Link Image Marv Walker Index Page

And Still More On Rearing Horses

I get a LOT of emails and calls about rearing horses. Here are a number of them that all came in about the same time and I have a stack more along these same lines. I have interposed my comments in the emails. The names have been changed for privacy.

I am currently lying in bed with a fractured pelvis, broken leg and a smile on my face that I am still alive.

My 6 year old Spanish gelding reared 3 weeks ago and having managed to rear high, combined with the weight of the spanish saddle and my weight, over we went. You have my permission to tell anyone who would think of pulling a horse over intentionally that being rolled on one is a dangerous game.

Well, yeah! Having a 1000 lbs - give or take a few hundred - of flailing meat dropping on you from about eight feet can really mess up your day. Even if you can avoid the splat it can also do major damage to the horse and your tack.

Physically dealing with the rear at the moment of rearing from the horse's back is a crap shoot. I often hear folks say that they - or someone they knew, heard of or seen - cured horses of rearing by hitting them between the ears with water filled balloons or bottles, raw eggs and the like. This is supposed to make them think they are bleeding to death and give them second thoughts about doing it again.

So far, no one has convinced me this type of "cure" works. I have seen horses gushing blood from a wide range of wounds and many of them were only concerned about missing a meal.

I said all that to say this; dealing with rearing horses is probably one of the most difficult things you'll ever do with horses. Rearing can have any number of causes: fear, physical issues, tack, rider error, resistance, to name a few.

My husband had Omar checked immediately after the initial care for me was dealt with (ambulance etc) by our vet who is trained in osteopathy...if thats the right word. She confirms that there was nothing wrong with him.

I know nothing about your vet but I do know about vets in general; if it isn't swollen, oozing, bruised, bleeding, over heated or otherwise visibly obvious they generally won't see it.

Nothing against vets, they tend to diagnose what they see and people seldom bring horses to them who aren't swollen, oozing, bruised, bleeding, over heated or displaying otherwise visibly obvious conditions. A horse can have serious physical issues and have them go unnoticed by a vet.

In our problem solving work we often find severe physical issues that have gone unnoticed by vets. And just so you don't think we're perfect, people, including vets, often find things we miss and we eat, breathe and sleep ferreting out foundation causes.

I have had Omar for 16 months with no problems save for a few days before my accident when I wanted to take him out before his breakfast - he threw a buck and a little rear and galloped up my path, which hed never done before (my horses are kept at home) - and the next time i rode him (when the accident happened) i was taking him out before his dinner.

I have 3 horses and Omar favours one mare over the other and the one we were going to hack with the day of the accident was his least favourtie mare.

I know my horses. I work from home, they are never left longer than 4 hours if i ever have to go out - they have high quality feed without oats - forage freely available - plenty of exercise - their teeth are checked 6 monthly and their bits have not been changed.

Yes, even teeth can cause rearing, but I don't think teeth are your problem. I don't know what kind of dental attention your horses get but floating or "rasping" the teeth is NOT dental care. Equine dental care is every bit as involved, if not more so, as human dental care. Vets traditionally only get a couple hours of tooth work, if that in vet school.

As long as we're talking teeth, bits can cause rearing as well. One that is especially good at it is the American Tom Thumb bit. The TT is considered a mild "colt starting" bit but as a broken curb bit it has numerous pinch points and a nut cracker effect. It is impossible to apply ANY rein movement without pinching the horse.

Since the accident I have invested in a bareback saddle (bought via the internet as i have a laptop in bed with me) because I felt that the weight of the spanish one made the situation worse and I had a friend come over to spain from the UK (a horseman) and school Omar. Omar was fine every time until the last day when my friend wanted to ride him about half an hour before he is usually fed and he was not happy. He didnt rear but then my friend is a lot heavier and was expecting it, but he played up. I therefore think that during the winter months my boy has just got used to the 8pm feedtime and needs careful management of change. We need to ride later in the summer so mealtimes will need to be later.

I'm not a big fan of bareback, treeless, flex panel, air panel, gel panel and the like saddles. The purpose of a saddle is to optimally distribute the rider's weight over the horse's weight bearing area. These saddles seldom do that no matter what the manufacturer du jour says about them. There are those who insist that bareback is the only way to ride a horse. Sit on your hands. All your weight is concentrated to your seat bones. This is like high heels on a wood floor to the horse's latissimus dorsi muscles. Have someone press their knuckle against any one of your muscles and you'll see how this works.

These saddles also allow rider faults to more easily transfer to the horse's back. If a rider rides heavy to one side the saddle just makes way for fault's effects to flow to the heavy side. Any test of air pockets will show that air travels to the area of least pressure. If a saddle has a pressure spot, the air will be forced out of that spot with little effect on the pressure spot.

I recognize what you are saying in that there has to be a reason and yes - we need to work on the discipline but more so his anxiety about going out before eating. Omar is a beautiful horse who will sometimes need telling twice but never more (well even horses try their luck) and I think that his way of protesting to change was to rear. He hates being in the stable and so in the winter he flys out and is like a rocking horse when hes first allowed out. Sadly I found out the hard way what it was he was trying to tell me....and i wish i had listened to him the ride before. Had I - i would have known that he needed some guidance to get used to the new regime.

I hope that my story demonstrates that sometimes the reasons dont need to be complex and can be easily resolved with some basic tweaks to a regime and some reassurance to a horse who is a little attached to his mealtime routine.

I certainly would concede that if the horse is fed at a fairly rigid time it may cause the horse to become irritated if it is not fed at that time. In essence a set feeding time is a contract and when you break the contract the horse feels it has a right to resent it. I tell people hand treats are a no-no for that same reason. If you give a horse a treat every time you see it or it does a particular behavior it grows to expect it. It does its part and it expects you to do yours. Then when you don't provide the treat in return it gets bent out of shape.

