Explosive/random bucking and rearing, ran me over

Ok so hang with me here, this is gonna be long!

and I’ll try and anticipate the questions I’ll get. Thanks In advance for reading this, I’m a pretty good horse person but this has be stumped and concerned.

Ottb (well not raced but had race training) gelding, 10 years old. Has not been sat on since he was 5 or so, at a rescue. (yeah it doesn’t sound good huh?) he has been a pasture ornament but one with extensive handling and ground work until my friend bought him (for free no worries) he was a mess physically, but has had a lot of chiropractic and massage done and is doing much better. He’s sound and can flex his neck, bend, stretch, etc. no previous major injuries, so it came time to get a saddle on him and start working him. The first time I bellied him (I am a more advanced rider than my friend and have brought my own ottb along well so I offered) he skittered and gave a small buck, it was clear he needed more work before riding. He got more Chiro and joint supplements and pain relief and ground work. Fast forward he’s been saddled extensively, (several times a week for 4 months) no problem. Lunges great. Has had a ton of desensitizing, like this boy will let you lay a tarp on him, walk through water, have ropes sling all over him, you name it. And I don’t think he’s faking it, he’ll get a little unsure but work through it and then the next time it’s old news.

Ive sat on him several times, he doesn’t really know leg pressure so we have been working on asking him to go forward on a lunge line while giving him a small bump with the leg so he starts to put them together. Done this a few times been going ok.

then today… normal warm up tack up check for chiropractic issues, tack fit, etc. my friend warmed him up on the lunge line then I got on. He stands at the mounting block, doesn’t seem concerned about being mounted (his eye will show it) so we walk on the lunge line and he goes forward, occasionally stops or turns to the middle but my friend tells him to walk on it gives a little flick of the whip and he walks on (he’s good with voice cues so we use those while adding leg) but then one time she asks him to go forward he breaks into an almost trot. No problem except apparently me jostling slightly (or something) set him off. He bucks, skitters, leaps, bucks again, rears, leaps, bucks, all while my friend is pulling him in on the lunge line. I realize I’m not going to stay on so I bail, I roll / jump off when I feel the time is right ish, only scraped my hand, until I sense he’s behind me and he runs me over… still while my friend is trying to stop him on the lunge line mind you. He stepped on my lower back which was my main concern, I jumped up out of sheer adrenaline and starting walking to well, make sure I could.

sooo… what the heck(or you know)??? Here’s everything I can think of:

I did not “kick” him or do anything that would have really startled him or hurt him (remember horse has had all sorts of things all over him, he’s pretty desensitized)

my friend did not “whip” him or do anything with the lunge whip she hasn’t done before

This was not a “I don’t like that” or “ouch” buck. I can sit a buck and even excuse it (someimes) Once I got off one horse that needs spurs onto another that really doesn’t and she gave a tiny buck like uh ouch, and I was like omg so sorry my fault I forgot to take them off.

This is was an explosion, plain and simple. I was coming off, the end. That’s bad enough but to run over me, either on purpose or on accident… bad. The one time I’ve fallen off my ottb in 5 years she jumped in the air and to the side in a rather fancy dressage move normally not capable of her to avoid stepping on me. The only time I’ve had a horse flip on me(no fault of her own) she was about to get up and squish me under her (shod) hooves, and I kept telling her whoa and she held herself in an awkward position to avoid stepping on me until someone dragged me out from under her.

So: causes?
Pain? He’s had a lot of pain management but admittedly is cold backed, doesn’t have muscle built up, etc. but why not react when I sit down on him?

Kissing spine? Vet and Chiro haven’t noticed any signs but something to rule out.

Saddle fit? He’s a hard to fit high whithered boy but in my opinion the saddle fits pretty well. Again why not react all the other times he’s been saddled then?

It was not a spook.

Is he green? Yes, very. He’s had very few rides but we were not asking him anything new

does he have a mental deficiency? Likely. But he’s had a ton of ground work and trusts his human… what else can be done for that?

He was not in a bit or bridle, just a rope halter I wasn’t even touching

I think he needs a professional trainer. At the very least. Just want to know if others have experienced something random and explosive like this and what were the causes or steps taken? I’m truly at a loss.

