Rearing is perhaps a horse’s most effective defense against the rider. It is dangerous in that the horse can fall over backward onto its rider. Because of a horse’s enormous weight this can cripple and even kill the rider. Thus, it is good to know why, if possible, a horse rears. But even more importantly, how to stop it.
If your horse ever does rear with you on him, there isn’t much you can do. If he rears suddenly, he could lose his balance and fall or he could rear so explosively that he can throw himself back to the ground with the rider under him. If you’re on him while this is happening and you use the reins to pull on to keep from falling, you’re likely to pull the horse over.
Although it’s not one hundred percent infallible, the best way to protect yourself when a horse rears with you is to lean forward immediately and put your hands forward so you have loose reins. If you have to, you could even put your arms around his neck, let go of the reins and slide off. For my money, there aren’t any other safer ways to deal with a horse if he suddenly rears.
Why do horses rear? There are several reasons why. Here are some examples.
I’ve read where a rider was on an obedient horse while trail riding. They came upon cows and it scared the horse because the horse was not used to cows. The rider tried to get the horse to go toward the cows to get it to learn that cows are not spooky. The horse obeyed and went forward but finally became so frightened that it reared up, lost balance, and fell on its rider. The rider suffered numerous broken bones.
The rider later understood the horse felt trapped. The horse obediently went forward even though it was frightened. As it got closer, fear overpowered the horse and it had nowhere to go but up.
Some horses rear because as colts they were too young to be ridden. Another reason rearing happens is because training may confuse the horse. The horse may be asked to do too much at one time and not know what to do.
Sometimes a horse will rear if it is forced to yield to the bit. Other horses may rear if you try to get them to put out more energy than they can. On the opposite end, some horses may rear because they want to go and you don’t let them.
So how do you stop a horse from rearing?
First, let’s take a look at the anatomy of a horse while it rears. A horse cannot rear while running. A horse must stop (or be barely moving) to be able to rear. If a rider has had enough experience on a horse he can feel when the horse gets light in the front. In a way, it would be a bit like sitting in the middle of a teeter-totter where you can feel one side getting light.
So, if a horse has to stop to rear up then it makes sense to keep the horse moving so it cannot rear up. Thus, if you feel your horse getting light in the front then you move him forward and do it with meaning. Not just a patient “cluck” from your mouth. Do it like you mean it. And it’s also important he has a place to go forward – don’t have him blocked in by anything.
If your horse rears up and you weren’t ready for it then lean forward and give your horse loose reins. As soon as your horse’s feet are almost back to the ground then make your horse go forward. Let the horse know, with no doubt whatsoever, to go forward. Boot the horse “hard” into going forward. When your horse has gone forward a little ways then double him and drive him forward out of the double. Then double him the other way and drive him forward from it also. Then bring your horse to a stop.
What does it mean to “double” your horse? Essentially, you will pull his head back one way towards his hind quarters. The moment he is committed to the turn then boot him forward. This impresses upon your horses mind that you can control him.
Other so-called “schools of thought” to stop rearing are to hit a horse over the head with a two-by-four when he rears up. I’ve even read where people break beer bottles over the horse’s head. Some people use the handle end of a riding crop. Not only are these inhumane ways to stop rearing, they are rarely, if ever, effective. They don’t teach a horse anything except to fear the rider. Hitting a horse over the head when you are trying to build a trust relationship will destroy all you’ve worked for.
As is almost always the case, the best way to get a horse to do what you want is to use psychology of the horse. Get him to move and you can accomplish miracles.
Andy Curry is a nationally known horse trainer and author of several best selling horse training and horse care books. For information visit his website at www.horsetrainingandtips.com. He is also the leading expert on Jesse Beery's horse training methods which can be seen at www.horsetrainingandtips.com/Jesse_Beerya.htm.