2024)


How do you get a horse to stop bucking? ›

If he rushes forward or bucks, immediately pull his head to the left or right by bringing that rein hand back to your hip. Use a steady pull, not a jerk, to circle your horse down to a stop. Gather your wits, then ask again for a lope. Repeat the request until he departs without incident.

Why would a horse suddenly start bucking? ›

Bucking seems to be a natural equine response to pain, although the biological reason for that remains unclear. “We can't necessarily say it's pain relief, but it's definitely a reaction to pain,” says Dyson. The No. 1 thing I look for in bucking horses is kissing spines.

What pain would cause a horse to buck? ›

A variety of physical problems may cause a horse to buck including mouth problems (loose wolf tooth, mouth wound, a snaffle that pinches the corner of the mouth), ill-fitting saddles, back pain, irritation under the saddle pad, or lameness due to an undiagnosed injury.

Does a martingale stop bucking? ›

The primary difficulty in use of a running martingale is the inability to raise the horse's head in the event of the animal bucking. If adjusted too short, lateral use of the reins may be impeded.

Do draw reins stop bucking? ›

They encourage the horse to raise its head, although they may cause slight pressure on the poll, and are therefore good for certain horses that buck and plunge with the head lowered, attempt to run away by first lowering the head, and for horses that pull, lean on the bit, or have learned to lower the head and stop to ...

What makes a horse buck? ›

Bucking due to uncomfortable tack

Wearing tack that pinches or rubs can cause horses to have a meltdown and buck. For this reason, it's essential that you check your horse's tack fits correctly and is comfortable for your horse before riding or exercising them in it.

How long do bucking horses last? ›

On average, a bucking horse's career lasts until they are about 12, although there are exceptions. Croppy is Wyman's 26-year-old bucking horse, named for freezing his ears off as a baby. While some horses like Croppy can work into their 20s, most lose their athleticism.

Can ulcers cause a horse to buck? ›

In addition to the symptoms listed in the film, horses who have ulcers may be aggressive generally, protective about their food, grouchy when having their stomach groomed or touched and they may exhibit a whole range of ridden problems including bucking or a reluctance to go forward.

What does it mean when a horse buck? ›

Horse bucking as an act of disobedience or discomfort. Bucking in horses, especially if triggered by fear, pain or excitement, is generally a minor disobedience, unless it is strong enough to unseat the rider, at which point it is a dangerous act.

How do I stop my horse from bucking when excited? ›

A horse cannot buck if he has a lateral bend throughout his body, through his head, neck and rib cage. By bringing your horse into a tight circle with one rein is very effective at stopping your horse from bucking.

How do horses act when in pain? ›

Owners should pay close attention to behavioral changes such as diminished enthusiasm for feeding, sluggish or hesitant movements, or an unusual preference for solitude over the company of other horses. Some horses may exhibit discomfort when being saddled or become overly reactive under saddle.

Which usually indicates a horse is in pain? ›

Grinding teeth and/or excessive drooling. Weight loss. Squinting or closed eyes. Biting or staring at a particular body region.

Why does my horse buck when I ask him to trot? ›

Usually, these behaviours are either because a horse is sore or because they don't understand what you're asking – or can't do what you're asking, even if they're not in pain. The natural place to start, especially if the behaviour is new, is with a basic check of the saddle, back, and teeth.

Why do horses pigroot? ›

This is a knee jerk reaction due to a fear of the horse rushing when they break into a canter. Some horses will refuse to canter and just trot faster and faster through fear of this and others will pigroot or in worse cases buck as they transition.

What does a standing martingale do for a horse? ›

A standing martingale is a piece of tack that helps restrict how high a horse can raise or toss its head, keeping better control over its head. Standing martingales are made from leather with a neck strap that has one piece connecting to the girth with the other connecting to the noseband.

How do you calm a frisky horse? ›

This can be achieved by breathing slowly and deeply to maintain a steady heartbeat. You might also try to keep a positive attitude in general, which could include soothing the horse by talking or singing softly to it before riding. Pet the horse before and while riding.

How do you slow down a horse without pulling it? ›

Bending and turning your horse will! When you ask your horse to circle and turn it will automatically slow them down and you can accomplish this without pulling! Riding your horse in a slight shoulder-fore at all times will also help you to accomplish this and to regulate the speed of your horse!

How long do bucking horses buck? ›

A horse or bull may only buck four to six times a month, then will be turned out and another group of stock will go on the road. This means that each animal works an average of only ten minutes a year... what a life!

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