How can a horse’s motivation cause training issues? Consider this scenario: A
rider is fearful of cantering but desperately wants to ride the faster gait. She cues
the horse to canter, then tenses up when she feels the horse’s back round beneath
her. She’s worried that the horse is going to buck.
The horse often does hump his back and kick out or crow hop. The rider
immediately stops the horse. She feels she needs to regroup before asking for the
canter again. The horse gets to stop as she regroups. Then she asks the horse to
move forward and cues for the canter again. He bucks. She stops.
This buck-then-stop pattern repeats and even gets worse, because the horse
is motivated by comfort. He is more comfortable when he gets to stop (a great
reward), so he’s found a behavior that allows him to get out of work.
Many problem behaviors that horses have begin because the horse gets to rest
after doing what we humans consider to be bad behavior. This same cause and
effect pattern occurs when a lazy horse is asked to canter. He’ll willingly step
into the gait for five or six strides then slow down to a trot. In most instances,
the rider simply cues the horse to canter once again—without a penalty or
admonishment. He complies with the cue and the pattern continues. The horse is
motivated to break gait because his reward is to get to slow down, even if just for
a few strides.
While your horse may not be motivated to work hard, you want to accomplish
your riding goals. So how do you motivate your horse to do the activities you’d
like to do? By making him comfortable when he’s doing what you’d like and
uncomfortable when he’s not.
That means there must be a penalty if he takes a break on his own. He must
learn to keep doing what he was asked until he’s asked to do something different.
Fixing the Bucker
Do your best to align your horse’s
motivation for comfort with something that you deem is right. If you
want your horse to act a certain
way, make him more comfortable
doing that task than doing what he
has learned will bring him rest.
In the case of the horse that bucks
at the canter cue or breaks gait at the
canter, the solution is the same: The
horse needs to immediately be cued
to move more forward.
A horse is not being obedient
unless he moves forward at your
request. In the case of the bucking horse, I don’t want to make
the situation worse with an angry
response. Instead, I’ll just drive the
If he bucks or I feel a hump in
his back, I’ll cue him on and gallop.
I’ll only cue him to stop when I
feel him relax his back and move
freely forward. By making him work