Horse riding is an incredibly fun sport and hobby, but it is not without its hazards. Horses are wild animals after all, and despite them being trained and broken, they can sometimes act out, and become unpredictable.
As a result, you always have to be safe when riding a horse, and you have to ensure that you deal with any bad behavioral problems.
One of the most dangerous behavioral problems a rider can face is rearing. Horses that rear can not only pose a risk to themselves, but to the rider and those around them, too. This is why if your horse is rearing, you will need to know how to respond, and how to stop them from doing this.
With this guide, we’ll explain why horses rear, what you can do to prevent it, and how to protect yourself as the rider. So, what exactly is rearing?
What Is Rearing?
At some point in your life, and definitely within your equine and riding career, you will see a horse rearing. Rearing is when a horse stands up on its hind legs and lashes out with the front legs.
It’s an incredibly dangerous behavior, especially when there is a rider atop the horse, as they can become unseated, fall off and injure themselves. The horse itself can also injure itself by falling backwards, and could possibly even land on the rider.
The main causes of a rearing horse are often pain, fear, anxiety, confusion or behavioral issues. Most horses will not want to rear, but are doing it to let you know that they feel scared or uncomfortable. Other horses will rear to assert dominance over nearby horses, which is very hazardous.
As a result, your horse rearing is a behavior and action that many riders fear and want to prevent. Luckily, there are a few telltale signs that your horse is about to rear, so that you can spot them and try to prevent this from happening.
How To Tell When A Horse Is Going To Rear
You know your horse the best, so you’ll be able to pick up on some warning signs that your horse is going to react in a certain way.
However, most horses give some indication that they are going to rear. For example, they may switch their ears, lower their hunches, suddenly stop or start shortening their stride in preparation to rear.
When a horse rears, they’ll have to be stationary, so that they can raise their front legs, kick off the ground and put their weight on their hind legs. In some cases, the horse will even kick out with the front legs before returning back to the ground.
What we’re trying to say is that a horse needs to be on stop, so that they can put their weight on their back legs, so if your horse starts to show signs that they may rear, try to walk them onwards and keep their focus on you and your commands.
If your horse has begun rearing, then keep a close eye so that you can pick up on their signals whenever they do it. This can help you become more prepared next time.
What To Do When A Horse Is Rearing
When a horse is rearing, it can be a rather scary experience, especially if you are on the back of the horse. That being said, if your horse is rearing, and you are the rider, then you’ll want to try your best to stay on, and hold on tight.
If you try to jump off, this could encourage your horse to keep rearing in future, as they will learn that they can do it to get you off, and get out of doing work or being ridden. In addition, if your horse is rearing, they are also at risk of falling over backwards, and could fall on top of you.
We also advise that you do not pull back on the reins, as this can also encourage them to fall backwards as the reins will make them want to raise their head, which can cause them to feel unbalanced.
If your horse is reining, try to lessen your grip on the reins, and instead hold onto the mane, horse’s neck or the saddle.
In addition, as your horse reins, they are at risk of losing balance, so you’ll need to adjust your balance, and lean forwards, keeping your weight centered to counteract the horse on its hind legs. However, as the horse begins to come back to the ground, you’ll need to straighten yourself up again.
When a horse rears, sometimes it can be too dangerous to stay on the horse, and you may have to dismount if it is an emergency situation.
To do this, you’ll want to take your feet out of the stirrups, and slide off the horse’s back, but be sure to get away from the horse as soon as possible in case you get hit by the legs, or in case the horse falls over and onto its back.
Reasons Why Your Horse Is Rearing
If you want to stop your horse from rearing, then you’ll need to get to the root of the problem, and find out the cause of the rearing. Horses rarely just want to rear for the fun of it, or to misbehave, as there’s usually a problem that leads to this behavior. So, let’s take a look at some of the most common causes of a rearing horse.
Your Horse Is In Pain
One of the most common reasons that your horse is rearing is because it is in pain or discomfort in some way. If this is the case, then the rearing problem can be easily rectified, as you just need to find what is causing the pain and stop it.
Most of the time, a horse will start rearing if the saddle is too tight, as this can make them uncomfortable, and they want to get it off. When a saddle is too small, it can pinch on the horse’s shoulder blades and skin, but when it is too big, it can press on the horse’s spine and cause discomfort.
