Horse pulls down and dolphin-hops after jumps... HELP before I break my neck!

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I have been working with this horse on and off for nearly 5 years. I love him and refuse to give up on him, but i do not own him. He’s a 17 hand selle francais gelding. He has always been a bit ‘naughty’, nonetheless he is super talented, smart, and an absolute blast when he is good. His biggest problem is that he’s a bit of an opportunist when it comes to the back side of the jumps. When he touches down on the backside with his front hooves, he throws all of his weight into his front end, rips his head down, and bucks/dolphin hops. It is truly impossible to hang on. Again, he has done this since even before my trainer aquired him in 2012. And also in my 20 years of experience riding jumping horses, this is the scariest and most painful way to fall. To combat this, we have tried to develop a distinct way to ride him and negate this behavior - deep seat, small release, hands up and always lifting, must be quick to get back in the saddle on the backside. Even then, he finds ways to get away with it.

I had taken some time away from him to work with my OTTB, and also on the accord that I had promised myself I wouldn’t get back on him again after he quite literally ‘pile-drove’ me face first into the dirt after landing from a combination which resulted in some permanent muscle damage a few years ago. This is his signature move…

We have had him evaluated by vets countless times, and had many x-rays done. We have a reputable saddle fitter that has double and triple checked the tack we use on him. Most recently during a lease he did show some slight navicular changes in his front feet. He was given the ok to go back to light jumping work with corrective shoeing. The leasor ended her lease early because he scared her so badly and he was left to sit. My trainer refuses to include him in the lesson program and wont even ride him herself because she thinks he is too dangerous, so i took him back on as a rehab project. Besides starting off a bit stiff, he works out of it quickly and is back to 100% soundness after cantering, so we’ve started him back over very small jumps and cross rails after a couple months of just flatwork. I wanted to bring him back to the basics and see if i could correct some of the issues I felt he was experiencing through correcting his gaits and how he carries himself. I even stretch him before getting on to ride (stifles, shoulders, and neck).

This past Saturday, I hopped on for a ride and could feel him balling up under me going towards the jump, but it felt more like excitement than pain. We cantered into a barely 18" three stride, but came in long and he was so heavy I couldn’t get him back up to fit the third stride in. We left long, and he characteristically planted his front feet, ripped his head down and planted me so hard on the backside, I actually herniated a disc in my upper back and suffered a small concussion. I literally fell straight to the top of my head. I still got back on and made him trot into the line and hault a couple times just to prove a point to him.

I refuse to give up on him, but am at a loss for things to try that would either lessen his pain or bad behavior. You would think if it was his front end hurting from the navicular problems that he wouldn’t try to launch his entire body weight into it on the backside of the jump. Also, he doesn’t pin his ears when he pulls his signature move like other horses I’ve ridden do when they are uncomfortable. He gets both lead changes nicely and is quite willing to go forward when asked. He rarely takes advantage like that when hacking, but will if he hasn’t been worked in a week or two. I can normally handle it just at the hack, but when he does it and you’re not yet back seated from the two point, there is NO hope for hanging on. At shows, he MUST be lunged before attempting to ride him. When i call him from the field, he is so excited to come see me he normally gallops up throwing in some pretty impressive bucks in while also whinney-ing quite loudly. So it’s hard for me to believe he’s in a terrible amount of pain, but I also don’t feel like he would act out so viciously without some type of discomfort. If this is a habit he’s learned, I don’t know what to do to break it. He actually came to us with these same habits, but the navicular changes were just recognized last year. Aside from the riding issues, he is quite the trickster on the ground as well. You have to be quick to close the stall doors, as he will trample and run over you to get out if he sees the right opening. He will also try to rip away from you and run away while trying to graze him. NO ONE is allowed to lead him without the chain over his nose :frowning:

Currently, he is going in a full-cheek slow twist. My trainer and i both think a drop noseband would behoove him but i am open to all suggestions and different outlooks. Obviously there is something my trainer, myself, and possibly even the vets are missing out on. I do not want this horse’s life to be wasted because no one would stick it out with him. I love him, even with his antics. Please help me help my Joshua!

Did all of your X-rays include a spine and neck series?

