There’s no question about it, rearing is an extremely dangerous behavior in horses. When a horse rears there is a significant chance that the rider can be unseated. In extreme cases, the horse could fall over backwards and cause injury to themselves or the rider. As with most equestrian training issues, there is rarely a quick fix to vices such as rearing. Additionally, it is strongly urged that an experiences rider or a professional look at the problem. Here are some possible explanations for horse rearing, as well as some methods you can use to deal with the problem.
Check for pain or discomfort
Before we look into how to stop your horse from rearing, it’s vital that you are certain that the behavior is learned and not linked to pain. As with all problems, there is always a cause, and the root of that cause can unfortunately be pain. Many horses will react to pain by rearing, bucking, bolting or head shaking, in an attempt to escape from the physical discomfort that they are enduring.
Before taking any further steps, call a reputable vet, dentist and qualified saddle fitter to rule out any back problems, teeth problems or tack fitting issues. If a horse is in pain, the behavior will not be stopped through schooling and training and will only be worsened. So, the first step is always to confirm that the horse is healthy and is baring no injuries or soreness.
Now that you have made sure that the horse is not in pain, we can assume that the repeat rearing is learned behavior. Horses require consistency when it comes to their training. So, if you’re getting the wrong answers, then it’s likely that you are either asking the wrong questions or you are asking the question in the wrong way. To combat the issue of rearing, it’s important that the rider is experienced and not a novice. Riders that don’t understand the meaning of soft hands for example could provoke the horse and actually make the problem worse. Sometimes it’s best to leave things to the professionals!
Finding the trigger
To find out what the core of the problem is, you need to find out what it is that is triggering your horse's rearing. Maybe your horse rears at oncoming traffic on a hack out. Perhaps your horse rears when you ask them with a certain aid to do something that they are unwilling to do or not confident with.
A horse is usually rearing out of fear or out of disrespect. These are two issues that have to be approached very differently. If the cause is fear, then you need to work on eliminating the fear. On the other hand, if the cause is respect, well, you need to earn the respect of your horse.
It’s surprising how quickly a horse can learn bad behavior. Even the slightest ‘napping’ that went unnoticed or wasn’t dealt with can quickly spiral into something more sinister. It’s important to remember that you are always either schooling or un-schooling your horse, whether you are on the floor or in the saddle. If a horse ‘naps’ and isn’t told immediately to go forward, they have learned that they can get away with the hesitation and will without a doubt do it again, building upon the behavior.
Back to basics
Sometimes it’s necessary to go back to basics with a horse that has a rearing problem. Doing this can build confidence and establish trust and respect between you and the horse. Spend time encouraging your horse to work ‘long and low’ on the lunge and work on groundwork. Additionally, ask your horse to move away when prompted and to respect pressure rather than react to it with anger or fear.
If your horse rears when you are riding, make sure that you stay calm and collected.
Shouting and screaming rarely works and use of the whip will just escalate the situation further while the horse’s feet are in the air. Instead, move your hands up the horse’s neck and keep them soft. Then lean forward and encouraging the horse to get back on four feet.
Whatever you do, don’t pull on the reins or apply added pressure to the reins. Once the horse is back on the ground after rearing you need to get them moving forward as soon as possible. If the horse won’t move forward, rather than nagging, which may result in more rearing, try using one rein to move the horse either left or right and proceed to work the horse in a circle. Keep moving the horse on the circle until you can eventually move out of the circle and forward off the leg. Always forward is the key phrase here; a horse can’t rear when he is moving forward! Once you are forward, put your horse to work and get them to use their brain to distract them from any potential rearing.
Rearing can be one of the trickiest problems to deal with. However, with the correct experience and a measured approach you can help your horse to become happy and relaxed when under saddle.
Do you have any horse rearing tips you'd like to share? post them in the comments below!
Written by Anna Wilson