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

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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.

Horse Bucking

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).

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

Horse bucking with riding handling

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.

Horse riding tack

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).

Wild horse bucking

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.

Horse being treated for ulcer

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.

April Lee

I've owned horses for 25 years and have a particular love for gentling wild horses. I write these articles to help others learn more about horses. If you enjoyed the article please take a moment to pin it to Pinterest or share on social media. It really does help! Check out my about page for more detailed information.