We’ve all watched Westerns on television or in the theater where the hero rides a magnificent stallion to the top of a hill and waves his cowboy hat to all as the mighty horse rears and then they thunder off into the sunset. I think that such an exciting imagine may have done more harm to how horses are handled than mere inexperience alone. After all, who wants a horse that isn’t as exciting as our hero’s horse? Then you get inexperienced people who have horses and they want them to rear simply because it is exciting so they encourage rearing. Unfortunately rearing is a dangerous habit for a horse to have and people have been killed from rearing horses that flip over backwards and fall on their riders.
Pulling is another bad habit that a horse can have. Pulling is what happens when a horse jerks and pulls back when it is tied with either a halter and lead rope or a bridle and reins to a stationary object such as a fence, for example. The horse will usually throw its entire weight backwards and struggle until something breaks and he is free. Obviously this can be dangerous to both the horse and his rider. If the horse fights hard enough, he can break his own neck or leg if it gets caught in the rope. And the rider can lose a finger or worse if they try to untie the horse while it is pulling back. I have read several articles that suggest you can get your horse to stop pulling by using a plain rope halter (without any metal pieces on it) and tying the horse with a strong lead rope to a thick tree branch that has some give to it. In theory, as the horse pulls back, the branch gives way just enough to let the horse feel it and as the horse stops pulling (due to the rope halter digging into the top of his head at the poll) then the horse will move forward with the branch. This is something you will need to do more than once or twice; stopping bad habits in your horse takes time, patience and persistence.
No horse is perfect and at times we will adjust some of our own behaviors and adapt to our horses needs and idiosyncrasies because we love them and we have a good rapport and relationship with our horse in most other ways. But when your horse has bad habits, such as rearing and pulling, that are dangerous to both you and to your horse, then you need to re-evaluate your horses’ training. A horse that rears or pulls is never a good thing and that behavior needs to be stopped and corrected as soon as possible.
A professional horse trainer is the best person to handle a horse who has the bad habit of rearing or pulling. If you can afford a professional horse trainer, seriously consider taking your horse to him/her. The fee they charge is a small price to pay for a much safer horse. Finding a professional horse trainer in your area may be difficult if you don’t already know all the local stables. Start with your local yellow pages and look up boarding horses, horses, horse training, stables; anything that will give you an idea of where people with horses either hang out or board their horses or take horseback riding lessons. Ask horse people plenty of questions to find out who does horse training in your area. Once you find a horse trainer, then talk to some of their clients and observe some of the horses they’ve trained. Unfortunately there are dishonest horse trainers whose methods of training may cause your horse more harm than good. There is an online site, LocalHorseTrainers.com, where you can find horse trainers listed by state that are certified by famous horse trainers such as John Lyons or Pat Parelli. It’s still a good idea to meet some of their clients and see the horses they’ve trained though.
What if you just can’t afford a professional horse trainer but you don’t want to get rid of your horse? It’s true, horses are expensive to own. The purchase price of the horse itself is usually the ordinary horse owners’ smallest investment. It’s the feed bills, vet bills, and farrier bills that cost the most to maintain a healthy horse. That often leaves YOU to be your own horse trainer.
An alternative to a professional horse trainer is to buy horse training books and videos to show YOU how to be your own horse trainer. It isn’t quite the same thing as a professional horse trainer but horse training books and videos can at least help to give you ideas and horse training tips on how to stop your horse from rearing and pulling. Amazon.com has a selection of horse training books to help get you started. Amazon.com also has a large selection of horse training DVD’s that you may also find helpful. To save you some money, check out your local library to see if they have any horse training books for you to borrow.
So what are some horse training tips you can do when your horse rears? First, let’s talk about some of the harsh methods that have been used with horses that rear such as hitting the horse over the head with an object such as the handle end of a training whip or with a board. I DO NOT advocate such harsh methods. It’s a short cut that doesn’t show any sensitivity as to WHY your horse is rearing in the first place. Real horsemen/horsewomen don’t need to train their horses through the use of fear and pain. Not to mention, such harsh methods can cause your horse even more behavioral problems.
This leads me to one major horse training tip; look for the reason your horse is rearing. Once you know WHY your horse is rearing, only then can you work to solve the problem. Look around; is there something that your horse is frightened of? When horses are afraid, they want to run away and if they can’t get away, they may fight and rear. Horses can be afraid of things as simple as a rattling pipe or a big rock or even a dog. We may think they are being stupid but horses don’t think like people do. That’s why it’s best to spend plenty of time getting to know your horse so you will know what to expect from him. Plus, horses stay calmer when they can trust their riders.
