Bucking: reasons, remedies?

My 12 y o OTTB mare was mostly (not completely) a pleasant quiet unspooky trail horse and low level dressage partner last summer, but in the past couple months, (perhaps not coincidentally) when the weather got cold, she’s taken to flipping her wig and bucking rather sharply, and sometimes also being hyper-reactive to everying in her surroundings, except my aids. Nervous teeth grinding, can’t get her to relax. The bucking happens most often at the canter, usually when I put on any amount of leg, however light, to ask for a canter depart. She sucks back, not wanting to go forward off my leg, and bucks if I persist in asking. Not that she has never bucked at the trot, but usually for other reasons; she has bucked / exploded trotting, for instance, when a group of bicycles went by her on the road.
I have owned her for a little over a year, and we had bucking trouble in the winter also last year. I sent her for six weeks of natural horsemanship training, groundwork, lungeing for respect, parelli type de-spooking exercises, one-rein stops, western trail riding. She also went foxhunting and team penning! She was quite perfectly behaved for the trainer, who never saw any misbehavior. She was living in a herd environment at the trainer’s, adjacent to a field of TBs to talk to over the fence, and I feel this may have had a settling effect on her, as she is quite herd-bound, whereas in my barn at the moment she has just one mini horse companion, and doesn’t see other horses except when I take her to the community ring, a short hack away. Also, she lived outdoors and got less grain during training: was fed just once a day, and she is a hard keeper, so she dropped some weight, which may have taken the edge off her. At home she gets 3-4 lb of Ultium mixed 50-50 with Nutrena Hi Fat twice a day.
After the training, I boarded her, and she lived in groups with other mares from April though September. She was fed a mix of Strategy and a Hi Fat feed and got fat, did the occasional huge buck if cantering in a group, but was usually calm and cooperative. She was still good for awhile when I brought her back home, last fall, where she seemed fine at first, but she did have one gelding boarder friend here for the first month. She was so calm and obedient doing ring work at the walk, trot, AND canter that my boarder described her as “broke to death.”
Don’t think her saddle hurts. Last summer I bought a new saddle (which, thankfully, helps keep me on during a buck) from a good fitter, and have had it rechecked . Since this behavior also happened last winter and then mostly went away, I suspect that the bucking is not primarily a physical issue, but more of an emotional / training one, but I have not yet tried a course of bute or previcoxx to see if pain relief makes a difference, and will do this. I think when she bucks she is rather profoundly upset, not just testing me, as I have not been able to extinguish the bucking by persistently asking her to go forward. After a few series of sharp bucks and getting loose in the tack, I retreat back to trot, but make her keep working at the trot.
Possible reasons for this, and what should be done in each case.

  1. She hates ringwork and is putting her foot down, she is not going along with being a low level dressage horse. Ergo, I need a new horse.
  2. She doesn’t respect me or feel safe in my care. Ergo, I need to do more groundwork, lungeing for respect, etc. (Not very confident in my skills here, but can work at it).
  3. She is nervous not being part of a herd, so she is tense about being in a ring with strange horses. Ergo, she should not a backyard horse, but be boarded where she is part of a group.
  4. Needs basic training in staying in front of my leg, that is, bucking as an extreme form of “not going forward.” Ergo, work at the walk and trot in going lightly off my leg.
  5. Feed adjustment. Is there a better feed for calmness? Suggestions?

Any thoughts / experiences in dealing with a possible nervous bucker, or suggestions of what else might be going on here, would be greatly appreciated.

Always check for physical reasons first when a horse is refusing and touchy.

Be sure any problem with teeth, eyes and ulcers are ruled out, also vet check for soreness somewhere.
You don’t say if all that may have been ruled out yet.

We had good luck with putting such horses on the right amount of alfalfa, no grains at all, which keeps their nutrition profile up, without really adding so much they get too fresh to work with you.
Alfalfa also seems to keep their stomach on an even keel, if ulcers are part of the reason a horse is acting up.

If it is a training problem, then training thru that would be the solution.
Since she didn’t give trainers any problem, assuming both managements were the same, which you already said they were not, turn out and company were different, that gives you more to help with the training, by trying again to replicate the previous situation where she was nice.

Eventually she needs to be where she is not going to act up when she feels anxious, stressed or just too full of herself and training should get her there, eventually.
I am surprised she is not getting there yet at 12 years old.

You need a vet check for teeth, back, stomach, joints. Arthritis in the hocks, sharp pointy tooth, ulcers and soreness in the back are the first things to look at when a horse is bucking for ‘‘no apparent’’ reason, and only at one particular gait.

You need a trainer to assess your riding, your equipement, your feeding and training schedule.
Maybe you are doing something at the canter to trigger this behavior, maybe your tack isn’t fitting properly not just the saddle, maybe you are not feeding her enough and your training schedule lack of consistency and real work.

You could always try a bute trial, but if it is ulcers, it won’t be that good.

You could try to keep her back warm at all time before/during/after your ride with heavy blankets and a thick quarter sheet.

6-8lbs of Ultium/day seems a little too much.

IMO, when horses change behavior in the winter, it is usually because the riders/owners change their training routine.

And sometime because the horse gets cold in their back. I keep my mare’s back toasty warm at all time and don’t have much problem, unless I can’t ride her for a couple of days… Then all bets are off!

