How To Stop A Horse From Rearing While RidingBy Jeffrey Rolo
In Part One of this series we covered some of the essentials to keep in mind when attempting to stop a horse from rearing while riding. This continuation will further cover horse riding techniques that can discourage rearing.
Next on our list of critical steps is trying to trace a pattern. Does your horse rear in a particular spot? Does your horse rear for all riders, or just specific people? Does your horse rear right from the start and randomly throughout a riding session, or can the rearing almost be predicted based on history? The reason you want to search for a pattern is because a pattern will point you towards a direct cause.
For example, if your horse rears only in the left corner of your riding arena, it's likely due to apprehension. He fears something in that region, whether it be a cow in the semi-distant pasture or a hose lying in the grass. If fear is the cause, address the root of the fear; don't focus on the rearing since it's only a reaction. Once you eliminate the fear, you eliminate the poor behavior.
Another common example with some younger or more independent-minded horses is riding duration. If you notice your horse starts rearing 40 minutes into the ride, you might simply be working him too hard. Analyze your requests and try to determine if you're asking too much, or if your horse is simply being lazy and not respecting your authority.
Once you have determined that your horse isn't rearing due to a perceivable cause, it might be safe to assume he's being defiant. In such cases I prefer to take the saddle off and go back to basics through disciplined round pen work, and I wouldn't stop until the horse's defiance was burned away. When a horse views you as a respected alpha leader, he's not likely to challenge you by rearing while under saddle.
But we'll assume you really don't want to do groundwork, or that you aren't in an area that allows you to dismount and transition to ground work. The secret weapon against a rearing horse is balance – not only yours, but his. It actually takes a good deal of effort for a horse to rear, so you can and should use this as a weapon against him.
First, when a horse rears it will raise its head, so one of the things you'll want to do is try to keep his head collected and possibly even tucked (depending on the breed and gait) at all times. I don't advocate doing this via harsh bits and brute force, because sometimes rearing is akin to us flinching – it's involuntary. As such, a horse that "flinches" out of shock or fear won't think about the bit in its mouth, and it may very well end up rearing despite the bit, but causing serious wounds to his mouth in the process.
So harsh bits as a preventative measure against rearing horses is a no-no. Continue using a gentle riding bit, try your best to keep the head collected, but accept the fact that he may ignore your rein cues when "caught in the moment." As a side note, if your horse doesn't quickly and easily collect its head instantly upon request, don't bother riding him until he does. He should know how to collect before you address his rearing problem.
The next weapon, and a far more effective one than depending on the head, is his rear quarters. In order to rear a horse must be either at a complete stop or be barely moving forward. If he's walking briskly, trotting or cantering he cannot rear. With this in mind, if you detect your horse slowing down prompt him to move forward. If you need the aid of spurs to push him forward consider using them (but only if necessary) – the key is that if you move him forward he won't be able to rear.
To some degree this will take a certain level of riding proficiency. You have to be able to "feel" the horse's body language and a degree of lightness in his front hooves when he's thinking of rearing. You need to anticipate what your horse's next move will be so that you can counter it before he can execute it.
Finally, keep your horse's mind equally engaged, because boredom is one of the common causes for rearing within a riding arena. Try mixing up the riding session a bit. Vary the gaits. Vary the directions. Perhaps give him some obstacles to work with. If you feel his mind drifting, give him an order to snap his attention back to you. A happy horse that's focused on you while riding is far less likely to rear.
Now that we've learned how to stop a horse from rearing while riding we're ready to move on to groundwork, which is what I believe novices and pros alike should focus on when their horse rears consistently due to defiance. This is covered in How To Stop A Horse From Rearing: Groundwork.