Therefore, if your horse is suddenly rearing, then it could be worth you checking if the saddle is fitted properly. If you’re unsure, then get a professional to help you and check that the saddle is the right size for the horse and for you as the rider.
Alternatively, it could be the bit that is bothering your horse. For instance, if the horse has a soft bit, and it is not the perfect size, then it can be ill fitting and cause the horse some pain.
This will cause a lot of pressure and discomfort for the horse, in the same way a harsher bit would. So, you’ll want to ensure that your horse has the softest bit possible, and it is the right size for them.
Pulling On The Reins
If you’re new to riding, you may find that you’re pulling on the reins a bit too hard, which brings the horse’s head upwards. This can also cause the horse to rear, as the upwards movement is encouraging the horse to start rearing with its front legs up in the air.
If you feel that you pull on the reins too much, then it may be more beneficial for you and your horse to hold onto a neck strap, and have a few more lessons before heading out riding again.
Girth/Cinch Is Too Tight
If any of the tack such as the girth or cinch, saddle or reins are not fitted to the horse properly, they can pinch the skin and make your horse feel uncomfortable.
The girth or cinch is another thing that needs to fit just right. When properly fitted, it should sit just at the natural girth of the horse, and fall straight down from the saddle.
When tightened and fastened up, you should be able to get a finger in between the girth and the horse. If there’s too much room, then it’s too loose, but if you cannot get your index finger in between, then it’s too tight.
If it doesn’t seem to be a tack problem, and your horse is still rearing for seemingly no reason, then it could be worth having them checked over by a veterinarian in case there are some physical and medical reasons why your horse is rearing so much.
Most of the time, a horse can rear to let you know that something is wrong, so if the issue is not with the rider, tack or ill fitting saddles, then it could be a deeper problem.
Horses can sometimes demonstrate that they are in pain by bucking or rearing to lash out at the discomfort. If this seems to be what is happening to your horse, then seek advice from a veterinarian. They can find the root of the problem and provide you with proper treatment.
In a similar way, if your horse is suffering from dental problems, then this will also cause them pain, and they may rear or buck. Rearing is a means of relieving some of the horse’s pain and discomfort, so ask a veterinarian or equine dentist to give the teeth a look over for any issues.
Your Horse Is Scared
Another cause of horse rearing problems is fear and anxiety. When a horse is scared, or fearful, their natural instinct is to defend themselves when they feel cornered, or try to run away from the problem if they can.
When a horse is confused, they will also rear because they are frustrated, and do not know what is going on, or how to react. This confusion will cause the horse to lash out, or try to get away from the situation. Confusion can also come from mixed messages from the rider.
For instance, if you’re not a seasoned rider, then you may be kicking with your legs to get the horse to move, but also pulling on the reins, which will stop them. This can lead to some confusion and mixed feelings, which will cause the horse to rear because they simply don’t know how to react appropriately.
Another reason your horse may be rearing is because it is frightened of something. Horses will rear if they feel at all anxious or fearful, as this can cause them to act out of character, bucking and rearing.
If a horse is scared, its natural instincts will tell them to try to get away from the situation. As a result, horses will try to run away. To do this, a horse may rear, with its front limbs clambering in the air in front of them.
If you think that your horse is rearing because of fear or anxiety, then it is best to keep them as calm as possible, and talk to them quietly to keep them relaxed and at peace. You’ll need to reassure your horse, and reduce their stress levels as best as you can to prevent them from rearing again out of fear.
Horses have very good eyesight generally speaking, despite not being able to see in the same way we do. Horses also need their eyesight in order to survive and navigate the world around them.
As a result, a horse with poor eyesight or a condition such as cataracts can become very fearful as they are unable to see around them properly.
This can make the horse very anxious about moving about in the yard, as they will feel uncomfortable and unfamiliar with the world around them.
This lack of eyesight can be very unsettling, and can make your horse fearful and confused. This can lead to your horse rearing due to this unfamiliar environment.
If you’re worried that your horse is rearing due to poor eyesight, then you should ask a veterinarian to check over the eyes. In addition, you should stay in places where your horse is comfortable and used to the surroundings. Avoid riding the horse in new places or unknown paths.
Although horses are eager to please and can be very easy to train due to their high intelligence, when a horse is not trained properly, it can lead to problems later in life.
Horses without proper training can be confused easily, and will not know what you want them to do, or how to understand your instructions.
When a horse feels confused, overwhelmed by these instructions, they may start rearing because they do not know what else to do, and they will try to avoid you, and get away from the situation.
