The Nature of Horses part 2

Not long after Cinco unloaded me this spring a friend of ours Mary, a young gal that has ridden with us since she was about 4 or 5 asked me what caused him to buck. I could have answered ‘it’s in his nature’ but there’s more to it than that.

All horses buck, or at least they are capable of bucking; my answer to Mary was ‘the cougar syndrome’.

If my understanding of the development or evolution of horses is even partially accurate they have came from being a 3 toed swamp dwelling animal about the size of a Jack Russell Terrier to the magnificent creatures that we love and use today. That development or evolution required that they survived millions of years of predators. A good portion of those predators were and still are the big cats.

Not very many years ago one of our horses that we had running in a field near the lava beds close to Carey Idaho had claw marks on her rump. Either she was quicker than the cat that day or the cat was a youngster and inexperienced in a horse bucking and double hocking her under the chin. I’ve seen dogs knocked senseless after being double hocked under the chin and have been kicked more than once by a horse so I have a keen appreciation for the power that that blow can deliver.

Retention is one of the traits that we most desire in a horse; one that you have to retrain each ride is rather frustrating. I know that a certain amount of repetition is required and a horse that ‘has it’ after being shown twice is of high value but some horses require more than ‘twice’.

I have started a lot of 2 year olds that were either ‘sweet’ or at least easy to start but were a ‘royal pain’ as 3 year olds. It might be that with the extra year of growth physically and mentally they now want to challenge or question you but at the end of the day they need to be willing partners or they become little more than pasture pets. Breeding pasture pets is not necessarily good for the ‘using’ horse industry.

I believe it was Ott Adams, a turn of the 20th century Veterinary that coined the phrase ‘a horse that can’t run should be valued by the pound’. If he didn’t coin the phrase he was famous for using it. In addition to that I have always felt that ‘a horse that won’t work for a living should be valued by the pound’. Once again you are not obligated to agree with me, it’s just my opinion.

We, as a family and myself years ago before our children were actively involved with the horses, have started and used for a living some rather difficult horses. I was trying to come up with a list of horses that we’ve owned that have never bucked; the list was rather small if it existed at all.

So why do horses buck, or shy or spook? It’s in their nature.

I believe it was Ray Hunt that said “if blackie hadn’t shied away from danger we wouldn’t be riding her ancestors”; whether he said it or not there’s a lot of truth to it. In addition to that if you know anything at all about horse you know that ‘horses only spook at 2 things, things that move and things that don’t’.

So we have this 800 pound to 1200 pound animal that we want to ride that’s mode of survival is ‘flight or fight’. They can and will spook or shy from little or noting and hit a top speed of 39 mph in a heart beat and if the threat happens to be on their back after all of that they can go to pitching ‘bucking’, sun fishing, rolling their stomach to the sun in mid air, land on all 4 feet, shortening your spine or splitting your pelvis, and come out of that Earth jarring movement with enough energy to launch you 6 feet in the air. If they are free of you but still feel threatened they can strike you and split your skull with one blow or stomp you into a little bloody patch before trotting of to rejoin their buddy’s; and all we wanted to do was throw a saddle on them and ride off into the sunset.

‘The Nature of Horses’, there’s no way I will come close to explaining it in a blog. In fact if I wrote a 10 volume series a 1000 words each volume I would hardly cover the subject; it’s too vast.

The basic nature of horse can be laid out in a few words, flight or fight, so on and so forth but the individual nature and disposition of horses is too vast; even full siblings can be as different as day and night.

To simplify this post on my blog lets go back to the ‘cougar syndrome’. What I am referring to is simply this, you have 30 rides on your colt but every once in awhile he or she looks over their shoulder and is startled that you are there, sitting on their back, their basic, primal or carnal instinct kicks in and they either spook and jump 20 feet one direction or another or take off running or just go to bucking; they are trying to dislodge the cougar.

The only thing that I’ve found to overcome this is miles of sand under their belly’s and lot’s of wet saddle blankets. I have at times in the past ran out of patience and tuned on a horse for such behavior but it is not on their first offense. I don’t need a colt bucking me off on a mountain side miles away from help or creating a problem with those that I day work for. Helicopter rides anywhere out of the Owyhee’s or the Great Basin to the nearest hospital can be very expensive; whether you survive the helicopter ride or not. People get killed every year by horses, mules and donkeys, a fact that a lot of people don’t want to recognize.

When I refer to ‘tuning’ on a horse you can use your own imagination. I have always preferred the sensitive, smart kind of horses, even one that will buck once in awhile that I can get a days work done on over the kind that require heavy hands and are insensitive. I don’t need a horse that is good at bucking either, I’m too old for those kind.

Cinco was flighty when we started him but came along very nicely and last spring and fall as a 2 year old I had some great rides on him. This spring or late winter his first ride was rather uneventful but later we had a few rides that he wanted to jump and grab his ass. He never bucked and he made quite a bit of progress through the late winter and spring, gathering, sorting and branding.

I had been pretty much using him like a working horse all though he wasn’t well broke but coming along nicely. Saddle him up, warm him up, a trailer ride somewhere then go to work. The evening he unloaded me was in my arena and a normal warmup and go to riding wasn’t enough, next ride will be in sand up to his hocks after he’s ‘aired’ out; why you ask?

Because it’s in ‘my’ nature.

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