Out of curiosity, is he low man on the totem pole, or the big bad boss? My mare is the boss mare, and is at her worst if I let any of her 'herd' in front of her, but not nearly so bad if its horses she doesn't know in front of her (still bad, but not the same, and getting better all the time).
You said that you ride on trails that are connected to your barn. Have you done any riding where you have to trailer away? My horse is an awesome trail horse but he will get obnoxious (not a bucker though) if I take him on my barn trails, really only when it's just him and I. The thought of riding away from his home and back to it sticks in his head. He'll try a stupid fast walk on the way home and attempt to jig if I hold him back and try to slow it down. And he's more hyper and not as aware of me or his surroundings.
What ways have you attempted to canter on the trail? Have you tried being first? Cantering beside another horse so that he isn't "winning" or "getting left behind"? Cantering up a nice hill where he has to work a little (though I can see some bucking potential in that)? Have you considered ponying him off of another horse on some rides? With/without a rider. Are you holding him back when he is bucking? Have you tried to move him forward towards the other horses when he starts? Is it just when a horse gets a little further away in front of him? I also personally would stick with smaller groups of people that I trust and have calm, responsive horses that will stop when needed and won't aggravate his behavior. One other horse is great. Though I was going with about 4 to 6 people with my horse when I first starting trail riding him. But my trainer was with us. He would jig, back, pull on the reins, that sort of thing (he sat in a field for a few years before I got him and had an extended riding/working vacation).
Really the only time i've attempted to canter with it being my intention to do so was last night. I mostly just ask him for a nice strong trot when everyone else canters. It's for me too since his canter is so uncomfortable to sit and usually messes my back up. What I did last night was find a nice long stretch that was quiet, I sent the other 2 horses forward at a walk and slowed his walk right down. I asked them to stop and turn about 3/4 of the way up the straight. I turned him and trotted him back the start of the straight and turned him to face his buddies; he was reluctant to go away from them but did it anyway. He started at the trot and then picked up canter, luckily with all legs going the correct way. We did a nice slow controlled canter to his buddies and I slowed him down before we got to them. I wanted to try him out on his own so he didn't run into the horse in front and so he didn't get overly excited. He was fine cantering, I was quite surprised actually it was after the cantering when he bucked. We went around a corner and he has slowed right down to his pokey walk but my friends horse had picked up speed so he ended up a little away from us.
I haven't tired him up front but I might give that a go. If I made sure my friends didn't try to overtake I could try for a short canter with them behind and see how he reacted.
Cantering up a hill probably not a great idea. We had an incident a few month back going up a steep hill and he bucked in about 6 different places and reared on the hill, i'm still not sure what caused that episode, my guess is his saddle slipped. I how use a breast collar so it doesn't happen again. Also I now make him walk up hills instead of running up them.
I haven't tried ponying him, I bet he'd be fine with it. Might be interesting to try.
When he bucks, my initial reaction used to be to stop him getting his head very far down so he couldn't get any great height with his back end, but since the rear i've been trying to get into habit of turning his head to the right, my thought is he can't buck very high with his neck flexed. He only got in one small buck last night and stopped as soon as I go hold of his head. I try really hard not to let him get up any momentum, if he gets in one or two bucks and I can get him stopped without coming off it's usually okay. My friend behind me last night said he barely got any height. Also he has a tell, right before he bucks he does this head twitch thing so I can mostly stop the buck before it really gets out of him.
In the past year he's only really given me two or 3 attempts at bucking (aside from the hill incident) that involved other horses moving away. The first was in a huge group when he was just new to trail, we had planned to trot a section but the horse in front picked up canter instead so of course the 3 behind the lead also picked up canter; Phoenix was next with maybe 3 horses behind us. He squealed threw his head and popped off a rather impressive leap into the air. Everyone stopped and we resumed at a walk, that time I wasn't the one who stopped everyone, the riders behind me did. I have noticed that the only time he attempts a buck or gets one in is when he's either walking or stopped and another horse moves off quickly, if he's already at a trot and the horse in front picks up canter he just goes with it and is fine.
