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Rearing - Why?
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Rearing - Why?

Rearing is not only frightening for the rider, but it is also extremely dangerous for both parties. So what could cause a horse to exhibit such behaviour?

Consider when the horse rears. Does it happen for no apparent reason during schooling sessions or is it an evasion to one particular exercise or set of aids? I once had a horse which reared as part of a napping behaviour whenever he was asked to leave the yard on his own; the stronger the aid applied to ask him to walk forward the higher he tried to rear. Eventually, he overcame his fear of hacking out alone and the rearing disappeared.

If your horse displays this behaviour, always have his teeth, back and tack checked out by the relevant experts before you do anything else. This is particularly important if your horse has never reared, bucked or napped before. If your horse is young and still growing or has gained or lost condition recently, it could be that he has changed shape so that his saddle is no longer sitting comfortably on his back. It does not take a huge physiological change to radically change the fit of a saddle. Perhaps he has a troublesome tooth which is being aggravated by his bit. Maybe his bridle has been reassembled slightly differently after you've cleaned it and the bit is now either too high or too low in his mouth and consequently causing him discomfort. Your horse may have been cast in his stable or have slipped over whilst clowning around with his chums in the field and could be suffering from a pulled muscle or a knock you can't see.

If the habit persists after all the usual suspects detailed above have been eliminated, the horse must be reacting to something the rider is doing whilst on his back. Look at things from a horse's point of view. When a horse allows a rider on his back he overcomes a massive psychological hurdle: the instinctive fear that equates weight on his back with the attack of a predator. If the rider is tense, unbalanced or clumsy, the horse's instinct kicks in and he succumbs to his natural urge to get rid of the source of his anxiety.

So, check your position in the saddle and the aids you use when your horse gets tense and the rearing problem occurs. Knowledgeable eyes on the ground are vital here but you can also ask yourself the following questions:

Am I inclined to be left behind during transitions from one gait to another? Does this cause me to bump down heavily or too far back in the saddle?

Do I sometimes catch my horse in the mouth or use the reins for balance?

Do I sometimes feel as though I am wobbly or unsteady?

Do I get tense, for example when asking for a canter transition?

If your honest answer to any of the above questions, then it could be this that is causing the horse to become tense and sparks off the rearing behaviour. Try asking a more experienced rider with a secure seat who will not be nervous to ride your horse for a while until he settles down. In the meantime, you could continue working with your horse on the ground; long reining or lunging perhaps to help re-build your mutual trust and bond before you get back in the saddle.

It's possible that the horse is confused by some of the aids you are giving particularly if he is a youngster or new to you. Make sure you're not sending him forward with your leg but forgetting to soften your hand at the same time. If a specific set of aids causes the upset, try softening them and asking more quietly. Some horses are more sensitive than others and will react from a "whisper" rather than a "scream".

If your horse is a mare, her behaviour could be linked to her season cycles. Sometimes the rush of hormones can affect mares' behaviour under saddle. They can become particularly "clingy" to their field companions and this can lead to napping and rearing when they are separated. If you suspect that this may be the case, try putting your mare on Regumate for a couple of weeks to see if it helps. Sometimes this can be all you need to settle things down again.

Horses are very quick to learn and unfortunately if rearing is being used by the horse as a rider frightening evasion to work, you may find it a difficult habit to break. You may have to go right back to basics to break the cycle which leads to the behaviour.

There are plenty of so-called cures for rearing ranging from pulling a horse over backwards when it rears to hitting it between the ears with a schooling whip or even an egg! Such drastic action does not work and will only serve to frighten the poor horse even more. If you find yourself at a loss; refer your horse to a professional behavioural specialist. The expense will be well worth it in the long term for both you and your horse.

