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Rearing In The Recovering Horse

She writes...

Dear Marv,

I hope you can help me with a rearing problem I have. I have been riding for 15 years and I have ridden about 20 different horses of several breeds in a regular basis, and many others just a few times, and I have never had this problem before. First I will give you some background information.

I am free leasing a 4 year old Arabian gelding since about a month ago. He is about 14 hands tall and has a narrow body, small horse. I have been riding dressage for several years and it is what I am starting to do with this horse. I am 5 foot 3 in and weight 130 pounds.

He was broken about a year ago and is trained on ground manners, in which he is very good. He hasn't been ridden a lot, and he had some bad experiences that I know of, with previous riders. I don't know the exact details though. One was when he was at a show and, I was told, he bolted and the girth wasn't tight enough, so the saddle slid to his belly and the rider fell. He kept running full speed until he collided with another horse, hurting his shoulder. After that he wasn't ridden for a while, letting him time to recover physically from the accident. He has had other accidents from which I am not fully aware of the details.

After he recovered from the accident, his owner wasn't able to ride him anymore. He would try to throw her off somehow every time she tried to ride. Either rearing, bolting, bucking, etc., and he succeeded, so she never tried again. She is an older woman, heavier and less experienced rider as the trainer and I. We assumed the horse wasn't very comfortable with her on, because of being such a small horse and his back is not yet strong enough to bear such a weight. She placed the horse in the hands of a professional trainer, who is able to ride him past the initial resistance. She has worked with him about ten times in the past three months.

The first time I rode the horse he started rearing as soon as I got on him. I hadn't even taken the reins yet. It took about 10 or 15 minutes of rearing before I could have the horse at the trot and relaxed. After talking to the trainer and owner about the possible causes, I got a new saddle with a good fit (because the previous one wasn't fitting very good, although I have ridden horses with worse fitting saddles and it was never so bad), I got a better bit, and I did some lungeing prior to riding. I actually did several sessions of just lungeing, and didn't ride him for a few weeeks. I figured I could have a better bonding with him that way.

Now the rearing problem persists. It's not when I just sit on the horse, like it was the first time. Now I can do some walk and he is fine. But when I ask him to trot, or I ask him a more lively walk, he starts resisting by rearing. It takes a few minutes until I can have him going forward at the trot and then it usually goes ok. But his initial reaction to leg, or whip aids, is to rear.

So far, no accident has occurred, as I ride on a closed arena and I am pretty good to stay on the saddle, but I am still afraid he may flip backwards and we may have an accident.

As you mentioned on your article about rearing, I have checked for physical causes and I couldn't find any visible one.

I would greatly appreciate your help.

Everything in your post indicates to me that the horse has not fully recovered from his collision. I would say that he needs a thorough going over by a chiropractor.

You also say that he is "narrow" horse. Quite often this means the horse has little padding over the withers and shoulders. This quite often means direct saddle to bone contact which can be very uncomfortable to a horse. Since saddle uncertainty appears to be a significant part of your post, I'd sure suspect saddle fitting as part of the problem.

Without being there to actually look the equipment over, I can't say whether or not the saddle actually is a problem. All I can say is that it LIKELY is part of the problem even though it appears to fit since he is narrow. Few saddles are actually made for narrow horses.

You report that you suspected saddle problems and are now using a different saddle. Even if the saddle you are now using is a perfect fit it can still be interacting with the damage done by the previous saddle. It is likely he needs some body work by a CESMT (Certified Equine Sports Massage Therapist) to see what can be done to increase circulation in his back muscles.

Your reporting the horse is compliant with good ground manners on the ground further drives home to me that it is a physical problem most likely rooted in his collision and the other injuries you suspect.

I have an iron clad rule; never ride a rearing horse unless you have taken concrete steps to discover why the horse is rearing AND you have taken steps to overcome the reason. AND THEN be ready to dismount at the first sign of rearing when you do attempt to get back on it. If the horse does not let you get on it, don't get on it. The risk is just too great.

Each person rides differently. You can have 10 people who weigh the same you do and are the same size and no two will sit the horse alike. The weight distribution will be different with each rider. One rider's seat may drive the saddle to the horse differently than another. If a rider drives the saddle into a sore area, you could have a reaction.

And horses also handle discomfort and injury differently. You can have one horse with a big deep slash from shoulder to hip and it'll be going, "What's for supper??" You can have another with a small cut and it'll be going, "Get me to the vet school before I die!!!"

I'm willing to bet your horse has not recovered from its original injury or injuries.

I'd have him examined by an equine chiropractor. If the chiro is unable to find anything I'd go to another. The horse almost certainly still has residual injury. Most likely, I'd say it is in its left shoulder, perhaps even a rotated rib cage. Then I'd have the chiro backed up by a CESMT, then I'd call in a saddle evaluator along the lines of Kellie Sharpe.

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