Moonfire - Fixing a Rearing Problem - Part 2
 By Polo the Weirdo   •   4th Mar 2012   •   10,859 views   •   12 comments
Fixing a Rearing ProblemIn part 1 we discussed a rider’s reaction to rearing, and what to do when your horse rears – but that was just the beginning. To begin, let us look at the different reasons why a horse might rear:

Quite often, rearing can stem from pain. A badly fitting saddle, a sore back, a sore mouth, sharp teeth, the wrong bit, a badly fitting bridle... You want to check everything, and make sure that nothing is causing your horse discomfort. Do not worry if the rearing continues for a while after you have fixed your horse’s problem, because quite often horses react the same way to the memory of pain as to pain itself.

Sometimes your horse will rear if he is spooking at something, or if he is scared of YOU, his rider. If it is the former, just soothe him. Stroke his neck, talk calmly to him, and let him look at whatever is scaring him until he feels more comfortable about it. If you are very nervous of his rears, rather dismount and lead him past the scary object than let him feel your fear.

If it is you he fears, it probably means you are being too harsh in your punishment, or you are confusing him in some way, or otherwise stressing him. Most horses are desperate to please their riders, and might rear out of stress if they feel you are upset with them. Try to calm yourself down, and do a different exercise with your horse, or take a different approach to it.

This was Moony’s case – and perhaps the most common reason for rearing. Thus, this is what I will be focusing on. It is much the same as napping, bolting, bucking, working above or below the bit, and just about any other vice. We demand hard work from our horses – we have to if we want to get anywhere – and it is only natural that they should sometimes want to get out of it. I’m sure you’ve tried to get out of doing schoolwork at some stage, when you just don’t feel like doing it. It is just the same with horses.

Of course, this is pure naughtiness – but that is no reason to beat your horse, or resort to other harsh punishment methods. Just patiently sit out his rears, and keep on working him. NEVER stop working him when he rears, because that will teach him that rearing is a good way to get out of work, and then you could end up with a permanent rearing habit, which is very difficult to fix.

Fixing a Rearing Problem

You need to be clever and tactful when facing a naughty rearer. You want to allow your horse to rear as little as possible, so the problem doesn’t become a habit.

Identify what makes him rear

For Moony, it was:

Canter transitions – especially to the right.
Taking up a contact.
Bareback riding.
Riding with tied stirrups.
Paying too little attention to him.
Restarting work after a short break.
When going away from other horses.
When passing the gate.
Rein backs.
Working on a short rein.
Working for a long period of time.
Facing obstacles he found scary.
Leg yields, and most other advanced dressage work.
Occasional over-excitement on outrides, though in this case he usually resorted to fly-leaps rather than rears which, although more difficult to sit, were more from innocent excitement than naughtiness.

Yes, Moony’s rearing problem was BAD – it had a great many triggers, and was thus a difficult problem to deal with. Unfortunately, a good horse tends to be good at all he does – even the bad things.

This is how I dealt with Moony’s rearing problem:
I did my best to avoid the instances that encouraged rearing – but if you look above, you’ll see that it’s quite a list, and that there are many aspects that you just CAN’T avoid when riding a competitive horse. The main thing I did with him, is kept all my sessions short, but effective. I found that if I rode him for more than 45 minutes, he would just completely lose his head, and the rearing would become so bad that I literally COULD not continue work. That is to say, on every other stride he would throw a small half-rear. If I took up my reins, put my legs on, did ANYTHING at all, he would go up. When this happened, I would just walk him on a loose rein for a while, making sure he was listening to me as much as I could get him to without rearing, then untack him. What I never did, was to just get off and leave him thinking he’d won. All the same, the fact that he could get his way to some extent sent a bad message, so I made sure I never let my sessions run past his ‘focus period’ – the amount of time for which he was willing to work.

I stopped focusing on my position while riding Moony. When I tried to tie my stirrups, keep my head up, or work on keeping my reins short, thumbs up, legs back – all the various problems with my position that I am constantly working on fixing – Moony would get upset and start threatening to rear. So I forgot about myself, focused totally on him, and just altered my riding to best suit his needs. Although it was not particularly pretty, it was a sort of sensitive style I simply had to use with him.

