I have a friend with a 10 year old quarter horse mare who has been rearing a lot over the past few months, (she actually started around September last year) It has now gotten so bad that she cannot take her off of the farm. The horse rears when she is asked to move away from the others, or sometimes just as a way to get out of doing things she does not want to. I think that my friend perhaps was trying to go too fast too soon around barrels, and the other games before the fair last year, because I remember her telling me that she did it when she clucked to ask her to go forward, and she was going up right before the start flags. About 3 months ago Maddy started to take a few English lessons at a local riding farm, and said that The mare has been very bad for it ever since. she stopped going to the lessons, and said that Cassie is generally okay at home, but it is dangerous, and shes not sure what to do about it. Do you have any advice? Emily
How nice you are trying to help your friend with her horse. I want you to know right away that there are two habits that I think require the assistance of a qualified professional horse trainer – rearing and kicking. Both of these habits are very dangerous. Your friend should be working with a qualified instructor who can help her diagnose her horse’s problem in person.
Rearing usually gets worse before it gets better. The big risk, of course, is that when a horse rears, the rider can easily fall off, and often when a horse really gets into rearing, he can fall over backwards which can be deadly.
But let’s talk a little bit about what causes rearing and what you can SAFELY try to eliminate the bad habit.
Rearing is an “avoidance behavior” – the horse is trying to avoid going forward. This usually occurs when a horse has not learned that when you say go forward, he must go forward, so he is confused and needs progressive training and/or a review of the basics. (See 101 Arena Exercises)
OR it could be a horse that is becoming herd bound or barn sour and does not want to leave a certain area where she can see the barn or her buddies. The horse is saying “NO”. This is more of a psychological problem. The horse needs to develop security and confidence in the rider.
OR it could be a horse that has at one time or another has received a sharp jerk or rough handling when he DID go forward so now he is afraid of the consequences of going forward. When a horse that tends to rear is switched from a curb bit to a snaffle and the rider is very good with her hands (following the horse’s movement), the horse tends to move OUT (forward) rather than UP (rearing). It is important that when the leg cue is applied for the horse to go forward, the rider doesn’t also pull on the bit as that would be conflicting signals which would confuse the horse.
You can rule out physical causes by having a veterinarian check the horse’s mouth and back to be sure there are no dental or spinal problems.
You can also review “forward” lessons in in-hand work (walk out and trot out promptly when leading) and longeing, concentrating on the horse working in a long, low frame with lots of extended trot type work, rather than collected work. Collecting a horse too soon or improperly can lead to rearing.
I invite you to visit my Horse Information Roundup where you will find related articles on herd bound, barn sour, forward movement, all aspects of ground training and riding and more.
Cherry – I am not being facetious here – but when I was a child in “yesteryear” I was an avid fan of The Lone Ranger. His horse, “Silver”, reared when unmounted and also when mounted by The Lone Ranger during the program signoff finale. I wonder why this was allowed during each episode if rearing is a negative trait. Thank you. Barby
Hi Barby !
You ask an interesting and excellent question. I’m answering it as part of the actual post so that I can insert a photo.
Rearing, when taught as a specific exercise, trick, or movement shows high skill and balance on the part of the horse. Not every horse can rear and stand in balance as the Lone Ranger’s horse did. It is especially difficult when carrying the additional weight of that heavy silver saddle and a rider.
So as far as exhibition, it demonstrates that the horse rears on command, stands balanced on two legs instead of four, and returns to the ground in a controlled fashion.
Rearing in exhibition can also be seen in many circuses and is a part of high level dressage training and exhibition as demonstrated by the Lipizzaner horses, most notably those of Vienna.
The exercise whereby a horse stands on his hind legs is a Levade. It is part of classical dressage, specifically the Haute Ecole. The levade is a collected, controlled rear. The horse lifts both front legs from the ground and stands with the hind legs bent in the joints. This pose is held for several seconds.
So why is a rear so highly prized in some situations and discouraged in others? It is all about control and intent.
Think about a horse running. Playfully in a pasture with herdmates, it is a good thing. At a race track where speed is the goal, it is a good thing. But a horse running away (which we call bolting) uncontrollably with a frightened rider on board, that’s a bad situation.
Similarly with rearing. If it is a response that is not asked for and uncontrollable, it is a dangerous behavior.
Thanks for asking such an interesting question !