At your wits end with your rearer? Try these tips from Clinton Anderson to cure a frustrating and frightening behavioural problem. I’ve heard lots of crazy stories about how to deal with a horse that rears, and I’m sure you have too. I’ve heard of everything from whacking horses between the ears with sticks, busting a balloon filled with warm water over their heads and making loud noises to get horses to stop. Very rarely do any of these techniques work, and even if they do the result is usually short-lived.
Why horses rear A horse doesn’t just rear. He rears because something is making him. The three main reasons that horses rear are:
1) He is afraid - The horse is afraid and wants to run, meaning he’s using the reactive side of his brain. To make matters worse the rider holds onto his mouth with two hands making the horse feel claustrophobic. When this happens the horse’s energy bottles up and he can only release it by going up in the air or flying backwards and flipping over. 2) He is balking (napping) - When he doesn’t want to do something his way of getting out of it is to rear up or run backwards. 3) His is in pain - A horse with a sore back or other physiological disorder may rear as a sign of his discomfort. Make sure to have a rearing horse checked over thoroughly by a vet before you work on stopping the behaviour.
The Cure Once you have eliminated pain as a possible cause of rearing you can move on to the behavioural side of things. Rearing because of baulking or fear shows a lack of respect. You need to make the horse understand that you’re the leader and that he needs to respect you. To gain a horse’s respect, you have to move his feet forwards, backwards, left and right, and always reward the slightest try. When he’s moving his feet he’s using the thinking side of his brain and he is no longer fearful.
The more changes of direction you do, and the more you make the horse move his feet, the more he’ll think and pay attention to you. The best way to cure a horse that is unnecessarily afraid is to yield his hindquarters. When a horse crosses his back legs over one another, it takes away his balance point. Once his balance point is taken away, the horse can’t stand on his hind legs and rear. Disengaging a horse’s hindquarters is like pushing the clutch in on a car; you take the power away from the horse.
Yielding the Hindquarters Yielding the hindquarters also gets the horse to stop thinking about being disrespectful or fearful, and makes him concentrate on where he’s placing his feet. To yield the hindquarters under saddle, pick up one rein and pull it to your hip, bringing the horse’s head around towards your toe. Put your inside leg back (the same side as the rein) and apply pressure by the horse’s flank. Once the horse moves off of the pressure, take your leg off. Wait for the horse to soften to the rein and then release it.
A horse that rears because he is baulking at something indicates a lack of control on the rider’s part. First get control of the horse on the ground by moving his feet forwards, backwards, left and right. This will carry over to riding. If the horse rears because he doesn’t want to go somewhere, use a little reverse psychology on him. Don’t think, ‘How can I make the horse move?’ Think, ‘How can I make it uncomfortable for the horse not to go in the direction that I want?’ Do that by working the horse hard wherever he wants to be and letting him rest and relax where he doesn’t want to be.
Work him hard and make him hustle his feet, but only use one rein to direct him. Serpentines are great exercises because the horse has to constantly move his feet and change directions. The more times a horse changes directions, the more he has to think and pay attention to you. Rollbacks are another good exercise to get a horse’s feet moving. Not only do they make a horse’s feet hustle, but they also make him use his hindquarters. The hindquarters are the horse’s gas pedal. The more control you have of the gas pedal, the more control you have of the horse. When doing a rollback, canter the horse off, bring him to a stop and roll him over his hocks.
It doesn’t really matter how you move the horse as long as you hustle his feet. The horse wants to be moving, so either you do something constructive with his energy or he’ll do something destructive with it. If you let the horse drag his feet and daydream about fairies, then the exercise won’t work. Make the horse hustle his feet and give him a reason to want to get away from the barn or wherever he doesn’t want to leave.
- Get off. If at any time you’re riding a horse that rears and you don’t feel safe, immediately get off. On the ground you can lunge the horse and do other exercises to gain his respect and get him to use the thinking side of his brain. Once the horse is listening, you can get back in the saddle. A lot of people don’t like getting off because they feel that the horse gets a win. The horse only gets a win if you get off, rub him and then walk him back to the barn and put him away so make sure to get to work from the ground on moving his feet.
- Use one rein for control. When a horse panics and turns to the reactive side of his brain, control him with just one rein. If you’re tempted to grab onto both reins for control or balance, grab a fistful of mane or the saddle horn instead. Put the horse on a loose rein and redirect his feet with only one, then concentrate on getting him to use the thinking side of his brain by doing lots of changes of direction. When a horse rears, never pull back on both reins. Doing this can pull the horse off balance and over backwards. Pulling with both reins will also make the horse more nervous and upset, exacerbating the rearing problem as he will feel he has no escape.