Swizzle, my adorable gray filly, lowered her head, opened her mouth, squallered like a mad hog and BUCKED.
Swizzle was tacked up in a nearly weightless Wintec dressage saddle. Swizzle has not bucked one time since I swapped my stock saddle for the dressage saddle months ago. The first thing to go for most equestriennes is the ability to throw a western saddle onto a horse’s back lightly and painlessly – for both horse and rider. My dressage saddles weigh little more than bareback pads which make tacking up a breeze. If I need a stock saddle I use one, but otherwise, no thanks!
I am intimately familiar with Swizzle’s bucking bubble and purposefully give her plenty of time to move around and find mental balance before sending her out on a longe line. Bucking has been part of Swizzle’s repertoire since the very first time I asked her to move with me on her back. Swizzle is my only horse I routinely longe before riding. It’s been years since I came off a horse – Swizzle – so I always check before mounting.
Like people, some horses are simply born with quirks.
Swizzle is just as likely to buck bareback as saddled. If she’s gonna buck she’s gonna buck. I’ve settled onto her broad bare back from a mounting block and had to deal with her bucking bubble in the first few seconds. On other occasions I’ve sat securely, with saddle or without, twisted around, petted her rump, scratched her neck, and bounced my legs with no response. If she’s gonna buck she’s gonna buck. Even though the bubble may be hidden it can POP up when I ask her to move one hoof forward or backwards.
Over the past 5 years I have tried to remove her bucking bubble. It didn’t work. I can bury it, I can correct it, I can punish it – but the bubble never completely disappears. As time goes by it builds up enough pressure until Swizzle must express it to relieve the pressure. I have many ways to correct a horse that bucks due to unwillingness or lack of leadership. Swizzle is one of my amazing grays because she taught me that some horses, like people, are simply born with quirks.
Horses only buck for two reasons. They are either unwilling to behave properly or are unable to do so. The past five years have convinced me that Swizzle is unable to get rid of the bucking bubble. Sometimes when I first loosely buckle the girth the bubble threatens to blow. Swizzle knows it and tries her best to control it. She stiffens, her eyes open in concern and her brows wrinkle as she soundlessly asks for me to help her.
Swizzle knows she isn’t supposed to buck. Knowing that she is about to “sin” is of great concern to her. Sure, she has her moments of “I don’t want to,” but bucking has never been an expression of rebellion. If it weren’t so traumatic for her it would be funny seeing how she tries to deal with her bucking bubble.
On days when the bubble hasn’t been broken recently Swizzle may stand outside the tack room newly saddled and simply have to release some pressure in the bubble. She’ll make muted little “ooomphy” sounds and lift her front off the ground rhythmically for a few seconds trying to buck in place but not enough to be really bucking.
The Proper Way to Manage Distraction
The need to release pressure in her bucking bubble is a distraction for Swizzle. I realized this years ago but didn’t appreciate that fact as I should. Leadership always has a next lesson in the same way followership does. Swizzle’s bucking bubble is a perfect example of why punishing a horse (or anyone) is usually the wrong response. Unless you are attacked first there is absolutely no valid reason to punish anyone else except when teaching a life and death lesson that will never be forgotten. (You can read the details about this topic in the chapters, Proper Discipline and Correction not Punishment in Amazing Grays, Amazing Grace. )
Sometimes it is reasonable to require a horse or human to manage the temptation to be easily distracted by familiar and recurring situations or circumstance. It may not be reasonable when the distraction is unexpected or uncontrollable. The usual way to manage these pop-up distractions is to face them and deal with it.
This could easily morph into an article about how to manage a spooky horse. Horses who are distracted by the neighbor’s cows who’ve been around since dirt was new should be taught to be more accountable when you ask for their attention. Daydreaming is manageable.
On the other hand, a horse that is surprised by a llama, buggy, or deer shooting out of the woods is hard-wired to be reactive. Relationship and faith in you provides a means to bring the horse back into focus and balance but it isn’t reasonable to punish the horse for being distracted. Wise leaders use the superior senses of horses to their advantage, not as a sin to be punished.