Wow, that reply was longer than I thought it would be.
I just skimmed thru the posts. A lot comes to mind. It could very well be your horse is bucking because he's anxious or nervous. It sounds like he is herd bound and lacking respect for you. He doesn't look to you for guidance.
A lot of this problem is yours to fix but part of it is with your friends. Do they let the horse break into a canter when the horse wants or are they asking for it? Either way, it's not respectful to the other riders if they don't say that they are going to take off.
I've worked with several horses that get jiggy and/or buck on the trail. I'll suggest some things for you to do. Note that not all things will work for every horse. Also I don't know how comfortable you would be doing these.
First, take him out on some solo rides. This will help him understand it's ok to be away from other horses.
When he does buck, what do you do to correct him? Get him to stop bucking and let him catch up to the other horses? Or do you make him work a little and then go the pace you want? I'm going to guess the first.
What I've done is put their butt to work doing circles and backing until they forget that the other horses are even there and pay attention to me. Now since you need the other riders stop for you, that seems like it might be out of your comfort zone to do. Only if I am having great difficulties keeping the horse in control, then I would want the other riders to stop, but that's just me. You could try having him face the other direction, away from your friends, until he stands calmly. Then turn and WALK to your friends. I try to never let a horse run to catch up to other riders. If I do, I make them go past before slowing down or slow down to a walk before I get close to them. Otherwise you are creating the habit of letting the horse run back to the "herd". Another thing you could try is turning away and instead of just standing and facing away, make him move away. If and when he stops being jiggy, then turn back towards your friends. If they get to be quite a distance from you, let your horse go thru different transitions on the way back. Walk, trot, walk, canter, walk and so on. Only let him go at the selected pace for about 5 strides then change. He will get what he wants, back to the other horses but will start listening to you better.
Another thing I have done is ride away from the group on a side trail that rejoins the main trail. Or if possible, go of the trail just a little bit. Then get back on with the group.
One thing I teach our horses is that I, or whomever is riding, is the one that chooses the speed. If they try to speed up on their own, they get shut down real quick. It shouldn't matter if a bunch of horses ran full speed past, unless I say for them to go faster, they should keep going the pace I chose.
One last thing, I think you taking him out and doing a lot of transitions will help you and him.
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Part of the problem is my friend, bless her she does seem to forget who she's riding with sometimes. Last night I think she got a bit of a fright when he acted up so maybe that'll make her try a bit harder. She asked her horse to trot which would have been just fine but he picked up canter instead since she doesn't really have a distinct cue for trot and canter, it's mostly just kick and kick.
To get him to stop I have been trying to turn his head, he goes to pull his head down gets a jab in the mouth from his bit and stops himself. It happens to infrequently, much less than it used to so the people i'm with stop and we stand while I do some flexing exercises with him to get his mind back in the game, it usually involves moving his feet either in a circle or zigzagging the trail. Then we resume the ride, I don't let him catch up. He's not allowed to do that jigging thing, I hate that, it throws my back out she he is not allowed to do it. If he jigs I push him into trot, so he's learned that when he jigs he has to work. He stopped doing it pretty quickly. He doesn't mind getting left behind at the walk and has been doing great with that side of it. My friends horse speeds right up on the way home and she ends up usually about 50ft away from us and he's calm as can be, it's just if the front horse moves off at the canter. Maybe his horsey herd instinct for survival kicks in.
I'm going to get my trail friends to start incorporating more exercises with the horses being apart and moving away from each other. The smaller horse we ride with needs that too since he gets fidgety when he's away from the others, and the slower horse could do with it to since he starts yelling as son as he loses sight of his friends. Herd bound horses everywhere it seems. I'll try the moving him away from them, is it okay to have them stay still while I do this or is it better if they're walking/trotting away (at first, we can work up to canter)?
There are parts of the trail when I could take a different path, the horses can hear each other but not see each other. I could try that.
Luckily so far we haven't come across a bunch of horses running through the trees at us or past us, I think i've been pretty fortunate because with how he is now i'm not sure I could sit out that meltdown. I'll try taking him out and doing some transition work with him see if that helps.