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I am sorry, but I think this horse is trying to tell you something. I think maybe it is time to stop jumping this horse…his life will not be “wasted” as a flat horse or a dressage horse. You’ve already injured yourself more than once, severely, on a horse with a clearly known and chronic issue that you are unlikely to solve. It is clear that you love him, and sadly I think you need to listen to what he is telling you. I am very sorry, these types hurt emotionally just as much as they do physically, but your health and safety needs to come first.

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Question: why are you putting yourself in danger to ride this horse? He has no concept of careers or of wasted potential.

It sounds like he does it when the distance isn’t great and he needs to make an extra effort. Some horses will buck/whatever else landing from a jump if they need to make an extra effort because the rider put them in a bad spot, or the rider sat back and pulled on their mouth, etc.

Whether that reaction is caused by pain or is simply an “F you”, why keep asking him to do something that results in the injury or loss of confidence of his riders?

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Navicular pain usually causes them to refuse jumps, not buck on the backside.

At what height does he start doing this?

To me it sounds like he’s been allowed to be a royal pain on the ground, and that he probably is in pain when jumping.

I’d go back to groundwork basics. He should not be running over people. He should not be pulling away from people. These are behaviors that show he doesn’t respect you. If you watch horses in a herd, they will never bump into or run over the herd leader. You have to be the herd leader, and sometimes that means that you need to be firm and a little ‘mean’ to get the point across.

I know you said the vet and saddle fitter have checked him but really hard bucks on the backside of jumps usually means back or stifle pain.

Also, some horses just prefer flat work/dressage more than jumping. Maybe he’s one of those horses.

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Bucking after a jump often indicates pain: back/neck pain, kissing spine, ulcers, or, yes, even front foot pain. It’s perfectly possible for him to happily run and buck and twist while out in the field and still have pain issues. It is often the added weight of a rider that pushes the pain over the horse’s tolerance threshold. Based on the information you’ve related I really think the best thing is for this horse to no longer be used for jumping. Navicular is degenerative. It will only get worse.

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Wow. I hope you heal quickly.

I would wash my hands of this horse, personally. But that’s not what you asked. To answer you truthfully, this is a classic pain response for horses who don’t like the sudden pressure that jumping presents. It can be bilateral soreness up front, but I also commonly see this with ill fitting tack and/or horses with back pain that has been undiagnosed. Because back pain doesn’t often produce a limp until it is very serious, it is easily overlooked.

To answer the “how”… It’s hard to give meaningful advice on how to correct this behavior without knowing the horse, his sensitivity, and the rider. However, I will say having dealt with these horses in my own riding life there’s two corrections:

  1. A lighter seat before and after the fence. Driving to the fence in a deep seat usually makes the likelihood dropping their head and bucking worse, because they jump hollow, hit their mouth and/or the pain in their back, and then they do what comes naturally and try to rid themselves of the pain by bucking.
  2. If he is not the sensitive type, a big growl (“GIT!”) and leg on immediately after the fence to keep him going, stopping at the end of the ring. Stopping immediately after the fence, or turning after the fence, or placing a pole or two on the landing side will help the sensitive ones where a little growl might be too much.

As a rider, you need to make sure you have the canter 100% with these horses, before you approach a fence. Approaching a fence with an unbalanced canter, or a horse who is hollow and above the bit, will make the landing ugly and the horse resentful. So you need to work on your own balance and rhythm and own that balance and rhythm before a fence is ever put into the equation. If you don’t have the right canter at the approach of the fence, you won’t have the right canter when you land either.

Do not give him the opportunity to root the reins out of your hand, either. That is a big passive mistake of a lot of riders, who land from a fence with no control or steering. These riders need to learn the use of a well-timed growl and/or half-halt to get that horse’s head up and hind leg stepping under himself.

A horse can’t buck effectively if they don’t drop their head. Us riders have to learn how to time our aids appropriately so this doesn’t happen - there are very few seconds to do so before a situation like this goes from “so-so” to “splat”.

I see a lot of horses do the prop and buck when their mouth is hit or the rider remains perched too long and then lands heavily on the back. I’m not saying this is what’s happening for you, but it is an observation.

Either way I think this horse has told you and his connections who he is. I wouldn’t be jumping anything until his pain responses are figured out.

