First, let’s define what bucking really is. What a lot of people call bucking is when the horse’s front legs stay on the ground and he kicks up his back legs. That’s not bucking. Bucking to me is what you see at the rodeo: All four feet are off the ground, the horse’s head is down low, his mouth is open, and he is bellowing like a cow giving birth. When a horse is really bucking, you know it.
Kicking up or “crow hopping” is a simple demonstration of the horse’s lack of respect. What type of horse usually kicks up? A lazy horse that doesn’t want to go forward. When you ask a horse to go from a trot to a canter and he kicks up with his back legs, it’s his way of telling you to get lost.
On the other hand, most horses that are really bucking are not showing a lack of respect. Instead, they are reacting to fear: fear of you being on their back, the back cinch, your spurs or something that jumped out of the bushes in front of them. Something caused the horse to use the reactive side of his brain. That’s how most horses learn to buck.
Sometimes, once a horse has dumped a rider several times, he starts bucking out of habit, not so much out of fear. What may have started out as a fear issue turns into a lack-of-respect issue.
Whether your horse is kicking up to demonstrate his lack of respect or truly bucking out of fear or habit, there are several ways to fix the problem. If he’s kicking up because he doesn’t want to go forward, get his feet moving better on the ground with roundpenning exercises or lunging. Get him so hooked on you that as soon as you ask him to move by pointing with your hand, he immediately responds with a “Yes, Sir!” sort of response. If you get rid of his laziness and lack of respect on the ground first, when you get on him, he’ll be a lot more willing to go forward. In fact, if you thoroughly do your groundwork, more than likely, kicking up under saddle will no longer even be an issue.
When you do get on the horse, squeeze with both legs to ask him to go forward. Wait for a count of two, and if he doesn’t go, cluck. Wait for another count of two, and if he doesn’t go forward, spank him side to side with your reins or a whip. If you spank with rhythm and he kicks up, spank him again: whack, whack.
Often, the horse is likely to kick up again, and you’ll spank him again: whack, whack. You have to keep repeating this until the horse realizes that every time his back legs leave the ground, you are going to make him feel uncomfortable, and every time he keeps his feet on the ground, you’ll leave him alone.
You have to be a confident rider to go through this process. If you’re not, and you do your groundwork thoroughly and correctly, your horse probably won’t kick up under saddle. He’ll more than likely go forward as soon as you squeeze and cluck. Or, with a little bit of spank, he’ll go forward.
If you do a poor job on the ground, or if you quit too soon, then you’ll have to fix it under saddle. If you’re inexperienced or fearful, this might be too much for your ability. If that’s the case, be sure to do a better job on the ground, and then have a more experienced rider ride the horse for a few days to get his feet moving.
It’s also important to note that if a horse is not just kicking up, but is actually bucking like he’s in a rodeo, the last thing you want to do is spank him. If you spank a horse that is truly bucking, he’ll only buck harder. That’s why you have to understand the difference.
With a horse that is bucking, do a One Rein Stop ““ bend his head and neck around to one side and then disengage his hindquarters ““ get his hind legs to cross. By bending his head and neck and disengaging his hindquarters, you take away his ability to rear and buck because his hind legs are moving laterally. As soon as he’s stopped, get off him and go to work moving his feet from the ground. Don’t get off and put him away, and let him rest. If you do either of those things, you’ll teach him that bucking is what got you to get off his back. Hustle his feet so that he understands that bucking was a big mistake.
Author note: Clinton Anderson is a clinician, horse trainer and competitor. He’s dedicated his life to helping others realize their horsemanship dreams and keeping them inspired to achieve their goals. The Downunder Horsemanship Method gives horse owners the knowledge needed to become skilled horsemen and train their horses to be consistent and willing partners. Discover for yourself how Clinton and the Method can help you achieve your horsemanship dreams at: