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Horses That Rear While Riding
WRITTEN BY: Cheryl Sutor   [October 17, 2000]


Over a period of a couple months, I received several training questions that were based on the same problem: horses that rear while riding. Instead of replying to each of these emails individually with the same advice, I've decided to write an article on the topic.

The first thing you should look into in any behavior-related problem is the horse's health. Is the horse healthy and fit? Is he up-to-date on all vaccinations and de-worming? Have his teeth been checked and floated if necessary? Have his feet been properly cared for and trimmed or shod? Is he physically and mentally ready to perform the task you are asking of him?

The second thing you should look at is equipment. Does your horse's bridle and saddle fit properly? An ill-fitting bit, or a bridle that pinches the horse's skin can cause a horse to misbehave. I once rode a horse who's crown piece on his bridle was pinching the skin right below the front of his ears, causing him to rear. I suggested the owner take the crown piece off or find one that fits better. She took it off and her horse has kept his feet on the ground ever since. In addition, if your saddle does not fit properly, your horse may be trying to evade the pain by rearing, bucking, bolting, etc.

Last, but not least, consider the horse's training. Until you are 100% sure that your horse's poor health or ill-fitting equipment isn't causing his rearing, you should not try to train him to stop rearing, because it will not work. There is no point in putting a horse through that kind of pain. Instead, stop instigating the problem until he gets veterinary care and/or new equipment that fits properly.



Once you are 100% sure that your horse is healthy and his equipment fits well, you can begin training (or re-training). Since your horse brings his head up to rear, you will need to teach him a cue to bring his head down. The cue will need to be repeated until the horse responds so well that it is practically instinct. Many people ask me, "Does this really work? It's that easy? You're kidding me, right?"...but think about this: Can your horse be lowering his head to the ground and rearing at the same time? I didn't think so.

Okay, so now let's get on with the training. As with most training, this cue should be taught to the horse on the ground first. You ride the horse you lead, right? So, before going any further with this article, please read the following article and use the training techniques outlined in it on your horse:

Relaxed Leading & Curing Rearing

Now you've taught your horse to lower his head on cue by using downward pressure on the halter, or by applying pressure with your hand at the horse's poll. What next? Now you can bridle your horse and teach him to lower his head from bit pressure.

Begin by standing on your horse's left side, facing his shoulder. Grasp the middle of the reins in your right hand and hold it at his withers. This helps to keep an even amount of rein on both sides whether you are putting pressure on the bit or releasing. It keeps the rein steady. Then...
  1. With your left hand, grasp the left rein half-way between the bit and your right hand.
  2. Slowly raise the your left hand straight up above the horse's crest (halfway between the horse's poll and withers), until you've created light pressure on the bit.
  3. Be patient and hold a consistent amount of pressure on the bit until the horse shows any signs of even thinking of lowering his head. If he nods, pulls, or does anything other than lower his head, it is very important to continue holding that same amount of pressure on the bit until he does lower his head.
  4. The instant that he lowers his head, completely release the rein. Drop the rein out of your hand. This is the horse's reward. This is what makes the horse want to repeat the action again and again.
  5. Repeat the entire process again. Until the horse learns the cue very well, don't wait any longer than 3 seconds before asking him to lower his head again.

This process should be repeated until the horse will respond by lowering his head 100% of the time. It is important to master the cue on the ground before you get into the saddle. Teach the cue on BOTH sides of your horse equally. If your horse rears frequently in a particular spot in the arena, or on a specific spot on the trail, then take your horse to that spot and work on asking him to lower his head from the ground before you try it from in the saddle.

After you've taught the cue well enough that your horse will respond 100% of the time, try taking your horse to areas that have greater distractions. Having the extra distractions will tell you whether your horse has really learned the cue or not. If he responds well to the cue in the distracting situations, you're ready to try it while riding. He should respond just as well to the cue while you are riding as when you taught him from the ground. Anytime you think he is even thinking about rearing, ask him to lower his head.



Now I'll talk about a couple "what ifs" that you may encounter while teaching this exercise to your horse. What if your horse turns his head to the left when you apply pressure to the bit? This is the reason I've asked you to bring the rein straight up instead of back. If the horse turns his head to the left while you're holding the rein straight up above his crest, all you have to do to straighten out his neck without releasing the pressure is to press the rein against the horse's neck (similar to neck reining). Don't release the pressure on the bit until the horse actually does lower his head.

What if the horse fights the bit? Keep the pressure you've applied to the bit steady and consistent. Don't release the rein while your horse is nodding, shaking his head or making other gestures. He is experimenting with the possible answers to your request. When he raises his head and you don't release the rein, he'll look for something else to try. He might try shaking his head. By not releasing the rein, you are telling the horse "Nope, try again". The instant that he does lower his head, even 1/16 of an inch, immediately release the rein. When you release the rein, you are telling him "Yes! Correct Answer!".

If there are any other "what if" situations that you've encountered while teaching your horse to lower his head, please use the article comments link below to post comments on the article. If I see that you've posted comments or questions, I might be able to reply.





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This article was published on: October 17, 2000. Last updated on: October 17, 2000.