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Rearing can be a very dangerous problem and is equally as nerve-wracking whether it is on the ground or when ridden. In this blog, I will outline the reasons why horses rear when being ridden as over the past few years, I have worked with a large number of horses sent to me for rearing under saddle, some of which have been competing at a high level. It is also important to understand and highlight the “why’s” so you can try and avoid creating the problem in the first place rather than knowing how to fix the problem once it has been created!

The vast majority of rearing problems develop due to physical pressures caused by rider error. Depending on how sensitive or tolerant the horse is and whether it is exacerbated by physical pain, these errors can be small or large. Whatever the case the end result is the same; the horse is trying to escape a feeling of being under pressure.

1. Asking your horse forward whilst continuing to pull (or “hold”) on the bridle.

People watch top riders riding their horses in this amazing shape and think they can simply pull their horse into this position. However, these horses are able to look this way because they are so supple and lacking in tension. Holding your horse like this if they have tension in their body will cause resistance. When the rider then asks for “forward” but keeps holding onto the bridle and offers no “give” when the horse responds, the horse feels that there is nowhere to go and will try rearing to get away from the pressure. In most cases the rider will drop the reins when the horse rears and therefore the horse will quickly realize that rearing works as a way of getting a release from pressure on the bridle. I have found this the most common cause of rearing in competition horses, particularly dressage horses.

2. Fearful or inexperienced riders

Fearful, or nervous, riders tend to hang on to the reins and “grab” at their horses mouths as they are worried their horse is going to misbehave. Likewise, some inexperienced riders will kick and pull at the same time as they lack balance in the saddle. Both cause the same confusion in aids and although many horses can tolerate these riders for quite some time, they may suddenly rear, bolt or buck “out of the blue”. This is often misconstrued as a horse being in pain, but I would say it is more likely that it is an indication of the horse reaching their threshold of tolerating how they are being ridden.

3. Trying for an “uphill” way of going

If a horse’s way of going is “down hill”, riders tend to try to pick up the front end in order to engage their horse’s hindend and this can cause conflict; the horse tries to get back to their down hill way of going where they felt comfortable whilst the rider pulls on them more to pick them up! The horse will soon make the connection that this conflict occurs when they are moving forward and to get out of this battle the option of stopping and refusing to go forward will seem far easier. Of course the rider will then start kicking to get them moving again which can result in escalated conflict and the horse may start to rear.

4. Kicking a scared or napping horse forward.

With a horse that is faced with something they are fearful of it is important to move them one step at a time and reward them for each step forward. If you keep kicking when they give you a forward step into what they perceive as a potential danger you will be telling your horse they are doing the wrong thing. This could lead your horse to look at other options such as rearing. The same situation can occur with a horse that is napping or planting their feet. If the rider keeps kicking once the horse has taken a step forward, they may become even more stubborn.

5. Feeling fresh and ready to play.

It is important to remember that horses naturally use rearing as a way to play with or challenge their mates so if he is in this kind of mood, it better to let your horse blow off some steam either on the lunge or by riding forward on circles and serpentines with lots of changes in direction. A rearing habit can develop from these situations if you don’t let them get rid of their excess energy as you are in effect creating a ticking time bomb! Although it takes guts to let a fresh horse “go”, it is the best thing you can do.

6. Physical Pain.

I have left this reason until the end as I find that many riders blame any problems they have with their horses on some sort of physical pain rather than what they are doing as riders and handlers. Horses are actually remarkably tolerant to pain and many put up with low levels of discomfort over long periods of time. Having said that, I always ask owners to get their horse and the fit of their tack fully checked over so we can effectively eliminate pain as a cause of rearing. What I usually find is that varying degrees of physical imbalances or pain have developed as a consequence of the above rider errors, therefore contributing to a rearing problem and adding a rehabilitation element to any retraining that I do.

In future blogs, I will look at rearing on the ground and give tips on how to “fix” rearing problems.

If you find you need help with your horse, we offer a comprehensive range of services, from working with problem horses, to rider training clinics to show you how to get to the root of the problem yourself. If you have any questions at all, please do not hesitate to contact us. We are here to help you and your horse.

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