Help! My Horse is Rearing.

Rearing under saddle is an unpleasant reaction. In its extreme form, flipping over, this action can be life threatening. Understand, it is a reaction.

Before we start with a cure, let’s start with a cause. If the person trying to cure the issue is the cause of the issue, we need to take away the problem before addressing the symptom.


Every time I’ve been asked to assist with solving a rearing problem, it has always been a rider problem, and a horse symptom. Tie downs and popping between the ears does not address the problem, but rather the symptom. If the problem continues, the tie down and popping increases the frustration which makes the symptom worse. It does not matter if the rearing is at mud holes, roads, barrels, on the track roping, or wherever….

Someday maybe I’ll see a second reason, but so far it is always too much bit, and too much pull by the rider causing the horse irritation over the unfairness, to the point of frustration. Over the years I’ve become numb to riders telling me “I wasn’t in the horse’s mouth”. When we humans panic, or are stressed, we don’t know what we do. So if you struggle, get a horsy friend to give you some feedback. The quality of the feedback will be directly related to what you’re the horsy friend knows. It won’t increase with what the friend thinks they know. Pick carefully.


Almost every time, with few exceptions, within a few minutes of riding with soft hands, and dumping the harsh bit, the rearing was no longer an issue. Harsh bit is defined by the mouth of the beholder. My opinion…. Is that rearing up is the horse frustrated with what it perceives as abuse. Let’s not confuse rearing with flipping over. Another opinion here…. My observations make me believe flipping over is when a horse is so frustrated by the abuse it feels no recourse but to come over backwards. Sometimes the rider causes the flip by unbalancing the horse with his weight and pull on the reins. For example a one rein stop used incorrectly can cause a horse to flip.

I never pull with two reins. Never. I never pull with a lead rope when leading either. What can a person accomplish by pulling with either? Pulling on two reins you can teach a horse to pop up his head, or if you keep at it, you can teach him to rear, or if you keep at it, you can teach him to flip over. Tie downs are useful in postponing going from popping up the head to flipping over. They certainly do not relieve the frustration that cause the behavior. But when that critical moment occurs, there won’t be much rearing. Call 911.

Humans are great at teaching ill behaviors and horses are great students. If rearing has been rewarded in the past with a mistaken release your horse is only doing what the rider has taught him to do. For example, if your horse rears for the first time and the rider immediately dismounts and untacks….BINGO, the rider just rewarded his horse. Sometimes, a horse will rear and the rider drops the reins or worse falls off…GUESS WHAT? Your horse was just rewarded with a total release. Think about it, it makes sense.


So why do we see rearing at obstacles? Generally because riders get stressed and don’t manage the reins or the horse appropriately, or don’t know how to manage. I see riders who either don’t “see” the horse starting to spin away, so they are way behind the horse’s action and are trying to re-act, or just are not skilled enough to act, and must re-act. Now the horse is stressed by the obstacle, and the horse is stressed by the rider who is stressed, the natural horse reaction is – Run Away!.

So as the stressed rider now knows he/she is losing control, he/she does what comes natural and instinctual; pull the reins and squeeze the legs. Now we have a stressed horse not only getting jerked around while trying to flee this really stressful situation, but now the rider is pulling the horse’s face up and telling him to move forward at the same time. If the horse can’t run away, what alternative does the horse have but to rear?

Bottom line: Green horses and green riders are not a good mix. (Elizabeth’s Quote: “Green and Green can Equal Black and Blue”)

The Worse (my opinion) is that horses suffer. I’ll apologize for offending, but not for pointing out what horses don’t deserve.

Rearing is not natural for horses. Don’t believe it? Go watch a herd of horses. The only time you will see rearing is when they are playing or if you should see stallions posturing and fighting. If a horse gets stressed by fear of something, he does not rear, he runs away. If the horse can’t flee, it will either attack with its teeth or its feet. Rearing, and the ultimate expression of rearing, flipping over, is not a natural reaction to stress.

Years of experience has convinced me that rearing under saddle is a reaction to stress of any kind, coupled with not being allowed to move away from the stress. I don’t believe it matters if the stress is fear, frustration, too much feed and stall time, or just a heavy handed rider. Rearing is a reaction to the horse’s not being allowed to express itself with it’s feet. (Backing, jigging, sidestepping, bouncing and a host of other equally irritating but less dangerous actions are also manifested by this attempt of a rider to bottle up the horse’s feeling of need to move.) Give your horse a task with his feet and he’ll know what is going to happen before it happens; rearing=work for horse. I’m not talking about namby-pamby work. C’mon folks, make your horse sweat!

A rider that understands this instinctual need to go knows better than to control it with force or pain. A horseman removes the option of rearing, by allowing the horse to move, but directing its focus (make him move his feet with a task and a purpose). A person who does not understand this and takes the “by golly the horse will stop when I say or I’ll ….” is merely a statistic waiting to happen. It is no different than the folks who punish a horse for spooking. Adding pain to stress does not make things less stressful for the horse, but results in more stress, more violence, and more injuries. Ground work for respect training is the solution.

As long as there are folks with horses that do not understand horse psychology, there will be rearing. Tiedowns and popping a horse between the ears does address the problem, merely the symptom. And they add more stress to an already stressed horse.

Put your horse to work. Get those feet moving. If you can’t remove the stress, you can relieve it.

Smiles, Kara Hoefer