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Leave a Comment

  1. Rene Wright
    Rene Wright
    Voted. All good points to study, though Cookie doesn't have a rearing problem (thankfully) it is something to bear in mind should I ever come across one who does. :) x
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    1. autumnap
      autumnap
      Thank you kindly! I had one that reared and although we eventually cured him of the habit, the whole experience did nothing for my confidence. x
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      1. Rene Wright
        Rene Wright
        Really? I suppose it does shake one's confidence (thoughtfully said). When I was a kid, it was nothing for a horse to rear while I was riding. For the most part they were buddy or barn sour and had other ideas. So, it didn't really shake my confidence, but it reminded me of how much better of a rider I had become. I grew up around rodeo, so I figured if I could "stick" my ride through anything, then I would be just fine. I had become the peanut with the velcro butt. lol
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  2. PonyGirl
    PonyGirl
    Great post on a subject that needs addressing. I'm not sure what the equivalent of "napping" is in the US. I would guess that it is "prop", but "nap" is a term I've never heard before. We get a lot of rearing on the racetrack. The horses are all young and feeling energetic. I find stallions are more prone to rear out of excitement or exuberance, since this is part of their natural play behavior. Over the years, I have also found that some horses are just light in the front end, due either to conformation or certain bloodlines. I thought all your advice was first rate. If the horse is in pain, the only thing that will stop the behavior is removal of the pain. When ponying a horse that is prone to rear, prop, or flip over, the key is to keep them moving forward, which often means circling and circling, and to keep a very light, but constant and EVEN contact with their mouths. A horse that rears is the most difficult type to pony, since if the pony and I don't do our job exactly right, we can actually cause the horse to go up with the potential outcome of an injured jockey and/or horse.
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    1. autumnap
      autumnap
      Thank you. I think propping is probably the same thing as napping. We call it nappy behaviour if a horse refuses to leave its companions in the working in area at a show to enter the arena or to leave the yard to go out on a hack. Very often if you put pressure on a horse and begin to use stronger aids in an effort to overcome the napping, rearing results as the horse feels it has nowhere left to go. Excitement and high spirits can be another cause of rearing. I've seen horses rearing in the starting stalls at race meetings. This is obviously very frightening for the jockey and can result in serious injury to both parties should the horse go down in the stalls.
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      1. PonyGirl
        PonyGirl
        Oh, "napping" is a little different than I thought. Here we would say he's "sour"- barn sour or companion sour- or even pony sour. The behavior itself would be considered "sulling up"- tensing up and refusing to go. The word has the same roots as "sullen". If the horse locks up completely and refuses to move at all,we would term it "freezing up", and urging the horse forward will almost always result in rearing and lunging. Turning the horse very carefully until he steps out on his own is the only way to deal with this. "Propping" is when you're jogging or cantering along nicely and your horse decides to suddenly come to an abrupt and complete halt (usually on his forehand), which is generally followed by wheeling around in the opposite direction. On the track, you see more riders coming off due to propping than any other behavior. I like the term, "nappy". Thanks for the English lesson. :D Rearing in the starting gate can be very bad. The quarter horses seem much more prone to rearing or flipping in the gates than the thoroughbreds. If the horse just rears straight up, it usually just throws the jock out the back, and isn't too bad. The worst jock injuries I've seen have happened when it's muddy. The horse goes up and then his back feet slip forward suddenly, creating an undertow effect that sucks the jockey straight down, either pinning him between the tail gate and the horse's full weight or drops him underneath his horse and the horse's feet in the stalls next door.
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  3. jst4horses
    A rearing horse is best referred to someone who knows what to do. If your horse did not rear before, and just started, check as noted above in a well written article, however, this can be deadly behavior and do not attempt to ride a rearing horse, get an expert. Having had an "expert" friend and myself, another "expert" both injured badly by rearing horses, I beg of anyone who is not REALLY an expert not to attempt to stop this behavior without professional help. Rearing is complete disrespect, and a failure of the rider to have control over the horse. Many horses rear because inadequate riders are telling them to move forward, while hacking and sawing back on the bit and reins, the horse has enough and explodes, rearing to relieve the pressure on the mouth. I have seen many go over. A non-professional rider, and even at least one of those, are often badly injured when the horse goes all the way over and the saddle slams the rider in the chest, and while the horse attempts to get back up. NO TIED REINS. I have seen many people caught in reins in these disasters. DO NOT TIE YOUR REINS, or use short reins professional riders use for particular events. Even two loose reins are likely to get caught in the rider's legs, and/or arms, around the neck and the horse struggles up and takes off. Not safe. A rearing horse tells you the animal is not under good control. I find people who say "the horse did not want" do not realize, the horse does not get to want. Good training means the horse does what you want, or asks in a way a good professional rider will pick up to NOT do. It is up to a rider to realize a horse has become barn sour, or buddy sour, and do something to reverse that silliness. If a horse is barn sour, the rider has not made good join up with the horse, and/or the horse can only be fed outside the stall for some period of time, here and there around the stable. That is a good reason for not getting off or on at the same place all the time as well. I used to think I was awesome because I could ride a bratty horse, I learned that it was a lot better plan to know how to train out the bad habits BEFORE getting up there. That old adage, never get down, is not smart. It can be deadly.
    Log in to reply.
  4. jst4horses
    A rearing horse is best referred to someone who knows what to do. If your horse did not rear before, and just started, check as noted above in a well written article, however, this can be deadly behavior and do not attempt to ride a rearing horse, get an expert. Having had an "expert" friend and myself, another "expert" both injured badly by rearing horses, I beg of anyone who is not REALLY an expert not to attempt to stop this behavior without professional help. Rearing is complete disrespect, and a failure of the rider to have control over the horse. Many horses rear because inadequate riders are telling them to move forward, while hacking and sawing back on the bit and reins, the horse has enough and explodes, rearing to relieve the pressure on the mouth. I have seen many go over. A non-professional rider, and even at least one of those, are often badly injured when the horse goes all the way over and the saddle slams the rider in the chest, and while the horse attempts to get back up. NO TIED REINS. I have seen many people caught in reins in these disasters. DO NOT TIE YOUR REINS, or use short reins professional riders use for particular events. Even two loose reins are likely to get caught in the rider's legs, and/or arms, around the neck and the horse struggles up and takes off. Not safe. A rearing horse tells you the animal is not under good control. I find people who say "the horse did not want" do not realize, the horse does not get to want. Good training means the horse does what you want, or asks in a way a good professional rider will pick up to NOT do. It is up to a rider to realize a horse has become barn sour, or buddy sour, and do something to reverse that silliness. If a horse is barn sour, the rider has not made good join up with the horse, and/or the horse can only be fed outside the stall for some period of time, here and there around the stable. That is a good reason for not getting off or on at the same place all the time as well. I used to think I was awesome because I could ride a bratty horse, I learned that it was a lot better plan to know how to train out the bad habits BEFORE getting up there. That old adage, never get down, is not smart. It can be deadly.
    Log in to reply.

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