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When Your Green Or Any Other Color Horse Bucks At The Lope And Makes You Feel Yellow

She writes:

Dear Marv,

I'm not sure if you're still at this address, but if you are I have an important question for you. How do I get my green horse into a lope without crow hopping or bucking. He's getting good at walk trot transitions, and he'll move into the trot on light leg cues as soon as I ask him to, however when asked to lope, usually only the first time I ask him, he goes for a few strides and then starts crow hopping like crazy. Afterwards he's OK, but I just dread that first try at the lope and I often find myself making excuses not to try to lope that day. What can I do to make this transition less stressfull for both of us? By the way, he hasn't thrown me yet, but I'm not sure he won't next time.


Well, I haven't heard from you in awhile, I see that you apparently have gotten past his aggression displays (and if that wasn't you, forgive me, I often get horses mixed up).

Let's start by addressing the color of the horse - green.

Loping or cantering requires the right amount of balance and rhtyhm ... rithum... rhythm... (long day), flow to go from trotting to loping. If the horse is off balance it is often easier for younger horses to dump the off balance load than it is to adjust to it. He is young isn't he?

Since this occurs the first time you lope (I assuming that is what you said anyway) I'd be inclined to think it's a balance problem.

Sometimes bucking in upward transitions is an indication you are proceeding too fast. Success will get you quicker than any mistake. We think just because a horse is doing so well at one thing that means it is ready to go on. Not always so.

Another thing that gets you is relying strictly on flat work to help your horse develop balance. The best place to help a horse build balance and become flexible and athletic is on the trail. This is also the best place to help the horse develop upward transitions. When the horse starts up a grade you can encourage it and allow it to pick up the canter on its own. As it picks its way over the ground it concentrates on balance and optimal movement.

When you learn how to adjust your gaits and speed on an ever-changing surface, changing on the flat is nothing.

The most important part about upward transitions with the green horse is to let the horse tell you when it's ready.

Now then, all this is assuming that the horse has no physical problems or discomfort that strikes at the initial weight transfer of the higher (faster) gait.

When a horse crow hops (bucks straight up) I usually suspect a thoracics area (withers to about the end of the rib cage) problem - saddle fit (high withers, sharp withers), spinal subluxation, or rib subluxation. If the horse bucks and kicks back, I look in the lumbar area and hips. If the horse surges forward and bucks I look for neck, shoulder, poll or dental problem.

To lessen the possibility it is physical I'd have a chiro look him over real good. If he is young, between 2-4, I'd give him some more time to just develop and lighten the demands on him. If he is 4 or more and green, I'd just wait for him to tell you when he's ready. You may think he's doing really well at walk-trot transitions and he may have a totally different idea.

Since this is your horse, you do not have to make any excuses for doing what you are doing. If someone is pressuring you to lope him and you're not sure he's ready just say, "I don't think he's ready," and let it go at that. If pressed, say, "I told you before, I don't think he's ready to lope and when I do think he's ready, we'll lope."

Don't let anyone show you how to "make" him lope. You will lose more than you gain.

Keep in touch and let me know how you're doing.

And then I got this:

Hi Marv,

Thanks for the quick response. After writing you yesterday, I found out that it was supposed to rain here for the next few days, so I new that yesterday would be my last chance to ride for a while. Anyways, before I got your email, I went for a ride. I decided just to keep it positive and for my goal to be to simply ask my horse to lope. Nothing extreme, just ask him be applying more leg presssure and voice energy at the trot and see what happens. I told myself that I would concentrate on being relaxed, and help myself be relaxed by remembering that my goal was only to ask him to lope, not actually get there if you know what I mean. Mainly because I suspected that me being anxious and uptight would compound the situation. So here's what I did. I started off in the areana, and my horse and I decided that the ground conditions were too wet still, so we headed off to an adjacent small fenced in pasture. This is where I've been schooling him and warming him up before taking him into the big pasture.

Anyways, I warmed him up and then asked him to lope at this uphill part towards the fence. I thought it would be more difficult for him to crow hop or buck going up hill. It was amazing. The first time I got maybe two strides at the lope before he got to the top of the hill, this is a reall small incline mind you, and calmly stopped on my cue. I was so excited! All I did to ask him to lope was apply slight leg pressure, not a kick, and give him the voice command lope. We did this about 10 times and each time he would lope sooner and give me more strides at the lope. He even stopped at the lope really nice on my command. Probably because there was a fence a few feet in front of us and no where to go though. Anyways, he felt so smooth I didn't even feel my ususal urge to grab on for dear life.

The last time we tried this I had him in a trot towards the opposite fence, and held him there as we rounded the corner where he promptly picked up speed and we loped for about 6 strides or so. He loped sooner and held it longer each time that I asked. However, he would not lope on the flat going the opposite way. I guess that will be something that we have to work up to, but for now I'm satisfied with his progress.

Thanks for your advice,

See any similarity in what I suggested and what she discovered on her own? Sometimes backing off and going at just a little differently is all it takes. However, I still think there is a hampering issue of some sort. I'd still bring in a chiro and if that finds nothing, a saddle fitter and a CESMT (Certified Equine Sports Massage Therapist). You will find readily and freely available videos and information about many of the subjects discussed here at the Index Page.

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