Howdy! How can we help you?
< All Topics

My horse started shying and bucked me off? What could be behind this behaviour? Getting started on the ground.

Original Question

Hi Angie,

I came off my warmblood last week and ended up with concussion and other sore bits.

He has been going really well but what he has done a few times is spooks then starts leaping/bucking after the shy.

I’m wondering what the reason could be behind this behaviour and what I could do to prevent it happening again as I’m considering giving up as the next time it happens I could be seriously hurt.




Angie’s Answer

Hi Mandy,

Firstly apologies on the slow reply getting back to you.  I am very sorry to hear of your fall, these things can really knock our confidence for a while, so be gentle with yourself.

After a fall you can question a lot of things but I am glad you reached out.  You love horses too much to give up but you just need to build your confidence and trust in him but I also feel taking on a different approach to your horse’s training may be the answer.  Even though it seems like it’s a really bad thing now, it may just be a blessing in disguise.  If you follow down this path and are prepared to put the work in, you will end up learning SO much about the psychology of horses, you will learn to understand your horse on a much deeper emotional and mental level too.  You will also learn so many more ground skills and techniques that you can then apply to all your horses.  So you don’t need to give up, just change your focus or path for a while. 
You just haven’t given a huge amount of background in detail of the lead up or incident so and I am not sure if this happened at home or at a new environment. I am going to go with that the shying, leaping etc has been starting to happen at home and building up and then the day you came off you he obviously bucked harder or it was worse.

Unfortunately there are no short cuts to training or problem solving.  It requires a huge amount of commitment and work BUT if you apply yourself to it, you will learn so much about yourself and your horse and you will develop a much, much stronger partnership and bond with your horse and all your horses, though you have to be prepared to take your time, put in the work and not put any time frame on the journey…….


So what comes to my mind first is that he is not truly relaxed in his training.  My guess is that tension has been building for a while, at first you may not have noticed it or it started as a little bit of tension, maybe not even shying, then because this tension has perhaps gone unnoticed (and not been released) it has continued to build up until it has turned into shying.  Then the shying has turned into leaping, and then this behaviour has turned into bucking and then it has turned into an explosion…  I could be wrong, I am just going on my gut feeling.

Any type of performance training for any discipline can be quite intense for horses mentally and also physically.  When a horse is stimulated ad lot mentally and physically it then effects their emotional response to training.

I will try and explain a way of how too much mental stimulation can cause a negative emotional response.  Let’s say you are learning something new or at a one day seminar, and the teacher gives you a huge amount new information or even a time when you get given a HUGE amount of different consecutive instructions and the learning is really intense.  A first you are mentally engaged but at some point it becomes too much (I use the term ‘getting full’ or ‘over flowing’).  At some point you will have an emotional response to this, when you get to the point of being ‘too fall’ or ‘over flowing’ you may start to vague out, get distracted, switch off or shut down. On the other hand you may feel over whelmed, over stimulated and over activated and feel anxious.  Every person and every horse responds or reacts differently to over stimulation.  Obviously this also depends on the environment and context.      

When I think of a horse having a good emotional response to training is when they horse can stay in what I call ‘The Learning State’ and the ‘State of Relaxation’. When horses can learn to stay in these states they can maintain an ‘optimal arousal’ for learning and they can think and process through the learning.   This sounds easy to do BUT this is one of the hardest skills to learn!!!

Learning how to keeping a horse in their optimal level or arousal, keeping them focused but also relaxed when training and interacting with them both on the ground and when riding them, especially when asking harder things of them is very challenging. 
When horses don’t function in the two states above, they will either go into Hyper-arousal (over threshold and show flight/fight behaviour traits) or Hypo-arousal (and show freeze behaviour traits).  These behaviours vary from mild signs to extreme behaviours which are much easier to recognise. 

If a horse goes into ‘Hyper-arousal’ when training they will become a little tense, get a little anxious, may get busy in their mind and in their mouth, need to move their feet OR in extreme cases; bolt, shy, rear, buck etc.


On the other side if a horse goes into ‘Hypo-arousal’ when training they start to dissociate, look away and pretend to be distracted, they may get a glazed over eye or have a fixed eye, they are basically blocking and shutting down to the training and interaction.


I also see many horses constantly pendulate between hyper (anxious) to hypo (blocking out) behaviours in training and people aren’t aware of this.




STEP 1- Watch the Theory Videos First

I would suggest you start by watching all the ‘theory videos’ in the groundwork library (you can spend them up with the cog on the bottom right hand corner).  These videos will give you a much better understanding of your horse and what he needs more from you, especially theory video 5. Categorising Horse’s Unique Temperaments


STEP 2 – Start working with him on the ground and learning to read his thresholds.  You need to really focus on RELAXATION in the groundwork exercises and also in between the exercises.  It’s not just about doing ground skills, it’s about how well he can stay calm and connected with you in the learning. 


The process: (4 main skills to focus on with your Groundwork)

1.       Teaching him to back, wait, draw, acknowledge him for connection and also learn to be around his face and body bubbles.


2.     Spend lots of time in between tasks working on different types of Desensitisation to build his confidence and also keep him in the learning state.
Getting Started:



3.     Work on HQ yields – remember it’s all about a positive response to pressure and staying engaged, connected and relaxed with all our traininig.  

Getting Started:



4.     Work on Lunging – remember ‘relaxation’ is the key. Clear, consistent communication

Getting Started:



5.       Work him in the Round Yard

Getting Started:



6.       Watch some videos on ‘Relationship and Connection’ – these are more theory videos about how your energy and emotional state effects your horses and some other good concepts to understand.  
Getting Started:



STEP 3 – When you feel safe and ready start riding him.  If you don’t feel comfortable getting back on him after a long spell ask a professional trainer to help with the first few rides or send him somewhere for a week or two.  HOWEVER, I would make sure the trainer can read tension has a big emphasis on relaxation.  You would also have to be very honest about what has happened leading up to the incident and also the full details of the incident for their safety.  IF you do feel confident to get on him after working through all your groundwork make sure you really work him down in the round yard first and he is in the Learning State and really relaxed!  I would also suggest riding him in the round yard or a small area for as long as it takes for you to feel confident on him. 

You can work through a lot of the ridden exercises with him BUT I would suggest stopping regularly and giving him time to process the information, even if it’s 30 seconds to 1 minute and then going again.  Also every time he blows and shows any sign of relaxation, stop him and softly and slowly rub on his wither.  Constantly encourage RELAXATION!


I would also suggest incorporating some of the below ridden exercises into your Dressage Training, so you are not doing collected work all the time.  Some of the below exercises will focus on giving him a loser rein (as a warm up) so you are not ‘micro-managing’ him all the time.  Remember to stop regularly to allow him time to process with the main focus RELAXATION.  If his mind stays relaxed his body will be relaxed.  For them to truly give you their body you need to get their mind first. 



RIDDEN EXERCISES – that I would incorporate into your Dressage Training


1.     Hooking onto a Small Circle (train your horse’s mind and train the rider to not micro-manage their horse all the time)

2.     Add Two Steering Exercise into your Training Program


I know a bad fall can really knock your confidence and also make you question a lot of things.   Know that you are not the only one that has been there, a lot of us have and you will get your confidence back but it will take time.

This is the perfect time to get to know your horse at a much deeper level, fill in some of the holes that may have been missing that caused this behaviour and also learn new skills.


We are here for you Mandy, you’ve got this!!!


Love, Angie



Angie Wicks

Table of Contents