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Causes of Horse Rearing - Part One

By Jeffrey Rolo

Rearing is one of the most dangerous habits any horse can possess, so it's little surprise that many horse owners that work with rearing horses panic and quickly seek out assistance once they are exposed to the threatening behavior. Panicking is equally dangerous and often leads to hasty reactions that compound the problem, but seeking assistance is obviously a very good step.

As with many problems, too often a horse owner seeks the resolution before the cause. It's a natural reaction – we all want to resolve problems as quickly as possible, but in the horse training world haste makes waste. The series entitled How To Stop A Horse From Rearing will discuss the corrective actions you may seek, but I strongly recommend reading through this article first since knowing the cause can directly influence the corrective actions.

The main causes of horse rearing are:

Fear, apprehension and confusion

When a horse is frightened or overly tense they may rear. Most horses will elect to bolt to the side when they are frightened, but some respond by rearing instead… particularly if you make them feel boxed in. Two common ways riders inadvertently "box" a horse in are being too aggressive with the reins as well as forcing a horse into a situation he's uncomfortable with (i.e., making him pass by an object that's causing him apprehension).

Similarly, when a horse becomes confused they will feel "boxed in" and potentially rear in frustration.

Rearing induced by fear is generally unpredictable and fairly aggressive. This is the type of rearing that is most likely to cause injury to a horse and/or rider, mostly due to it erupting without warning.

Discomfort and/or injury

If your horse is in pain he may react against any movement cues by rearing. This is especially true under saddle where horse tack such as a bit can inflame mouth injuries. When a horse that is generally docile and loving starts to rear, one of the first things I recommend is having a qualified veterinarian perform a vet check on him. Anything from a bad tooth to arthritis can cause an otherwise very willing and gentle horse to react strongly.

Associated symptoms that can indicate possible injuries are troubles transitioning between gaits, difficulties maintaining steady movement, throwing her head when you cue commands with the leads, and a decreased appetite.

Ill-fitted horse tack

Horse tack that doesn't fit your horse properly can cause significant discomfort, which in turn can lead to rearing. If your horse rears immediately upon mounting, check and make sure that the saddle isn't pinching him and that you aren't accidentally tugging on the reins, thereby causing a sharp jolt of the bit. In addition make sure that the cinch isn't too tight, and that the bit isn't too harsh.

Excess energy and playfulness

It's not uncommon for a younger horse to buck and rear in excitement, particularly when they have some extra energy to burn. This type of rearing is generally not too dramatic; their rearing is shallow and feels more like a slight bump than a serious threat. That isn't to suggest it's at all acceptable, of course, because it still is unsafe behavior and can become a prolonged bad habit. Nip this type of nonsense in the bud no matter how "cute" it might appear.

In the second part of this two-part series we will review the remaining causes of horse rearing and prepare for the final steps before we cover how to stop a horse from rearing.



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