By Josie Amanii
One of the most dangerous vices a horse can have is rearing. Not only is it very dangerous, it is a terrifying experience to most people. When a horse begins rearing under saddle it becomes a difficult vice to cure and the first step is to understand why it occurs.
Many so called experts recommend tie downs, martingales or "popping". Tie downs and martingales force the horse's head down when needed but they are not a guarantee to prevent rearing and they do not break the horse out of the habit of rearing, they merely deal with the symptom. Popping consists of swatting the horse between the ears when he rears to make him feel he hit his head on something. Some suggest using a rolled up newspaper and some archaic methods even suggest using a plastic bag filled with water to simulate the horse being wounded and bleeding. All these approaches deal with symptoms and do not address the issue.
If you've ever observed horses in the wild or even in the paddock, you will rarely see a horse rear except when they're playing or fighting. Being fight or flight animals, horses invariably deal with stressful situations by fleeing away. When a horse exhibits the fight instinct he usually does so by biting and kicking. So as you can see, rearing is not a natural reaction to panic or stress.
So what causes a horse to rear under saddle? The underlying cause is invariably an inappropriate bit or heavy hands. Heavy hands, harsh bits and problems in the horse's mouth can all result in a rearing horse. If a horse is faced with a stressful situation and finds himself unable to escape, the resulting frustration can lead to rearing. An inappropriate or harsh bit can cause so much discomfort that the horse will rear in an attempt to evade the pain. If your horse rears the first thing you should do is check his teeth, they may be overgrown and causing him pain. Next you should find the softest bit that works for your horse.
1. Predicting and Preventing a Rear: If your horse is on the bit and moving forward in a relaxed manner he won't rear. However, should the situation present itself a rear is easy to predict: before rearing a horse will back up and crouch back on his hind legs as he prepares himself to rear. To prevent him from rearing refrain from pulling back on the reins and turn the horse's head while using a leg cue in the direction you want the horse to go. This should encourage your horse to move forward and not rear.
2. What to Do if Your Horse Rears: Whatever you do, don't pull back on the reins or try to use them to hold on. Try to lean forward gently but keep your legs in position. Hold onto the horse's neck by placing your hands around it. Once the horse goes back down, push him forward and change direction, this will discourage a second rear. If you feel your horse will flip over, remove your feet from the stirrups and let yourself slide down the horse's back and move away from him. A horse that flips over is extremely dangerous and should be handled by a professional.
More often than not, soft hands, working your horse on the bit, keeping the horse moving forward and an appropriate bit will remedy the situation. Rearing being such a dangerous vice should be left to professional horse trainers to handle. This is especially so if rearing has become a habitual defense reaction.