I think I would proceed on the theory that all of your 5 potential reasons for her bucking may be coming intto play in a “perfect storm”.

I would reduce her concentrates and get her on free choice decent quality grass hay, myself. Don’t let her get fat. Use a low carb product (maybe a triple crown product…I like the customer support they offer), and add fat. (cool calories can work) I am not familiar with the purina or nutrina products, so maybe you are already doing that!

She sounds like a horse that needs to be fully mentally “engaged” in her work…if she’s not, there is “wiggle room” for her to express some alternate ideas.
Work her hard (I don’t mean poorly), get her in front of your leg (raised caveletti can help), make her live outside unless dangerous weather. She also may need to be on a “program”: work at least four times a week. Preferably every day.

And of course, rule out pain with a test run of previcox for peace of mind :slight_smile:

I would agree with the above concerning checking for health reasons, yet, not long ago, there was a thread here about horses that become “monsters” in winter.

Some riders ride through it, some decide to give the winter off.

I would also turn my attention to the ground you are riding on.

Our ground is awful in winter. It is either mushy or frozen.

Therefore, I mostly walk and trot in the winter. I don’t mind. I am used to it from Europe, as we did not have a manege, and only could ride outdoors.

Horses often feel destabilized by wintery ground.

I say it, because, I just finished riding our horse and had similar experience. The weather was beautiful and I thought, the ground looked OK. I wanted to practice canter departs, but he would buck the way you describe.

He does not buck normally at all.

I told him “come on, one more time,” he tried, and slid big time! He almost fell. He was right, the ground was not conducive to cantering.

He really mostly likes to only walk in winter, even in the pasture. I had similar experience from Europe with other horses- everyone wanting to walk through winter, which, came spring, would give for some interesting rides. :slight_smile:

Bluey, I too am surprised and also rather discouraged that she is acting up much as she did a year ago. Just a month ago I recall feeling elated that our connection was getting so good. Such a difficult, humbling sport. Can’t help but think it is an emotional / training issue, but will do a course of previcox and perhaps get her physically checked out when holidays are over, and do groundwork until then.

I’d really look at her diet. Ultium is a “high performance” feed meant for horses that are heavily trained athletes. It’s description on Purina’s site makes it sound like equine rocket fuel. I know it’s lower in NSCs than Strategy (which I fed for years until I got wise), but it’s still probably too energy-dense for a low level dressage and pleasure/trail horse.
Maybe a ration balancer (Enrich Plus) with a fat supplement and lots of grass hay? Or another kind of feed that is forage based and lower in carbs and sugars? I love my Triple Crown Senior (for any age horse) because it has all the stuff they need and very little of the stuff they don’t.
Also, if you feed alfalfa of any kind, the whole calcium/magnesium ratio can get unbalanced (too much calcium) and can cause them to be very tense. Adding a magnesium supplement (usually a main ingredient in calming supplements) can be helpful.

Good luck! I hope it’s as easy as changing her menu. :slight_smile:

I agree on the add magnesium. On physical issues, the 2 things I would suspect most are ulcers or ovarian cyst. Definitely get the Vet out to check for ovarian problems, as that would cause pain that she expresses by bucking.

Probably the feed and environment, possibly your riding style, after ulcers, stifle, and ovarian cysts are ruled out.

I have worked with many OTTB’s and they can be finicky. A little too much sugar or starch in their diet and they cannot focus and get easily discouraged. Add cold weather and they can be even worse.

Go back to the basics and work with a vet on diet and the good trainer that helped her be her best. Take her social needs seriously and if she is herd bound, she needs you to be a strong, predictable leader on and off her back. Get in her head before you mount up, just to see where she is. Praise verbally and with pats when she does a good job.

Give her breaks in between tasks and encourage her head to lower down so she can relax before moving on to the next task.

Good luck.

^^^ what they said.
Now my 2 cents…
Talk with your vet about UV therapy. Like people, some animals are affected by the seasons and need simulated daylight to produce seratonin in their systems. I’ve seen track horses benefit from UV therapy because the heat helps relieve tension, reduce muscle aches as well as increase serotonin levels in the brain. Your vet can tell you more about it and while there may be something more going on, UV therapy certainly can’t hurt. Animals get affected by the lack of sunlight just like people do.

Rhythm, think I will switch to Triple Crown Senior and add some canola oil, as recommended in the COTH “Fix it with Feed” series. This article maintains that supplements are not needed with a complete feed. She does have free choice hay in small mesh nets.
As most people have suggested, I have also contacted her vet, tho actual riding the mare for her may be out for the near term due to deep freeze here and no indoor. However there does seem a physical issue–she kicked out when being saddled today (I was just going to lunge in tack) and again tonite when I added a blanket–she’s never been this cranky before. Will let you know if she finds anything.
Sanjac, NH trainer is unfortunately over an hour away and can’t use the ring here, so not so easy to get her help unless I take her there for training board (Expensive!)

Pain. Have a vet out who ideally is also a chiro or does chiro. Could also be an ovarian cyst. I believe she is trying to tell you something. The crankiness makes me think it could be a cyst. A friend’s horse has one that has to be removed and she got cranky and moody about alot of things and is normally a sweet horse. Possibly ulcers. May hurt worse at the canter. Good luck and let us know!