Updated: Sep 29, 2020
Today I want to talk about the horse's perspective when something goes wrong (e.g. the
rider gets bucked off or injured as a result of horse's actions). As you read these very true scenarios, please think about the horse's perspective and other things that could be at play, but also, how we are often quick to blame the horse. After the scenarios, I have provided what I understood to be the root cause of the incident, as well as ways to address or handle these types of situations.
Below, you will see a video of my Arabian Scout throw a few bucks and me telling the rider to pull back to get him to stop bucking and just woah.
#1 Gypsy went to several homes and was rejected because she was fast and didn't respond to a bit very well. She wanted to trot everywhere, and had a very uncomfortable trot to top it off. She was a little pushy on the ground and wouldn't load in a trailer. #2 The Green Rider: Chief was cantering around a round pen and lowered his head. This pulled the reins and caused the rider to come forward and unbalanced and she fell off. The rider claimed that she was bucked off. #3 The Unpredictable Horse: Smokey is very spooky on the ground, when under saddle 95% of the time he is excellent, but the other 5% of he time, he pulls his head up and bolts, then ends it with bucking like a bronc always resulting in his rider's unplanned dismount. #4 The Tender Back Horse: Gypsy was running through the field bareback with me on her back. She slows down significantly and lowers her head and throws a small buck. I somersaulted off landing in the grass. She stopped and waited for me to get up. #5 The Anxious Horse: Smokey was on a trail ride where we kept stopping and turning around and going back then going forward on several occasions. He was forced to stand still and be patient, but finally as we were riding back home up very steep hills, he became explosive. He would bolt up the hills, finally at the top of one of the hills, he started bucking furiously until I came off, resulting in a broken clavicle, and hitting my head very hard on a large rock (luckily I was wearing a brand new helmet). What do you think of these scenarios? Are these bad horses, or are they just situations that occur because we have trained wild animals to be our pets and mode of transportation as well as our teammates and athletes? Are these actual problems? Well the first thing is to address each of the issues and look for underlying causes/root cause. Why is the horse behaving this way? What else was happening? What was the rider doing that could have stopped the situation before it happened? Did the rider cause the incident? How could it have been handled differently? #1 In the first situation, Gypsy appeared to be a "bad horse" to the untrained eye. She was very green and it seems that people want to adopt cheap horses because they don't want to invest a lot of money into something that their kid or spouse just decides on a whim to "want". We all know kids want something and then moments later, they are bored with it. How does that impact the horse industry? Well, the small investment leads to an untrained or injured horse, that likely ends up either being a lawn ornament or at the auction then meat market because it injured or scared an unexperienced rider. The parents then freak out and say "get rid of that damn horse" and it goes to the next family who is looking for a cheap toy. Eventually, it ends up with a $300 price tag which is just right for a kill buyer. Now, with that said, my point is, that Gypsy could have very easily ended up in a situation like that if she were in the wrong hands. To me, she was a green horse that needed work, not a horse my child could climb on and be trusted to ride around on their own. #2 Chief was being sold by a horse trader who purchased him at auction. He appeared to be a great horse, but what the rider did not know, or was too green to know, was that he had a very sensitive mouth and very sensitive sides. Whoever broke Chief did a great job, because he was extremely responsive to little movements, he would have been a great dressage horse. So when the rider pulled tight against Chief's soft mouth, he protested by pulling his head forward and down in hopes to release the harsh pressure. The rider likely had a nice tight grip on those reins, and was thrown slightly forward and off balance when this happened, resulting in her tumbling off of the horse. The rider may have felt a forward motion, assuming that the horse bucked, but without actually knowing that he only pulled his head forward and lowered it. #3 Now this is a tricky situation that I have yet to master. I work on his spookiness often with sensitivity training. However, every once in awhile, under saddle, this guy will just grab the bit and go for it. This means that he pulls his head out of frame by lifting it up and moving it forward like a racehorse/giraffe. This takes all control away from the rider if they can't catch it before or while it is happening. Then he will start bucking to get the rider off. The only solution I have for this problem is to really maintain vigilance when riding this guy. He is unpredictable at times, which is a very scary attribute. He is not a bad horse, he is A HORSE. Horses are animals that we have domesticated by capturing, then throwing a saddle on their backs (which predators use as the main method to attack horses because they can't see behind them very well) and asking them to listen to us simply because we apply pressure and release pressure. I don't have a solution to this, I can only offer an understanding of the horse's mindset and respect him and know his limitations. #4 This again was my own fault. What I learned shortly after this, was that the way my butt bones hit Gypsy when cantering bareback or even with a bareback pad, is painful to her. This is the only situation where she has attempted to remove a person from her back. I also learned that it is ME. Other's have ridden her at a canter bareback and she is completely comfortable. However, something on me, hits her in a way that is painful and as a result, her response is a head drop and a small crow hop. She cannot talk to me and tell me that it hurts, this is her only way to communicate with me, unfortunately. #5 In this situation, Smokey was on trail and he is a horse on a mission, like many other horses on trail. They rarely want to stop and go backwards, and wait around, and stop, then go, then stop. They want you to point them in a direction and they want to take you that way until they get to go home. Stopping and going is very frustrating to them, like sitting in stop and go traffic is to us. So for him to act out, could be expected, but it certainly isn't desirable. This will get better with practice, but who wants to practice with a horse that might be a grenade with the pin pulled? I will say, that I recognized what was happening before it happened, but I did not make the decision to get off and walk him up the hills like I should have. I hope that this helps someone to see that often times when we think the horse is bad, there are always other circumstances that don't get brought to light and can unfairly blame a horse. Please be open and subjective when you hear about "a bad horse". Think of the horse's story and consider what may have caused the horse to react the way it did.