I started riding him on a long rein, riding him from my legs into a gentle, loose contact. I kept him working round, but I was not quite so demanding with him. I also changed his bit from the elliptical link snaffle back into the softer rubber straightbar. Although he does not respect this bit quite as much, and does not work quite so well in it, he also reared less in it – so I sacrificed his good work for his good behavior.

I made sure to keep Moony totally calm, and never get stressed myself. The moment Moony became stressed, he would start rearing BADLY – this was a major trigger for him, and usually what lead to his really big and extravagant rears. It is difficult to keep oneself calm through the frustration of working with a rearing horse, but I managed it, and it helped Moony greatly. Needless to say, I never rode Moony bareback – and I kept a tactful, light seat – because too much weight on his back would agitate him. There was nothing WRONG with his back, note – Moony is just naturally a VERY fussy and sensitive sort of horse.

I stopped doing rein backs on him, because the aids encouraged rearing, and I worked on getting halts just from my legs. Instead of practicing advanced dressage movements, I just focused on getting the basic, simple movements as good as I could get them without stressing Moo. I only did his canter transitions on a figure eight, because working on them in the corners upset him. I always used extra leg and softer hands when riding past his ‘rear spots’ – usually a gate, or where the other horses are standing – and concentrated on riding him forward and keeping his attention so he didn’t think to rear.

After free walks, or when taking breaks in my work, I would only half give him the reins. If I gave them to him completely, he would think he was done, and usually go through quite a rearing fit before he’d agree to work again. So I focused on asking him to stretch and concentrate, even when he was taking a break – never letting him think we were done. When I took up my reins, I gathered them very slowly and tactfully. Taking up a contact was a major trigger for him, so I treated my reins like they were made of glass.

Every time he tossed his head up and threatened a rear, I’d soften the contact, then slowly creep it up again. As soon as I had it, I’d ask for a halt – or pick up a trot. I had to keep him on his toes the whole time, because if he wasn’t thinking about his work, he was thinking about how to get out of it. I kept his schedule interesting so he didn’t get bored – sacrificing some of my flatwork sessions for more fitness sessions, since these encouraged less rearing. I also gave him a fair amount of jumping sessions – he always behaved relatively well with his jumping – but again kept the sessions short, because once he felt he’d done enough, he’d start that frustrating every-stride-rearing, where I couldn’t get any work out of him.

On one such instance, he threw me a huge, unexpected rear mid-canter, and caught me badly across the throat with his neck. I think that was perhaps one of the worst rears he gave me – and even when I tried to ride him forward, he just went up again and again. I pushed through, though, and eventually got him over the jump I wanted to present him to before putting him away. From then on, I was careful to stop his jumping sessions before he lost patience.

Most importantly of all, as I mentioned in my previous article, was the way I responded to his rears. Whenever he reared, I would ignore him completely. I’d sit the rear, wait for him to touch back down, then say, "Moony, No." and nudge him on with my heels. I never got upset with him, but stayed 100% patient all the time, and I was generous with my praise when he was working nicely. Whenever he threatened to rear, I’d give him a warning in a low voice, and if he chose not to, I’d praise him and give him a pat on the neck. I never encouraged the rearing – though I admit at times I greatly enjoyed it – and I never made a fuss about it.

Eventually, after around 4 months, I began to see some improvements just last week. Moony’s attitude toward his work improved, and he began rearing less and less. Even back in his elliptical link snaffle, he seldom reared. He still gives the odd threat throughout his sessions, but they are never without reason, and it’s reached the point that – when I put my legs on to try ride him through his threats without rearing – he responds by actually obeying me, rather than rearing from resistance.

I’ve started gathering up my reins, and working him on a short contact again.
Just the other day, I had a 45 minute schooling session on him, working mostly on canter transitions, and he only threatened to rear once – and even that was half-hearted. We are finally over the worst, and honestly, I was beginning to think that his rearing would become a permanent habit. But in the end, patience and persistence won out, and Moony is well on the road going as nicely as he was before the phase began.