I will not get on this horse again. At least not for a long while after a reason for behavior is given or resolved. My friend is heartbroken because she loves him and has done so much for him but this is not ok…

any and and all thoughts welcome, thanks so much!

#1) That was not random, that was predictable
#2) Let someone like a kind cowboy gently start him for you


Maybe that is why he was not a riding horse, he bucked, hard?


This horse needs a knowledgeable trainer. Badly.


I honestly don’t know why horses explode like this. I have had situations that I go over in my head but honestly it’s not worth it because most likely, you will never know what set him off. I personally would do a good vet check including flexions and some spine x-rays. If all checks out, then I would do some training, as I do agree he is best off with a professional to be broke to ride. I am not sure a super sensitive horse would respond well to cowboy training though. You may need to find a trainer that is firm, consistent, but has a calm and soft demeanor too. It’s a difficult combination to find. I found a lady like that for my younger guy and it made a huge difference. A cowboy type who “got after him” would just make him worse.

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In general, starting a 10 yr old is not an amateur’s task. Starting a 10yr old horse that’s fallen through numerous homes without ever having been successfully trained is definitely not an amateur’s task.

That the horse’s owner didn’t see this from the get-go, before ever purchasing this horse, says that she does not have the right skill set and experience for this job.

  1. Get a vet to diagnose back pain. You say vet and chiro haven’t noticed KS-- did the owner have the vet out to xray and specifically evaluate? What diagnostics have actually been done?
  2. Hire a pro trainer.

Of course, the first step would be to get spinal x-rays just to rule out kissing spines for sure. Sometimes it is not incredibly obvious via palpitation and can be overlooked. Also, look into a full lameness examine as well to rule everything out.

If he checks out, then I would, personally, find a trainer that is really experienced with breaking young horses and has a sticky seat. If this were my horse, I would put him into a professional program - not just having a professional come out. Consistency is key with young horses, and he will progress much faster and farther in a consistent environment.

Do not get on him again. The worst thing you could do for him is to get back on and come off again as then, he makes a strong association that pitching a fit will get his rider off - resulting in him not having to work. I’m also not sure if cowboy training would be beneficial for a sensitive horse either, but of course, all cowboys are not the same. I think the right combination is going to be someone who is firm but very fair and consistent.


The horse isn’t broke. Sometimes horses get panicky when they are started under saddle, especially the really sensitive/reactive types- even if started slowly and correctly, some just have a panic button. This is new to him and his instincts tell him it is unsafe. If your friend is committed to getting this horse going under saddle, he needs to go to a pro- one experienced in breaking older horses. I would implore her, however, to think long and hard about whether this horse will ever be a suitable riding horse for her- sensitive horses that are started late rarely make good amateur horses.


You need a pro. Someone who won’t say “never again” if he gets bucked off, and someone who will not bail as a decision (boy did you teach him something right there), and someone who will stick to the horse no matter what he presents.

There was a reason why the horse was not ridden all these years. Wonder what could that have been? Hmm.


Ditto this. Even after a pro can get him started, this horse will probably not be an easy, uncomplicated ride. This HO should think hard about whether the investment is worth it. I’d think hard about using that money to secure a less expensive retirement boarding situation for this guy, and half-leasing a riding horse so the owner can at least ride.

And no, don’t give him away as a project or imagine he’ll find a forever home with someone else. That’s not how it works for unbroke 10yo horses.


I’ve helped my coach back project horses. I hold them for her and lead her on them. Then I let the horse have the length of a lead rope while my coach practises start stop turn ( at this point in a cavesson with reins). There’s more control over that than backing and going onto a longe circle immediately.

That said she was launched last year by an otherwise meek pony that she thought was ready to mount up and ride solo. In other words the explosion is always a possibility in the first rides because you really don’t know what the horse will be like.

They might just be freaked out you are up there in the first place.

Also what you took to be calm might actually be bottled up nerves.

I would get a good colt starter to evaluate.

I wouldn’t read too much into him running over you. They will all do it in the right circumstance. Especially if your ground person kept him on the same longe circle where you came off so he was forced to step on you.


I agree that there was a reason he was not ridden.