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Let me get this straight. Ten years ago trainer buys a nice looking horse with some behavior issues, likely dirt cheap. Horse must be in his mid teens or older by now. He has a dangerous habit of bucking people off over fences. He bucked you off over an 18 inch fence.

Your trainer refuses to ride him or use him in lessons. He came back from a lease early because of dangerous behavior.

Why are you, random client with your own nice horse, needing to be the hero here and fix a long time dangerous horse that has a problem you can’t sit even over a teeny tiny jump? What’s in it for you?

Is he safe on the flat?

Your trainer has the right idea. Stop riding him over jumps. It’s not safe for you, for the trainer, or for anyone else in this horses orbit. If he’s safe on the flat, try some low level dressage schooling. If he’s not safe on the flat then he’s your trainers problem to retire or euthanize as they see fit.

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Yes, and despite his awkwardly shaped and large body there were no abnormalities in the spine and neck. Only thing showing on the x-rays is the slight navicular changes in the front feet.

You definitely have to make it known to him that you are the alpha. He doesn’t try me as much on the ground as he does others who don’t work with him. We used to joke he was masochistic…

When he does act up though, he puts all of his weight into it so its hard for those who aren’t used to him to correct it.

I’m not the OP, but I agree with you!

9/10 times he is super safe on the flat. He does have some spook in him which he can take advantage of.
I have zero dressage training, only hunter jumper and I’m afraid he wouldn’t fare well in dressage work just due to his age.

He was gifted to us from a farm where the owner died. We acquired him and another horse who also had some behavioral issues but is now a top USEF hunter.

I just love the horse, always have and always will. As much as I hurt from him dumping me, I know there was something I could have done in that moment to prevent his outburst that I didnt make happen as we riders sometimes do…

So @Tiedtotheride I don’t know how old you are. You say you have been riding 20 years. But the way you phrase the situation makes you seem much younger, or newer to horses. You want to rescue and rehab the horse who has defeated everyone else, including your trainer. A horse that has an awkward body, no ground manners, and is dangerous under saddle. This is a variant of the Black Stallion Fantasy.

I would understand if you were 13 and didn’t have your own good horse and this was your only current option to ride for free. It wouldn’t be a good idea but it would make sense as a fantasy.

But if you are a 30 year old ammie with your own TB, just walk away now. Your trainer by definition is a much better rider than you or they wouldn’t be your trainer. And they won’t get on him.

There is about zero chance you are going to be the one to fix him.

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So … in a 3 stride over 18 inches you did it in two ? My horse would buck also. Or maybe I’m not understanding. Doing a tiny set of fences in a 3 stride line and having to do the long weak flyer out in 2 never ends well. Especially if you’re long weak and flat. Ouch front feet

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There might be something a really sticky seat pro could do but you are not that sticky seat pro because you are coming off when he bucks.

The best idea all around is to stop jumping him. Also if he is too old and stiff to do basic dressage flatwork then he’s too old to fix his dangerous behavior over jumps.

Learning basic dressage flatwork is also very beneficial for you as a jumper rider. I’m not talking piaffe here. If you want to help the horse do beginner dressage training on him for a year to get his trot and canter balanced. You might need to get a new trainer. How committed are you to this horse?

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Stop jumping this horse. This horse is screaming in pain.

Has the head been X rayed? All the teeth?

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NO. This is NOT horse training. Nothing in training horses requires you to be “alpha”.

Do some research on how horses learn, please, for the sake of the horses you train.

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I must admit, this entire situation confuses me. You mentioned you don’t own him, what does the owner think? Have they been aware of how consistent this issue is?

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Yes. I’d actually say back right off and learn groundwork, which basically doesn’t exist in most h/j barns. I’m curious how the horse longes over crossrails or small jumps. Does he buck then?

There are just so many red flags with this horse and this situation. Why was he evrn being leased out? Why is anyone letting OP risk their neck on him?

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I really do think you need to be honest with yourself about why you are willing to sacrifice your own body just to get this horse to jump. This horse does not have aspirations to do anything other than just be a horse. Best case scenario he’s just a jerk (unlikely) and worst case scenario you’re putting him in real pain by making him jump just so you can be the hero who makes him live up to his potential.

No horse is worth a debilitating injury on your part. This whole situation is unnecessary and terrifying - I don’t even know why you were allowed to jump him again.

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