If you feel like this could be the case for your horse, then consider having a qualified and experienced trainer or instructor to help you and your horse get past this behavior.
Your Horse Is Misbehaving
If you’ve looked at the above options, and none of them seem to fit the bill, then it could be simply a behavioral issue. Your horse may be rearing because of a range of behavioral problems. Some do it because they can, and others simply do it because they’re bored!
Horses are incredibly intelligent creatures. Whilst this makes them easy to train, it can also make them very mischievous, and they can work out new ways to be naughty or disobey you.
Horses will quickly learn your routine, and what is expected of them, so they also know how to get out of doing something that they don’t feel like doing.
Rearing is one of the ways that horses try to avoid doing what you want, and will rear as a means of being disobedient. The best way to prevent this from becoming a habit is to carry on what you are doing after your horse has started rearing, so that they learn that they can’t rear to get what they want.
Has Too Much Energy
If a horse does not get enough exercise, they can have a lot of pent up energy that they need to burn. Rearing is a means of burning this energy, and blowing off some steam.
If you think this may be the case, then ensure your horse gets time outside of the stable, gets ample riding time and exercise, and try to limit high energy feed.
Other horses will rear because they want to assert their power and dominance. This is often the case for stallions, as they will want to be the most dominant horse, especially if there are mares nearby.
If your horse is stuck inside a stable for long periods of time, they can start to get cabin fever. This manifests itself in restless behavior and boredom. Because of this, the horse may start rearing out of pure boredom.
This is okay, because it’s a habit that can be broken by implementing toys, slow feeders or other horses to keep your horse occupied while they are in the stable. You’ll also want to ensure that they are getting enough exercise, and that you engage with them regularly.
Why Do Horses Rear In The Wild?
As you will have seen in countless movies or Western TV shows, a wild horse or stallion stands atop a hill, rearing into the distance. Whilst it looks great in the movies, it’s not always what actually happens.
For the most part, horses will rear in the wild because they are scared, frightened, or are trying to assert dominance over other horses. Stallions may also rear when trying to ward off a rival stallion and win over a mare.
How To Stop A Horse From Rearing
Once you have uncovered why your horse is rearing all of a sudden, you can make some steps to prevent this from happening again. The thing with horse rearing is that it is a behavior that will need to be stamped out quickly, as you don’t want your horse to make rearing a habit.
If a horse rears, and you do nothing about it, then they are more likely to keep doing it in the future, and once it becomes a habit it will actually be very difficult for you to break the habit, and train your horse out of doing it. That being said, you can sway your horse away from this behavior, and break the habit with some training.
To stop the horse from rearing, you will have to train it not to do this action, and you have to let them know that their behavior will not be tolerated.
To prevent the rearing, you will have to ride your horse as normal. When the horse rears, you’ll need to keep riding the horse, and avoid getting off the horse.
Continue as normal to teach the horse that they cannot just rear to get out of doing something, or to avoid certain situations.
You may also be interested in doing some groundwork with the horse, along with some help from an instructor.
Groundwork can help you build rapport with your horse, and teach them new skills so that they respect you as the leader and rider. If your horse rears due to anxiety, then some groundwork can also help your horse build confidence and trust in you.
Keeping Safe From A Rearing Horse
The best way that you can protect yourself from your horse rearing is by wearing the proper clothing and safety equipment. Horses rarely rear when by themselves or in the field, as most of the time, they do it with a rider on their back.
This poses a massive risk and hazard to the rider, as the horse may not have accounted for the rider’s weight on their back, and the rider could fall off, or place too much pressure on the base of the horse’s back and both could fall backwards.
If your horse falls backwards when you’re on top, then there is a chance that your horse could crush you or cause a serious injury.
This is why it is paramount that you wear protective gear if your horse is prone to rearing, or you notice any behaviors that could lead to rearing.
A riding helmet is so important as they protect the skull and head, which can seriously reduce your risk of death and extreme injury by up to 60%.
Additionally, a protective vest will keep your back protected in case you fall, and can offer an extra protective barrier for your internal organs in case your horse falls on you.
To summarize, horses may rear for a number of reasons. It could anxiety, poor eyesight, confusion, fear, or even just because they want to disobey you and assert dominance over other horses.
Once you find the root of the problem, you can work towards building your horse’s confidence, or breaking the habit so that it does not put you or the horse in danger.