Welcome to Bit of Honey Training LLC

Welcome to Bit of Honey Training LLC
Welcome to Bit of Honey Training LLC

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Bucking Horse Problem Solving

I have a new gelding in for training.  He came to me because he is a sweet, loveable gentleman who bucks like a bronc when asked to canter.  Today was a perfect example of bucking horse problem solving.  I wanted to know why he was bucking, so first, we'll list the issues to rule out before we consider it behavioral.

  1. Soundness.  If a horse hurts somewhere he will often buck as the only way he has of communicating that he hurts.  The owner was very proactive about the issue and had full workups done by the veterinarian and found no lameness issues.
  2. Saddle fit.  If the saddle doesn't fit, the horse will buck as his only way of communicating that he hurts.  Imagine yourself working for hours and hours in shoes that are too tight, with no words to say how much you hurt.  This owner was very careful about saddle fit, having several people check fit on her horse while he was present.  The saddles looked like they fit him relatively well.
  3. Dental issues.  Horses' teeth are continually erupting, and need to be gently filed on at least an annual basis to prevent uneven wear, which creates imbalances in the mouth, sharp points, and can influence lameness and neurological proprioception (how the horse knows where his body is in space).  If a horse's teeth don't align properly, or if there are sharp points on them often they will buck as their only way of telling the humans around them that they hurt.  Other common signs that a horse needs dental work are head tilting, subtle lameness, mouthy-ness, biting, agitation or misbehavior when being bridled and unbridled, trouble eating, chewing on only one side of the mouth, or dropping feed. 

This particular horse is fortunate to have a very attentive owner, who has given him regular veterinary care.  Lameness had been ruled out by a qualified veterinarian, the saddles appeared to fit, and just dental work was left to be attended to while he is here in training.

So this morning I worked with him on determining why he was bucking.  It was a very strategic process of elimination.

  1. I started by lunging him in the arena, wearing only his halter and the lungeline.  This gave me a baseline for how he moved, and gave me a chance to see what he looked like without any external influences from equipment.  He was able to walk, trot, canter, whoa, and reverse comfortably, stretching and looking quite happy.  I did not see any lameness or difficulty balancing.
  2. Then I added his western saddle.  While tacking up I look for any signs of tension or discomfort in the horse, like lifting his head, pinning his ears, trying to bite the saddle (or me), rubbing the cinch with his nose, hunching his back, holding his breath, pawing....  basically anything that would indicate he's unhappy.  He was such a gentleman, he just stood quietly while I carefully did all his straps and he showed no ill behavior.
  3. I began lunging him again, carefully watching him for discomfort.  He was somewhat tense at the walk and more so at the trot.  The saddle bounced a bit in the back as he moved.  Then the saddle began to slip backwards incrementally.  Because the horse has a very long back, and the lowest point on his back must match the lowest point on the saddle because gravity is the rule here on planet earth, the saddle will scoot whichever direction it must to make those two points line up.  On short backed horses often the saddle will work it's way forward, and long backed horses the saddle will slide back until the low points align.  When I asked him to canter on the lunge line, he absolutely exploded, bursting into a rodeo display that would make any cowboy proud.  I asked him to halt, and he did, lowering his head and coming towards me with soft eyes and tight lips.  I noted that the more he moved, the further back the saddle slid, the more the back of the saddle would bounce and smack him on his low back, causing the back cinch to act as a bucking strap on his flank and grab him every stride.  He was such a good sport, he tolerated it with no indication other than tension until it was absolutely too much for him, and that was when he took off.
  4. I removed the back cinch and lunged him again, this time his tension in the trot was enough to see that it was the saddle smacking him in the low back that bothered him and the cinch just compounded the issue.  
  5. I added the breast collar to prevent the saddle from slipping back, but then the low points won't match.  He was still very uncomfortable lunging.
  6. I removed the western saddle and all its rigging, and instead put on the english saddle which also looked as though it fit well while he was standing still.  No indication of discomfort while tacking up.
  7. He lunged quite nicely with the english saddle, relaxed and happy.
This is not to say that one style of saddle is better than any other, it only matters how that particular saddle fits that particular horse.  It's very important to notice not only how the saddle appears to fit when the horse is standing square on level ground, but also how the saddle fits while the horse is moving.  The horse will be your best guide to whether something works or not, and this gelding was so well behaved, not complaining at all until it was absolutely too much for him, and then he exploded. My goal for the day was to get him in tack that he liked and which was comfortable for him (based on what he told me with his behavior, not based on anything I personally measured).  I went through this same step-by-step process of lunging, adding a new piece of tack, then lunging again with the bit, bridle, and nosebands.  When we had a setup of equipment that he was happy and relaxed in, I hopped on and we went for a very nice ride.  He is a very motivated horse, thriving on positive reinforcement and praise.  He is intelligent and tried so hard to do absolutely everything I asked of him.  I think we're going to have a great month of training and involving his owner with how he's being taught so that when he goes home it is a successful transition.

The horse's opinion matters, and it's important to listen to him and give him a way to tell you what is bothering him.  Successful morning!  Then I went and moved 6.5 tons of hay, at 110# bales, which amounted to moving 13,000 pounds of hay.  I may be sore tomorrow.  But all in all a really productive Tuesday.

10/14/13 Now that we have the bucking resolved Obie is on to bigger and better things!

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