“He’s going through this phase where he sometimes tries to run out of the arena when I’m riding him,”
I said to my friend the other day when she asked why I got off of Chance in the arena instead of walking back to the barn. He has not done it in a while, but I now nearly always hop off before leaving the arena. My trainer suggested that I get off in different places throughout the arena, so he does not see one spot as an exit. It seems to be working. I swear this horse has had nearly every behavioral issue there is! Somehow, I have managed to work through them for the most part. Dealing with bad behavior is a part of life for riders and trainers. Knowing how best to respond to bucking, rearing, refusing, prematurely exiting the arena, and more is our foundation for working through our horses’ naughtiness.
The first thought that comes to most people’s minds when thinking about a naughty horse is a wild and crazy bucking bronco, kicking it’s feet high in the air while jumping and twisting – trying desperately to unseat the rider. Although most of our horses (hopefully) do not buck quite like rodeo broncs, they still can unseat us from time to time. Bucking an issue pretty much every rider has to deal with. My advice for bucking is… hold on! Just kidding, but really there is not much you can do if your horse wants to buck you off. Oftentimes though, bucking just means they’re fresh. Perhaps you asked for a pretty big distance at the last jump, or they have had time off of work. In any case, try to stay in the center, sit up, and stay calm. Also, try to ride through it. That is to say, keep the horse moving forward. Many people instinctually try to halt a bucking horse; however, this is counterproductive because the horse will then see bucking as a way to get out of work. Unless it is a total rodeo ride, just sit up and keep moving forward. Likely he or she is just overly excited and will come back to earth after a few hops. Horses love to be finished working, so unless the situation is truly dangerous we do not want to stop them when they misbehave. Again, if the horse wants to buck you off, there is nothing you can do except attempt to relax on the way down.
Old Westerns always make rearing seem so glamorous. The cowboy is never unseated, and in fact it appears that he did it on purpose. Then he and his trusty steed gallop off into the sunset. In real life (mine at least), rearing is anything but glamorous. I hate rearing. It is terrifying, and very dangerous. So, how do we deal with it? The absolute worst thing you can do is pull on the reigns and lean back. Horses do not have great balance on two legs, so pulling on the reigns and leaning back can cause them to flip over backwards. Thus, if you feel your horse lift up his front feet, lean forward and push your hands forward. Honestly, I would rather lose my balance and fall off (which has happened) then cause the horse to flip over. Luckily however, most horses do not stand straight up when they rear. They will do a little half rear. It is still good to have the instinct to lean forward rather then backward in any rearing situation. When the half rear happens, you want to move the horse forward by keeping the reigns loose and adding leg. Also, ask yourself why the horse is rearing. Has he or she refused a jump? Is it an in-gate issue? Reluctance to move forward? In my opinion, rearing is not simply the result of being fresh; there is an underlying cause. Horses use rearing as a means of escape. They want to rear, then run away from what is bothering them. They could be afraid, or not wanting to do what you are asking them to do. Something could be hurting them. Chance has often half-reared after refusing a jump, so dealing with the jump deals with the rear. He also reared when I tried to use spurs on him. They made him uncomfortable, so he wanted to escape them. If your horse has suddenly started rearing for seemingly no reason, check the fit of your saddle and look for any other signs that he or she could be hurting somewhere. If you cannot figure out the problem, have your vet evaluate your horse. Some soreness and discomfort does not cause lameness, so the only way our horses know how to tell us they are hurting is with an outburst.
Or sometimes they like to have outbursts for fun. As I said, Chance developed the inclination of prematurely exiting the arena. The first time he did it, the other people in my lesson were finished and were sitting on their horses near the gate. Chance and I had to pass the gate (and his buddies) on the way to a jump. As I turned him toward the jump, he refused to give to my left leg and moved sideways toward his friends. He had never done that before, so I was not really prepared for it. Now when I am coming off of that turn, I sit up, hold the outside reign, and keep my outside leg on. Also, I do not stop him at the gate. If we are done, I wait until I am past the gate to stop him. It is important to keep horses moving forward past the the places they want to stop at – whether it is the gate or the other horses. If they try to scoot out sideways, keep your outside leg on and hold on the outside reign.
The best remedy for bucking, rearing, and leaving the arena is to keep them moving forward. However, if your horse is suddenly exhibiting continual behavioral problems for no reason it could be that he or she is hurting. Check your saddle, and always get your vet involved if necessary. Also, if you are not comfortable on your horse and feel that you are in danger do not try to work through it. Ask your trainer to ride for you. If you do not have a trainer, find a professional to evaluate your horse and possibly ride for you. It is always better to ask for help than put yourself in a situation you do not feel safe in. True fear of a horse is very different than nerves. If you are afraid, ask for help!
I know I barely touched on bad horse behavior, so to be continued… And best of luck to all of you dealing with naughty horses!