Through ignoring his naughtiness, I taught him that he would not benefit from it, and thus he just sees no reason to rear any more. I trust Moony, and I feel safe on him – and now that he is starting to respect my authority again, I know that he isn’t going to let me down.

To those of you who say a rearer can’t be cured, take a good long look at this article. I had a rearer on my hands – a BAD one. Know what I have now? A polite yet spirited young horse, with plenty of talent to make all my hard work and risks taken worth the while. He is a joy to ride, and even though he’ll always be the sort of horse to have a rearing tendency, he is now starting to work as well as he ever did, and he’s well on his way to becoming a superb competitor. No good horse comes without problems. It’s those quirks and behavioural issues that give them that very same spark that makes them great. A rider has to be willing to work through these challenges, otherwise all our horses would be simply mediocre.

I hope that this article will help you learn to fix a rearing problem, or at the very least inspire you to battle through your horse’s difficulties. I nearly gave up – but I didn’t – and now my little gentleman has my back again.
Great Article! Really informative! :)
  Mar 4, 2012  •  9,914 views
Horse Dreamer  
Loved it!
Keep it up!
  Mar 4, 2012  •  9,921 views
All That Jazz  
Oh my gosh, I loved that second to last paragraph!
Well, I loved the whole thing, but that paragraph was great. XD
  Mar 4, 2012  •  9,953 views
Dark Star  
You say rearing can be cured for any horse. It can't be. For some horses, It can be helped, but there will always be times when that horse will go back to his old ways just to be that way.

I think I just have a problem horse, (which I do) but I have had over 5 trainers go at this horse, and none of them have 'fixed' any of his problems. Has he gotten better? Yes. We have found out he can never be a 'show' horse due to a bad shoulder on his left leg which prevents him from picking up the left lead without a major bucking fest due to pain. (Note: He isn't lame, not by any means, he can still be ran and raced, he just can't pick up his left lead.) He has stopped bucking for most things, except when we take him fast. He will not rear at the gate during practices, but he blows up at races. So before you go thinking all rearing problems can be fixed, that's not true for all horses.

Note : This is Archie I'm talking about (He's a bi-polar, 19 year old gelding). He has had every single
  Mar 4, 2012  •  9,907 views
Well done! I am going to send this to my friend who's horse as a terrible rearing habit...
  Mar 4, 2012  •  9,906 views
great article
  Mar 4, 2012  •  9,927 views
Thanks for the wonderful article, ive had a few problem horses and i train them myself and this sounds really good:) one of the horses i trained was just dowright stubburn lol monte has perfect legs and has no pain issues either, he had lack of attention with his previous owner and let him get away with wayyyyy too much. He wud rear bc he wud wat to go back into the pasture or barn. It was pretty sad, he just wanted love was all. so with love, attention, and discipline hes turned out to be a wonderful horse. :)
  Mar 4, 2012  •  9,908 views
Rusted Faith  
Great article! You should start writing a little hand book about fixing horse problems, your other articles are really good as well (:
  Mar 5, 2012  •  9,941 views
Run Free  
loved it, it makes me feel better about Angel's little misbehaviours and 'perks' as I call them. I think I may steal some of these ideas for Angel's bucks and bunny hops oh and the odd refusal but I liked hearing 'no good horse comes without problems' I thought Angel was the only one because the good horses at the yard don't have problems like Angel does
  Mar 5, 2012  •  9,971 views
Double Spur Ranch  
Great article :)
  Mar 5, 2012  •  9,929 views
your going greatt !! these are really good articles keep it up!:D
  Mar 6, 2012  •  9,927 views
Run Free  
A method we used with buddy (reared out of avoidance, especially in circles and going past the gate) was cracking an egg over his poll when he would rear, I was told it made him believe he had cut himself and although he continued to rear it was less frequent
  Sep 26, 2012  •  9,977 views
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