Horse rearing is not only dangerous for yourself, your horse, and people around you, but it can also be very frustrating for all involved.
Our equines do not have the ability to talk to us and explain how they are feeling and why they are doing what they are doing.
So, it is our responsibility to find the root cause of their problems and try and solve it for them. A healthy horse is a happy horse. A happy horse is a happy owner!
In This Blog
Understanding Why They Might Be Rearing
We commonly mistake reactions and issues as a behavioural issue rather than a pain related issue. Our animals cannot talk to us and tell us they are in pain, are scared, or they are confused. Instead, they act up and display these signs because that is the only way they know.
Many things can cause your horse to rear, and it is important to ask these questions to yourself:
- Is this the first time they have reared with you?
- What were you doing five minutes before they reared?
- Has anything changed in their routine?
- Is it quite cold outside?
- Are they in a new environment?
- When was the last time they exercised?
All these questions will help to give you a better understanding as to why your horse has started to rear with you. Once you have established the root cause, you can start working on fixing the problems and try to avoid any more rearing episodes.
It is very important to understand the difference between behavioural issues and pain-related issues. You don’t want to address pain-related issues the same way you would address behavioural issues as this can only make the cause of the pain worse.
What Do I Do When My Horse Has Started to Rear?
There will nearly always be a reason why your horse has started to rear. Whether this may be behavioural, a lack of training, or pain somewhere in the body. No matter what the reason is, it is important to address this as soon as you first notice them rear under saddle or in hand.
If they have started rearing out of the blue, we recommend getting all the checks complete. Your vet, dentist, saddle fitter, and your physio should all be contacted to complete the necessary checks.
Pain Related Reasons to Cause Rearing
Our horses can suddenly act out of character, and we can be quick to jump to conclusions that they are acting up and misbehaving. This could instead be a pain response, or a multitude of other things.
Many things can cause a horse to rear and here are some of the reasons:
This is a very common cause for your horse to start rearing unexpectantly and out of the blue. This is caused by their vertebrae in their back being too close together, so they rub against one another or override each other. This will cause them to feel constant dull pain across their back as the vertebrae which is most affected is under the saddle.
This can be managed and treated by your vet and as the years go on, the treatment options are becoming more and more successful with a better prognosis long term.
These are caused by acid splashing the sides of the stomach lining and leaving painful lesions. These are often a result of a man-made problem. Our equines are grazers and require access to constant forage. If they do not have access to forage, their stomach produces too much acid which can cause splash up.
This can become extremely painful when they are exercised as the acid in the stomach will move around and splash more if their stomach is empty. This can cause them to rear unexpectantly.
There can be several problems related to their mouth. From a fractured tooth or a disease called EOTRH (Equine Odontoclastic Tooth Resorption and Hypercementosis) which can both be extremely painful when they are ridden with a bit.
EOTRH often affects the incisors and causes a breakdown of their roots and the surrounding bone. This is a progressive disease and is more often than not seen in older horses.
There is unfortunately no treatment to prevent or stop this, but you can help to reduce the pain which this causes by removing the incisors. If your horse can manage without.
Discomfort in the mouth can cause extreme pain when they are ridden. It is important to ask your dentist if there were any concerns from the previous time, they saw you and to report any swellings or foul smells coming from their mouth. Excessive saliva can also be an indicator of dental pain as well as loss of appetite and weight loss.
This can be extremely uncomfortable for your horse to be ridden in and this can cause them to act out because of pain.
Not only can ill-fitted tack be painful at the time, but it will cause long-term issues with their back and muscles. Their muscles will become tight and sore, and you may notice that they flinch when you are tacking them up or touching along their back.
You may have had their saddle fitted when you first bought the saddle, but like us, they can also change shape throughout the year as their weight fluctuates and they gain or lose muscle.
We recommend having your saddle checked coming out of winter and after summer as this is where their weight can fluctuate most.
As well as your saddle being too tight, it is possible for you to over tighten your girth. This can create pain and discomfort for your horse. Look at it like you were going for a run or going to the gym with an excessively tight belt on. It wouldn’t be very comfortable at all!
Your physio may indicate to you that the saddle needs to be checked if they are increasingly tight across their back and over their withers.
Behavioural Reasons to Cause Rearing
Unfortunately, some horses use rearing to avoid doing a certain task they have been asked to perform. This can turn this behaviour into a habit, and it may become very difficult to break and prevent them from doing it in the future.
Whilst it is frustrating and very dangerous, there are still reasons which can cause your horse to rear. But it is very important to have crossed off all pain-related reasons before tackling behavioural problems.
Here are some of the reasons your horse might be acting out of character:
This is a big one and can be shown in many different behavioural traits, rearing being a big one. This is extremely frustrating for you as an owner and can be even more frustrating trying to break the cycle. They can nap both ridden and, on the ground, and both can lead to your horse rearing.
In simple terms, napping is when your horse is not willing to go in the direction you are asking them to go. It can be as simple as planting their feet, or as excessive as running backwards, bolting, and rearing.
They often nap when you are taking them away from things. This can be their field, their best friend, the gate in the arena or trying to load them. All of which is very difficult and irritating to deal with. If you have a nappy horse, we understand your pain!
When it comes to our horses, they love positive reinforcement. Always keep everything as positive as you can and as soon as they make one step in the right direction, stop and reward. It can be a long process, but it will be rewarding in the end.
These are hard to break – especially habits which are as dangerous as rearing. But once your horse has learnt that they don’t have to do something simply by acting up, they will use this at every given opportunity, quite literally!
To try and break this habit may sound simpler than it actually is! But when your horse starts playing up and you know it’s not pain related, don’t give in!
Try and stick with it and hopefully, they will eventually get bored and do as you ask.
This can increase the chances of your horse rearing. If you are sending them multiple mixed messages and they are unsure on the task they are being asked of, they can become frustrated and rear.
Always be clear on what you are asking and don’t become frustrated. Patience is the key!
Often they can rear if they have too much built up energy or they are excited to get on with their job, but this is not to be mistaken with behavioural. Providing they aren’t doing it dangerously.
You will often see your horse rear if they have been stabled for a longer period than normal, or they are being fed feed which has too much heated energy in it which they don’t need.
High sugars in the grass can also go to their head and give them too much pent-up energy!
Is It Harmful on My Horse?
Depending on the severity of your horse’s rear, will factor in how detrimental it is to your equine. If they are just doing bunny rears and only getting a few inches off the ground, this may not be a major cause for concern.
But if they are going up vertical with you, this can increase the chances of them going all the way over and landing not only on their back but on top of you!
Can I Stop Them Rearing?
Finding the root cause of why they are rearing will massively help to stop them rearing with you in the future.
If it is pain related, you want to go down the route of all the checks from the professionals and cross everything off. If you have done this and everything is clear, it is time to address these problems as a behavioural issue.
It is important to remember that your horse can only properly rear when they are standing still. Keep their feet moving all the time to try and prevent them from thinking of rearing.
If they do go up, you may react and pull back. You want to try and avoid doing this as this can cause them to fall backwards, putting yourself and your horse in danger! Instead, pull one rein to the side to encourage them to come down.
If they are rearing on the ground, look at trying a chifney on them, also known as an anti-rearing bit. They are easy to put on and just as easy to take off. They will offer you more control and will apply pressure to the tongue if they are to rear.
It’s all about taking it back to basics and working out why they are doing what they are doing. Always keep a level head and if you are struggling ask for professional help. It’s always better to ask for help, than try to do it on your own and end up injured.