Why Is My Horse Bucking?

15 September 2020

We’re here to help you figure out why your horse has started kicking up those back legs...

A bucking horse can not only be scary and intimidating to ride, but dangerous too.


If bucking becomes a habit, it can be hard to break and you might find yourself being nervous to get on or reluctant to tackle the issue. This in itself can lead to more behavioural issues.


Bucking can be a complex problem, so we’re here to help you figure out why your horse has started kicking up those back legs!


There are a few things that can lead to bucking – pain, excitement, or a lack of understanding of what is being asked.


Figuring out what the root cause of the bucking might be is key to handling the situation. Here’s a few questions you need to ask yourself to try and get to the bottom of the bucking:

  • Is this is a new problem?
  • When does the bucking happen – in one particular gait, only in certain footings or when hacking, when other horses canter past, after a jump, when he spooks? There’s lots of facets you can look at but try to be as objective as possible and see if you can pinpoint any patterns or triggers for the bucking
  • Have you changed anything lately? Look at things like tack and riding habits as well as management aspects like feed changes, vet or chiropractic treatments, a change of seasons or new yard and so on
  • Does the horse buck with other, more experienced riders too? What about lighter riders?
  • Are there other behavioural changes like biting, spooking, the horse becoming hotter or more resistant?


Let’s find out more…

Have everything
checked by the

Pain as a Reason for Bucking

Pain is a common culprit in bucking horses and should be the first thing you investigate, especially if your horse has started bucking recently or other behaviour changes are also present.


If your horse has suddenly become reluctant to move off the leg or resistant in the contact for instance, you’ll likely find that something is hurting.


The general term ‘pain’ can encompass a wide variety of issues so can be hard to pinpoint, but the most logical place to start is the saddle, back, and teeth.


Have everything checked by the professionals and try to see if you can ride in a different, well-fitting saddle to see if that makes any difference.


If there’s nothing obvious here, you can also get a vet to do a work up. This might involve the vet watching you ride and seeing if they can note any patterns or problems in the horse’s movement, as well as some basic flexion tests and trot ups.


Depending on the findings, the vet may recommend further investigation into one or more areas to see if there’s a problem.


There are obviously a multitude of things that might cause pain and make a horse buck, but these are just a few of the most common:

  • Kissing spine
  • Sacroiliac problems or soreness
  • Ulcers
  • Poorly fitting saddle
  • Problems with the teeth causing discomfort in the mouth




 Other Reasons for Bucking 

If you’re quite certain that pain isn’t the reason for your horse’s hi-jinks, then it’s time to look at more behavioural-based issues.


It’s true that some horses are definitely more reactive than others and excitement or exuberance can definitely be enough to make a horse kick his heels up – as you’ll have seen from horses bucking in the paddock if they’re racing around or feeling particularly fresh.


If exuberance seems to be the problem, you’ll have to tackle it tactfully with a holistic approach. Is he getting enough turnout and a suitable diet? Could you cut feed and let your horse spend a bit more time chilling in the paddock? Is the horse young and just being playful, much in the same way that puppies eventually calm down as they get older? Or is he not getting enough time in the saddle working?


Each problem has a slightly different answer, and you’ll need to work with an instructor and possibly yard owner or manager to help you tackle it effectively.


If you’re an inexperienced rider, it’s possible that your horse might be bucking because he’s feeling confused or frustrated by your aids as well.


Sometimes this can happen with experienced riders on particularly sensitive horses, or even schoolmaster horses who are used to being ridden in a specific way. If your aids are unclear or inconsistent, the horse might buck to get away from a too-tight contact, in response to a nagging leg or tight grip with the thighs, or in protest against a rider who is bouncing or getting ‘noisy’ with their aids.


Putting another rider or two on can help to determine if this might be the case for you. If so, at least you know that the problem is fixable – you just need to work on yourself and make your aids quiet, clear, and consistent!


There’s also no overlooking the fact that regardless of the root cause, there are plenty of horses who have learnt to buck because they get rewarded for it. What was once an isolated buck or two quickly becomes a habit once it works!


Think about it: if you ride, the horse throws one or two bucks and you get off and put him away or back off and work him much more lightly and cautiously, he’s likely to cotton on to the fact that bucking = less/no work.


Horses are smart, and this quickly becomes an evasion tactic. If this is happening with your horse, it’s important to quietly and calmly work through the bucking problem without losing your nerve or your temper!


Best of luck with solving the issue with your horse! Check out FEI.org's Teach Me section for more top tips on riding and horsemanship...


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