A fellow boarder got a “free” OTTB mare. I don’t know why she took her. The reason she was free was that she bolted with the jockey and ran through the infield fence:eek:. The first instance I saw of her antics were when the owner was lunging her. She started bucking…big bronc bucks then the saddle slid and ended up under her belly. She ran circuits of the arena with the stirrups whacking her legs for a good 10 minutes. I attempted to go in and help her catch her but it was obvious she had no awareness of her surroundings and would have run right over the top of me so I quickly gave up that notion.

She actually was able to get her over that and was riding her about 3 months later and she ‘went off’ again and owner was bucked off. She was pregnant and ended up with a placental hematoma of some kind:eek:. Fortunately for her, that resolved and the baby was OK. She rehomed the mare but the owner left our barn and I don’t know what became of her (the mare).

I am thinking on a lot of these OTTB’s it is probably kissing spines? I know the literature probably doesn’t support that this problem is more common in OTTB’s but they have so much motion in their backs in galloping and it only makes sense that some will eventually develop pathology there. I think they can go along then they get pinched, get a sharp pain just go off.

I think this horse should have a thorough vet check and professional re-starting or return to being a pasture ornament.

Good luck,

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Well, TB are hotter horses to begin with. Faster, more sensitive, more athletic, on average, than any other breed. OTTB get the fast and hot side stoked at the track where they are taught to equate riding with running as fast as possible. They can also develop neurotic behavior, cribbing and weaving and such. And they can also get chronic injuries younger than most horses because they are raced si young.

If this kind of horse does have fear, pain, anxiety, or excitement, it is more likely to express it by wanting to move forward fast, out run it, and if prevented, to move upwards or sideways just as fast :slight_smile:

If my Paint mare thinks her saddle doesn’t fit, the weather is wrong, or some horse in the arena is causing a ruckus, her response is generally to plant her feet and not move. This is the opposite of a TB reaction.

So yes, OTTB might have more pathologies on average. But they are also more likely to express them energetically too.

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I don’t know if your friend is capable of knowing if the horse stepped on you purposefully or had no choice because of the tugging on the longe line.

If the horse stepped on you purposefully, its career as a riding horse should be over.
If you aren’t sure, I agree that you should turn the horse over to a pro, with full disclosure regarding the history and all of the recent behavior.

At this age the prospects for this horse to become a safe mount for anyone aren’t good.


So you were being lunged on a super green horse with no bridle – no reins = no control. You were basically a passenger on a horse with no real ‘mouth’ training (re-training) – and just assumed this green horse was going to be controlled and guided by the person holding the lunge line.

IMO you didn’t set this horse up for success – especially in that session – because you skipped some very important training steps which = disaster.

I think you have two choices now – you can either send this horse to a trainer who knows what thay are doing, or you can start from scratch yourself.

Again IMO this horse needs to be trained as if he were a baby = taught- retaught the basics under saddle – in a bridle – by first being properly driven with two lines – this is the initial ground work. Single line lunging in a halter is worthless with super green horses who either need a mouth or forgot they have one.

Secondly, being asked to carry the weight of a rider (and behave like a saint) is a lot to ask of a super green horse that is basically ‘free’ on a lunge line with rider as a useless bouncy passenger.

All of the TBred babies I started as youngsters were first round penned and introduced to tack (Monty Roberts style) – then they were ground driven – learned to steer and halt etc. – then back to the round pen to be backed – then they were LED (with rider up) by an experienced ground person around and around (halter over bridle) rider doing the steering and gradually using leg until ground person could back away a bit, letting out lunge line – then it was walk, walk, walk, halt, halt, halt so baby could get used to rider’s commands AND weight, shifting weight, with pats on rump, pats all over, use of leg, changing direction etc. – all under rider control with ground person there to aid if needed until lunge line could be safely unclipped and baby and rider could go round on their own and finally attempt a trot.

I believe the above is what you should have done – and you still can IF you are capable and confident in your skills. I think you’d have a very different, non explosive horse if you followed those steps. But if you’re too afraid to get on this horse again (no shame in that :)), then yes – find a trainer.

Also I would have a professional saddle fitter take a look at your saddle. Best to know 100% that you’re not dealing with bad saddle fit on top of everything else.


