Equine Behavior Questions and Answers

The Question: My OTTB was quiet and easy- going when I bought him. So why is he now bucking and hard to work with?

Hi, I recently bought a five year old Thoroughbred to finish training. He came off the track when he was two years old. Before I bought him his owner moved to Ohio, so he had been sitting in the pasture for about four months and was under wieght and out of shape. I have never owned a Thoroughbred because they can be so hot headed but he seemed different. When I rode him before I purchased him he was lazy but quiet. I knew I needed to put weight on him and get him in shape so I am slowly working him. I have had him now for three weeks. He longes well, but when I started ridding him he was fine for about fifteen minutes. Then he would stop, pin his ears back and refuse to go foward without a fight. His previous owner said she used spurs because he is so lazy, but he did not respond to them so I used a ridding crop and he finally moved forward. I thought maybe he hurt but saw nothing. The crop worked for that one ride, but when I went to ride him the next day, he again went for a little while, and when asked to canter he pinned his ears again and then stopped. This time when I tapped him with the crop, he started bucking. Im a little frustrated with his attitude. I do my best to be patient and work him through it and don't give up until he goes again, but is there something Im missing here? I can't understand why he was so quiet when i purchased him and now he has so much attitude.



The Answer

Howdy,

Congrats on your new horse! Thoroughbreds can make great mounts - I've seen them doing everything from eventing to western pleasure to trail riding and working cattle. Although most people think of them as race horses or jumpers, they really are versatile.

I understand that you are frustrated with your horse, but I don't tihnk you've given him much of a chance. From your email, you've only had him for three weeks and you got him when he was thin and out of work. Three weeks really isn't all that long to give him to settle in and get used to you, your property and your routine.

You said when you rode him before purchasing him, he was lazy. And now that you have him home, he also doesn't want to move under saddle. He may lethargic, not lazy, because he was underweight. Now that he's gaining weight, he may be feeling better and his attitude is changing.

Now you say he's started bucking. Most often, behavioral problems like bucking are caused by pain. I know you said he didn't seem off, but some pains are more subtle and need further diagnostics. First, I would have a veterinarian examine his back to\ make sure he's not suffering pain there. Also have the veterinarian examine his teeth to make sure he doesn't have any dental problems, and have the veterinarian watch your horse move to make sure he isn't subtly off. If your veterinarian doesn't find anything, ask a qualified saddle fitter to make sure your saddle and equipment fits properly.

If your veterinarian or saddle fitter finds something, you'll need to spend time correcting the problem and then working with your horse to teach him that he no longer hurts. At first, he may act up since he's anticipating pain, but be patient and he'll learn that he isn't hurting.

If neither the veterinarian or saddle fitter find problems, your horse may have a hole in his training. He may not have learned to move off quietly at a walk under saddle. If that's the case, you need to take him back to the beginning and treat him like a horse who has never been ridden. Work with him on the ground, teaching him to move forward with verbal cues. Teach him to flex and bend as well as back and stand quietly. Longing and line-driving can be very helpful tools.

This isn't a quick fix, but if you work with professionals to diagnose his problems and get them treated, your horse will be happier and you can develop a great relationship.

The Equine Behaviorist


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