One Buck Does Not a Bronco Make!

I always say that the main purpose of long-reining is to see if your horse is ‘ready to ride’. With the young horse we can use it assist the horse in the development of top-line to carry the weight of the rider later. With a horse that has been out of work for a time we can build the muscles back up as well as remind the horse what work and concentration is all about. And, with a horse that is in the process of being started under saddle we can see and feel the horse and decide whether or not we could ‘ride that’ – ride exactly what we see.

I had a young horse for a lesson this morning that fits into the latter category. He hasn’t yet been ridden but is getting close to that stage and has been giving his owner a bit of a cause for concern lately. When put under pressure to increase impulsion he sometimes reacts with an explosion of kicking and bucking (impressive agility for such a fat young warmblood!).

“I don’t trust him, what if he does that when I’m riding?”

Well, that’s exactly WHY we long-rein. The exercise tells us WHEN the horse is ready to ride. I watch the horse, see if he is responding to voice and rein pressure cues, maintaining gait and speed as well as keeping all of his feet on the ground and then ask myself, “Can I ride that?” If the answer is ‘yes’, then on I get. If the answer is ‘NO’ then I need to work on breaking down the things that the horse is not yet confident or comfortable with until he has learned them.

The young gelding today told us, very clearly, that he was not yet ready to ride (I honestly couldn’t ride a buck of any description if you paid me, never mind that one). This certainly does not mean that he is a bad horse, that he will always do this, that he will definitely repeat it under saddle or anything like that. It simply means that we have more work to do and we were sensible not to be riding him because that would have ended badly for everyone.

A very common option at this stage is to work the horse ‘through it’, i.e. work him so hard that he stops bucking. The problem with that is the horse then becomes tired and as soon as he is tired he has stopped learning. So, what have we done? We have shown him that there is no release of pressure, stopped him looking for answers and taken all the ‘fun’ out of work. Instead what we did this morning was break it down for him more so that he could get some things right and get rewarded for trying to find answers. He only bucked the once and after that he began to listen as the requests became smaller, more frequent and led to immediate praise/reward/release of pressure – we ENGAGED the horse with the lesson.

He is going to be a fabulous horse! I’ll be sure to talk about him again in the months to come as he has his first rides but for now he has earned a few weeks off.