@rschaeffer - what does the horse do when you are doing your ground work and have him change directions and canter off? I’m not a big fan of lunging, they don’t really learn anything just going around in circles. The horse needs to be free to make choices and mistakes. You need a really thorough ground work program so that when you get on him it’s almost anticlimactic.

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I have to be honest, I wouldn’t waste a trainer’s time, nor risk their safety over a horse like this. Some horses are simply unsuitable to be ridden, end of story. Many OTTBs are not suited to be riding horses. I think there is a reason why this horse wasn’t ridden, and it’s not hard to guess. I’d recommend keeping the horse as a retiree. I deal with plenty of OTTBs, and I can tell you that the ones that are suited to being riding horses do not do what you describe.

There’s something I want to emphasize here. People always recommend sending difficult horses to trainers, “professionals,” “cowboys,” etc. In many cases that is absolutely the appropriate thing to do. However, if you have a horse that shows signs of being dangerous or has mental or physical issues that make it unlikely that it will ever be a successful riding horse for a normal rider, please reconsider. Trainers are people too. Just because they are a “professional” doesn’t mean that they don’t have lives and families that depend on them like any other person. Please don’t sacrifice professionals like trainers, vets and farriers in your quest to rescue a problem horse.

So use some common sense here. If it is a reasonable horse with a training issue and a viable future as a riding horse, by all means send to a trainer. If you have a 10 year old OTTB that didn’t make it at the track and hasn’t been ridden in years for some mysterious reason, and also demonstrates explosive behavior when an attempt is made to sit on it’s back…I’m just not sure that the costs of going forward (from the cost of training fees to the risk of human injury) are worth it.

It might be wise to stop and think about what your friend’s goals are for this horse. I can tell you from experience that the likelihood of this horse ever being a suitable amateur mount is close to zero. No pro or super talented amateur is interested in a 10 year old OTTB with issues either. So unless I’m missing something, I think that proceeding with investing in further training is not likely a worthwhile plan.


^^This. My mom used to breed horses, and by the time Courtney or I finally got on them they were simply a bit confused as to why we were up there all of a sudden. They had voice commands down through lunging, so saying “Walk” and squeezing with legs to link the commands was super easy.

Not sure my experience is relevant here though. Our babies wore saddles girthed up before they were weaned (babies make nice self-propelled saddle racks). I think a pro is really needed here. And it may be that the horse just isn’t suitable. I know that’s heartbreaking after the time, effort, and money your friend has invested, but it’s a possibility. A local girl spent a small fortune on a CCI** horse only to have a serious personality mismatch. It happens, that’s just horses.


I think it’s premature if not wrong to assume that this horse is inherently a bad actor, dangerous, not worth the trouble.

Plenty of OTTB’s aren’t raced or are taken off the track for reasons completely unrelated to their behavior. Owners run out money or change their minds about being in the game, sometimes they find another horse they think is better and dump the ones they aren’t crazy about – maybe the trainer thought the horse was dud. Who knows.

Also, OT horses sometimes aren’t ridden simply because they end up in a situation where riding isn’t in the cards due to type of place, type of people, and, and, and. – it’s not necessarily that there’s something mysterious or circumspect about the horse’s behavior and brief racetrack time.

Idle horse doesn’t mean bad horse – to me. It just means more training and/or a different approach then one would take with a horse that has regularly been ridden. I’m in the camp that gives a ‘suspect’ horse every chance in the world before giving up on it as unsuitable for riding.


Some thoughts:

There’s no such thing as a free horse (even if you didn’t have to pay the rescue for it).

TBs with flat racing blood are bred for one thing: to run fast on a prepared, oval track. Neither more nor less.

Horses that have sat for five years in a pasture have a LOT of “rust” to be knocked off, even if they are not OTTB.

Rehabbing horses costs money, a lot of it. On purely economic basis you’re probably better off to buy a horse with good basic training than sink thousands into a project where the outcome is dubious. Even more so when you’ve got one that’s “explosive” and apt to put their rider in the dirt. Hospital bills on top of training bills is painful all by itself.

Helping out a friend with a horse like that in the OP defines the famous observation that, “you must answer for every good deed.”

On balance, this horse needs to go to the can. Or be in the hands of someone with really deep pockets.