If you have ever had a horse rear on you, then you know how dangerous and frightening it can be. It is essential to understand the cause of rearing and what to do to stop it from happening again. Horses rear for many reasons, but there are some steps that people can take to help prevent this behaviour from occurring.
How not to stop a horse rearing
There is a lot of advice about how to stop a rearing horse, which can be tricky. But if you do not want to use fear or force, then you can try different things. When we explore why horses rear, it will be clearer what works and what does not work.
First out the gate; don't do these things as you will likely escalate the issue.
- Don't whack horses between the ears with sticks
- Don't bust a balloon filled with warm water over their heads
- Don't pull the rein while in the air; you will unbalance the horse, yourself or both and could fall
If it's evident to you that the first two techniques are plain crazy, then you are in the right place. Let's have a sensible look at the issue of rearing.
Why horses rear
As with any problem in life, addressing the symptom rarely leads to long term solutions.
Before you do anything else, rule out pain or injury as an issue. This could be anything from poor saddle fit, problems in the horse's mouth, or the horse's teeth causing him pain when you take the reins. It can be any pain in the horse's body that you may not easily detect. If you are not quite sure what's going on, reach out to the vet, and from there, depending on their advice, you can work with horse bodyworkers, for example, horse physiotherapy or osteopaths.
Once you are certain the issue is not pain or injury, it's time to address the behavioural aspects.
Part of a horse's instinct is to protect their young, themselves and their herd from predators. Rearing is something they do in response to fear and threats (which is why fear, threats and punishment are counterproductive in resolving the issue).
Humans also react to fear, and often our instinct when things go wrong is to take a tighter hold of our horse, but this has the effect of making the horse more fearful and anxious. If a horse feels trapped, his only way out is up!
What to do in the moment
If you are reading this article, it's likely you have had a horse rear or are in the process of negotiating with a horse to stop rearing. In most cases, there are signs before the rear that, if addressed, will stop the situation from escalating to that point, but if it does happen too quickly to formulate a plan, then you need to be safe.
If a horse rears while you're riding, keep your weight forward and centred lean into his neck to keep your balance. Don't pull on the reins because you could pull the horse's head back, causing him to lose balance and fall backwards. Pulling the reins may also cause physical pain or increase the horse's feeling of being trapped, causing him to panic.
You can't fix rearing while you are in the air; wait until the horse's feet are on the ground, all four of them.
It's ok to get off when safe to do so, or even bail if you really have to, but make sure you can get out of the way once on the ground. Some people think that getting off is losing, and the horse wins. It's not a competition - no one wins until both horse and rider are in place of trust and calm. That said, don't get off, then pet your horse and then put him in his stable - that is not the lesson we want him to take away from the experience!
Prevent Horse Rearing
So we understand the cause and know that we unintentionally make things worse by adding in our own fear and hanging on, pulling and trapping the horse.
The easiest way to prevent a horse from rearing is by maintaining forward momentum; a horse will go up when he can't go forward and can't go up with forward motion. Remember not to hang onto the bit; easier said than done when we are fearful.
It may help to change paces, brisk walk, extended trot, change of directions - this helps horse and rider refocus and gain composure.
Hopefully, rearing is rare, but it can become a habit for some horses due to inadequate training or the early stages of the behaviour not being addressed appropriately.
Pay attention to what causes your horse to be anxious? Don't be afraid to ask for help; wonderful horsemanship practitioners can help with horse training to resolve the issue without using fear or force. If the behaviour has knocked your confidence, then there are brilliant resources to help you. You are not alone. But.. the second someone suggests hitting with sticks or bursting water balloons - walk away!
We hope you have found this article useful or at least given you some ideas to help resolve rearing horse problems.
The equine world is full of people who are stuck in the old ways. They use outdated training techniques like force, intimidation and pain to control their horses.
Those methods might work for a while, but they will never create long-lasting change or trust. In fact, all those negative training techniques can lead to fear, anxiety and aggression in your horse that could last a lifetime!
Horsemanship Journal Magazine offers real solutions based on science, research and experience from experts around the world. We publish articles aimed at developing mutual respect and trust with your horse. Our articles cover topics such as handling common behaviour issues, understanding equine body language & communication, train using rewards instead of punishment, and developing strong leadership skills with your horse. We also strongly believe that the rider's mindset is key to a rewarding life with horse's.