Whenever you are riding your horse, you must stay alert at all times. As the human, you are responsible for keeping both you and your horse safe. Pay attention to your horses’ ears and body language and have your eyes quickly glance around the area you are riding in. You need to be alert to your surroundings, as well as to your horse, so that you can quickly access any potential horse hazards sometimes even before your horse notices them.
Once your horse is afraid and is acting up and possibly rearing, try to speak to your horse in a soothing, calm voice. Do your best not to panic. I know it’s difficult but your panic can cause your horse to panic even more as well. When your horse is afraid, don’t try to force him to go directly up to what he is afraid of until your horse has decided that the object is not a monster that eats horses.
If your horse is trying to rear while spooking at that rock or dog, try to keep him moving, possibly going in circles. A horse is unable to rear unless it is standing still. Don’t let him stand still, keep him moving but not necessarily away from the object that is scaring him. Pull your rein so he is forced to move in a circle. If he does rear, lean forward in your saddle and do NOT yank on the reins. Hold on to your horses’ mane, the saddle horn or your horses’ neck but do not pull back on the reins. When you pull on the reins, you can upset your rearing horses’ balance which could cause him to fall over backwards. It is okay to slide off your horses back carefully and jump away to avoid being stepped on when your horse quits rearing. The only problem with jumping off each time your horse rears is that your horse will know that is how to get you off his back. Horses are smart and once they learn something works, they will try it again and again, presto, instant bad habit.
Another reason your horse might rear is tack that doesn’t fit him properly. Perhaps the bit is pinching his mouth or perhaps his teeth need dental care. Or possibly another piece of tack such as the saddle or cinch is hurting him. Or perhaps your horse may have a physical problem that is causing him to rear. Have your veterinarian check your horse thoroughly to be certain there are no physical reasons as to why your horse would rear. You will need to check every piece of your tack carefully to make sure that nothing is hurting your horse. Is your horse a bundle of energy that just can’t wait to run out of his corral? Your horse may have an excess of energy that is causing him to rear. Before a ride, you may need to lunge your horse for about ten minutes or so before you go for a ride.
In the past, I have had two horses of my own that needed to be lunged before being ridden. They had so much energy that it wasn’t safe to ride them before dissipating some of that energy. Perhaps your horse is frustrated. When you are riding your horse, are you consistent with your cues? Are you doing the same exercises with your horse every single time? Then change your routine. Give your horse something different to do sometimes. Unfortunately we need to look at ourselves too because we may accidentally be teaching our horses to rear through the use of inconsistent cues or yanking on the reins when we get startled or scared.
What if you have looked at all the possible reasons that your horse is rearing and none of these reasons are the reason for YOUR horses rearing? It’s possible that your horse has started rearing as a habit he doesn’t want to change. He has no respect for you as the herd leader and he will do what he wants, no matter what. Unfortunately, that is a problem horse that should be handled by a professional horse trainer only. Any horse that doesn’t respect people can be an extremely dangerous animal to have around.
Whether your horse rears while you are riding him or pulls and rears while you are on the ground, it is a very dangerous habit that must be stopped for your own safety. You may love your horse fiercely but if you are inexperienced, then he is a serious danger to you and you may need to re-evaluate whether or not he should go to a different home; a new home where someone with experience can handle his problems properly.
As much as I love horses, I have come to realize that not all horses and the people who love them “click.” Once upon a time, I bought my perfect dream horse; a dapple gray mare with a beautiful small head. She was a registered Quarter horse and totally gorgeous. I spent hours with her, grooming her, talking to her, riding her and she was basically indifferent to me. We never bonded or “clicked” in the years that I owned her and it wasn’t because I didn’t try. The funny thing is, I bonded accidentally with my daughters’ horse and she became my horse. She wasn’t what I thought of as my ideal dream horse but our personalities “clicked” and we became partners and I had more fun on trail rides with her than any horse I’ve ever ridden before or since. As harsh as it may sound, sometimes we have to find new homes for our horses and a horse that rears is too dangerous for an inexperienced rider. Sometimes they’re even too dangerous for an experienced rider! If you work with your horse over an extended period of time and still can’t stop him from rearing, please think about finding another horse for your own safety.