Swizzle’s bucking bubble is a hard-wired fact of who she is. Her mother has a similar unbalance as does her half-sister and many relatives on her mother’s side. Swizzle’s “aunt” is the highest earning mare by Hollywood Jac 86 ever. Even so, I understand that she was legendary for being nearly uncontrollable and her trainer worked miracles getting her shown. I bred Swizzle’s mother to Magnum Chic Dream specifically to balance his steady kind disposition with the reining talent that comes through Swizzle’s mother.
Swizzle has a bucking bubble. She may always have a bucking bubble. She doesn’t want to have a bucking bubble. My job is to help her build faith in her ability to manage it and my ability to help her.
Sometimes the Best Correction is No Correction
Choosing the right correction often requires you to make split-second decisions. When I realized Swizzle’s bucking bubble needed to be deflated I had to formulate an immediate response. For the very first time I chose no response at all.
All I asked Swizzle to do was to move around me to the left on a loose longe line. She was. My direction did not specify HOW she was to move around me to the left. Swizzle wasn’t moving forward as quickly as she had been because she uses most of her energy to buck higher rather than buck forward. She was still moving around me to the left on a loose line so why would I correct her just because she was bucking?
The bucking bubble is an internal distraction to Swizzle. I can’t take it away or tell her it doesn’t exist. It does. For the first time I allowed her to face it without telling her she was doing wrong. She continued to buck for about five seconds then leveled out and continued around the pen.
As far as I was concerned Swizzle hadn’t done anything wrong so I didn’t load her up with any additional angst or anxiety. I did not punish her try; I allowed her to face her distraction without adding guilt.
I loved Swizzle until her bucking bubble broke. She managed it better than she ever had because I didn’t get in her way.
Leadership Doesn’t Add to Problems it Resolves Problems
At this place in our relationship any correction I might have attempted would have added to Swizzle’s load and divided her focus between her distraction and me. Regaining your horse’s focus from an external distraction is a far different issue than asking your horse to ignore an internal distraction to focus on you which can set up your horse for failure and does not build faith.
Swizzle took care of her issue on her own and time will tell how much it will help her in the future. Our ride was delightful and the entire bucking and longing session took less than ten minutes. Once Swizzle’s bucking bubble breaks it goes away – for a time.
God Sense: “Face it, always face it.”
The deepest quirks of our personalities are known to God. If we are attentive He is faithful to teach us how to acknowledge our own bucking bubbles; face them and deflate them. No one is exempt from distraction. We are responsible to manage external distractions, but the ones we come hard-wired with never truly disappear without a specific act of God.
His grace and our commitment allow us to overcome internal distractions for days, weeks, and even years. Living in the world forces us to deal with external pressures. They build inside us until they threaten once more. When we least expect it we realize – it’s still there.
Jesus loves us through until our bucking bubble breaks.
Jesus knows our circumstances and trials and does not punish us or correct us. Certainly we are accountable to try, to persevere, and to continue moving forward on the path He directs. God never asks us to do something for which He does not also equip us.
Letting Swizzle work through her bubble without adding to her dilemma is an act of mercy and grace. She was never in real trouble. I would have acted in a heartbeat if she was. I simply loved her through until her bucking bubble broke.
Jesus lets us work through our own peculiarities. We all have them. He is the perfect master who leads us to greater faith through experience and He will never permit us to be in real trouble.
Face it, always face it. Jesus Christ is there beside you and He will love you through anything.
UPDATE October 15, 2014
Swizzle and I have walked, jogged, and loped a lot more road since I wrote this piece. Yesterday I learned she has congenital cataracts in both eyes that reduce her vision by 40 – 50%. Particularly problematic is sunlight which may refract in her eyes into a zillion bright pieces. God has gifted me with this amazing filly – and the news is simply another opportunity to receive His blessing.
My training program with Swizzle won’t change, but my appreciation for the need to discern rightly between UNABLE and UNWILLING is even greater. I had her eyes checked just to rule out any last possible physical cause of her “bucking bubble.” No matter what, I never want to be guilty of punishing or rejecting the slightest TRY. There was no good reason to have her eyes checked, but there was a very still, very small voice that blew the suggestion into my ear…
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