Why do horses buck and how should we approach them

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Irrespective of what we endeavour with our horses, the first consideration to bear in mind should be how the horse experiences what we are doing.

Have you ever considered why a horse bucks the first time we try to mount it?

To answer that question we have to return to a horse’s natural state. While humans have progressed tremendously in science and technology over the last centuries, and even decades, the mind of a horse is still very much the same as it was thousands of years ago. We have influenced the direction of breeding by selecting individuals which have a more trainable and submissive disposition, but the basic reasoning ability, and their association with certain phenomena are very much what it was thousands of years ago. We call it instinct.

We should bear in mind that the horse is an animal of prey, meaning that it is the prey of predators. God gave them a natural ability to protect themselves against predator order to survive (instinct). So how does the horse experience it when you put something (a saddle) onto its back, and you try to mount it?

Cats, such as lions, leopards and tigers attack its prey from behind, jumping onto it and killing or paralyzing it with its teeth. In other words: the horse “knows” that something which rises up behind its head, puts its weight onto its back and moves around on its back, has only one intention: to kill it for food. Even though horses are to a large extent not exposed to the danger it experienced millennia ago, the natural fear is still existent (even city dwellers who have not seen a lion for generations, have an inborn fear of lions). So, when we put a saddle onto its back, the inborn protection mechanism kicks in. Even though you might have trained hundreds of horses before, this is the first time the horse experiences this. Come to think about it: has anything ever tried to get onto its back before? What could this mean, but a motive to kill? Scary!!!! Add to this the added awareness of weight (resembling the weight of the predator): it should not be hard to imagine what goes through the horse’s mind. To him it poses an immediate threat. His only knowledge of a situation such as this, is that it means death.




Likewise canines (dogs, hyenas etc.) attack the belly area of its bigger prey, such as horses. Any specie, including humans, is especially sensitive around the belly and flank areas. How easily can most people be tickled in the flank. As one gets older, sensitivity diminishes and nerves grow blunter. The same applies to a horse.

So how can we overcome this seemingly insurmountable obstacle?

Firstly we should familiarize the horse with seeing something behind it. I slowly try to raise myself by putting my foot in the stirrup and retreating continuously, raising a little higher each time, getting the horse accustomed to the sight of something behind it gradually, from both sides.

Secondly, the horse should learn to accept weight on its back, gradually. Start by putting weight in the stirrup on both sides, mounting slowly and raising yourself slowly until your full weight is on the horse’s back.

Once the horse accepts you on its back, it should start moving around with someone on its back. I usually start in the stable, and only move out once the horse becomes comfortable with the procedure in the stable.

Fortunately we haven’t got all the odds stacked against us. Hugo E Slabbert has been training horses of various breeds for almost a lifetime. He has written an e-book, EASY HORSE, on the subject, focusing on the way a horse experiences the things we do to it during training, and providing practical techniques on how to overcome the problems we normally experience. This e-book covers a very broad spectrum of horsemanship in a practical, simple way even novices can apply.