If your horse rears, you're in danger of being unseated, fallen on, or struck, and the horse may lose its balance, falling and injuring itself. A horse that rears while hitched can fall on the driver and passengers of the vehicle, cause injury to itself, and destroy equipment and objects around it.
Once a horse learns this behavior, it's difficult to stop. If you’re a beginner rider, it will be almost impossible, in fact, dangerous, to try to solve this problem yourself. Instead, you'll need to find a professional who can help you.
Why Do Horses Rear?
It's essential to understand why your horse is rearing before attempting to eliminate the behavior.
Before considering any other causes, think about the possibility of physical problems. Soreness from poor saddle or harness fit and overgrown teeth are common problems that can make a horse act out.
- Girths: Poorly placed or too-tight girths or cinches may make your horse cranky.
- Health issues: A veterinarian or equine therapist, such as a chiropractor, may be able to help you find physical problems. While rare, strange outbursts of behavior like rearing can be caused by life-threatening health problems such as tumors, bone fractures, or organ failure.
- Dental or vision problems: Have a professional check for painful dental problems and vision problems. A horse whose teeth are bothering it or one that can't see properly may rear as a way of expressing mild panic.
- Poor training: After checking that equipment is comfortable and there's no physical reason your horse is rearing, consider whether there are gaps in your horse’s training that could cause it to be frustrated, confused, or overwhelmed by what you're asking it to do.
- Under- or overstimulation: Is your horse eating too much rich food and not getting enough exercise? A horse that spends most of its time out in a pasture will be less likely to blow off excess steam by rearing, bolting, or bucking. A horse that's bored with its routine may act out too.
What to Do If Your Horse Rears
Most often a horse will give some indication, such as balking, that a rear is coming, which allows you a few seconds to plan your next move. Sometimes, however, there's no time to react.
If a horse rears while you're riding, keep your weight well forward and centered. Don't pull on the reins because you could pull the horse’s head back further, causing it to lose its balance and fall. Don’t touch the reins again until the horse is firmly on all four feet. Snatching up the reins may cause a repeat of the behavior.
Alternatively, you can bail out. An emergency dismount is appropriate if you feel unsafe. But you need to get out of the way quickly so the horse doesn’t hit you on the way down. The downside of this is that if you bail every time your horse hops up in the front, it will quickly learn that this is how it can get you off its back. Whether you stay with the ship or bail out, be aware that there's no perfectly safe way to ride a rear. No matter how you decide to deal with it, you'll still be in some danger.
How to Prevent Rearing
Only attempt to deal with a horse that rears while ridden or driven if you know how to handle it properly. You should know:
- How to work a horse "long and low," avoiding schooling that involves keeping a horse in frame and collection (and jumping if riding).
- How to actively drive a horse forward.
- How to engage (and disengage) the horse’s hindquarters.
- How to use your hands softly.
- How to feel if a horse is inclined to settle on its haunches and recognize the behaviors and triggers that lead up to a rear.
- How to school a horse effectively, giving it 100 percent of your attention.
- How to keep your cool at all times.
- Which bits may help and which may exacerbate the problem.
On the ground, don't be tempted to pull harshly on the horse’s head as punishment as this may make things worse. Any training that makes a horse back up or put its head up will be counterproductive. You’ll need to recognize what triggers the rear and take steps to avoid it.
Any punishment that includes hitting, yelling, yanking on the lead, throwing your arms in the air, or waving a whip may make things worse. Punishment rarely works to extinguish any behavior problem.
Get Professional Help
If you're a beginner or even an intermediate rider, you'll be safer if you get help from a professional trainer. Choosing a trainer can be tricky, though, as anyone can hang out a shingle claiming to train horses and solve behavior problems.
Ask for references and check them out. Are the horses that come from this trainer well mannered from the ground and under saddle or in harness? Are the owners happy with the results and successful with their horses, whether they're pleasure or performance oriented? Some trainers won't want to work with a horse that rears.
Should You Buy or Keep a Horse That Rears?
If you're considering purchasing a horse and it rears while you're watching it being ridden or trying it out, don’t buy it. No matter how appealing the horse is otherwise, consider rearing to be a deal breaker. If you own a horse that rears, come to grips with the possibility that it isn’t the right horse for you.