Our horses are not fed on a rigid schedule. They will get fed sometime during the day. Regardless, we also teach our horses that we come before food. If they are eating and we take them away to work they are expected to accept it, not that we do it that often. They are to respect and honor our leadership.

And here's another rearing email...


Please can you send me your bonding techniques. My mare reared today quite high and at the moment i am putting it down to a change in her daily pattern to do with feeding. She is very territorial and aggressive about her short feed.

She has just turned 6 and she doesn't like being told off...for want of better words......she will have a go back.

Look forward to hearing from you.

I have no idea what "she will have a go back" means. Perhaps that's like "throw a wobbly" or "have a cow?"


As I said earlier, I can see that certain types of feed and feeding patterns can have an effect on a horse's behavior. I think that not accepting you as a leader is also a major part of the behavior.

If the rearing is respect / leader oriented and not caused by some physical issue the "bonder" may be helpful in resolving it. The bonder, actually, a herd dynamics procedure, drives home the leader follower concept and makes the horse more accepting of the human's leadership.

And here's yet another rearing email...

My horse is fairly young (9) and I bought her from someone I did not know two years ago when she was 7. She will rear on you when she has been lazy over the winter and does not want to work. She will act submissive in the round pen during lunging (head down, licking her lips) but sometimes she will still buck when you ask her to trot in the round pen. We went for a two hour trail ride Sunday and she did not misbehave until almost 1 1/2 hours into the ride. She then tried to rear, decided not to and then did not misbehave the rest of the way. If it was a physical problem, I think it would have bothered her before an hour and a half into the ride. Rebellion seems more likely as I have had little time to work with her lately and she has been allowed to be very lazy over the winter. It is possible she is only half broke. I need some teaching methods that will help me cure her of this rearing.

I find horses to be the most compliant creatures on earth. When you have a horse that goes along great for quite awhile (1-1/2 hours is quite a while to me) then acts up a bit then goes great, the first thing I'd look for is a physical issue. A physical issue doesn't have to be chronic ongoing thing. It could be as simple as a poor fitting saddle biting her at the wrong time. Poor fitting saddles can numb a back, move enough to affect an un-numb spot or jab below the numbness.

I'm not saying it is a saddle issue, I'm just saying that as an example. But... you do say she'll buck at the trot in the RP. I'd sure look at a back issue at the withers.

She sounds too submissive to be rebellious.

Hi I am 14 years old and have been riding since I was six I have a 8 year old 15.3 paint gelding. My horse does everything I ask him to do. It started about a month ago on a trail ride. I was riding him and I asked him to go in the water and he reared I smacked his butt and said knock it off. Then I went to my horse show and he would not go in the arena after it got dark. If a tried to pull him to the left he would rear I finally had to bail cause he almost flipped on top of me. I do not want to sell my horse and I don't want to stop barrel racing him what can I do I love my horse more than anything. I also am riding him with a tie down because he would throw his head really bad and I have been riding him with a tie down for about 4 months and he just started it about a month ago what can I do to make him stop. Also his feet have been done and his teeth and there is no limp. Thank you please email back.

If you force a horse it will eventually overcome the force. Tie downs seldom do any real good and they interfere with a horse's balance. Oh, I know there are all kinds of people who will swear horses need them for what ever reason, one of which is to prevent a horse from rearing by preventing the horse from throwing his head to get momentum. Tie downs do not prevent a horse from rearing. In order to rear all a horse has to do is get his rear end below his center of gravity. To keep a horse from rearing the tie down needs to be put on the rear end and renamed a "tie up." (It's a joke.)

You say you started using it because he was tossing his head. A better thing would have been trying to discover why he was tossing his head - Tom Thumb bit, holding him back, photic head shaking, dental problem (floating is to dental as a lightning bug is to lightning), cervical subluxations, etc. Head tossing can be caused by a bunch of things and if one digs deep enough one can get some insights.

Rearing when turned in a particular direction and not another is more than likely a physical issue. I'd have him checked out by a equine chiropractor.

Humans tend to think every undesirable thing a horse does is caused by rebellion and rebellion must be quashed. Horses are the most compliant animals on earth and if they aren't it's because they are missing some ingredient in their training or they are in discomfort.

And then there is the matter of speed eventing or gaming. That is incredibly hard on a horse. I know I sell a speed event lecture DVD on some winning techniques I found helpful when I competed while making no bones about the fact I am against it. I realize people are going to do it no matter what I say. The least I can do is point out some things that might help their horses.

It is very easy to injure your horse gaming especially when you are pushing him pell-mell through the patterns with his head locked down. High speed turns can pop splints, throw shoulders out of whack (the front legs aren't connected to the skeleton, they are held on the horse by muscles) and I can go on and on.

Then there is the mental aspect. Horses do not understand why they just can't do what it is you trained them to do. When you train a horse on patterns, then change a little thing or two, like timing, how they approach the run, the distance between the props at the show (extremely common) and a bunch of other things can quickly fall apart.

Add the adrenaline and excitement in you to the mix and you have a pressure cooker. Something has to give. Chances are it'll be the horse.

I've known few gaming horses who were able to keep it up for any great length of time.

My suggestion would be, if you love your horse more than anything, stop running him in speed events.

Click here to check out my very reasonably priced DVD inventory covering many of the subjects featured on my site's pages in greater depth.

Back To Top

For Further Information Contact Marv Walker 706 816-7190 Evenings 9 to 12 PM
Questions, comments or suggestions
Back to Marv Walker's Index Page

vBulletin statistics