Some of the reasons why horses rear are the same today as they were in 1967.

Written by Pat Close, November 1967

WhyHorsesRearRex Allen and Koko show that rearing can make some spectacular shots for the movie or television cameras- but this is a bad trick to teach your riding horse.

When a horse suddenly rears, it frightens a novice rider and can even send a cold chill down the back of an experienced rider. Rearing is dangerous because if the horse goes up too high, he could lose his balance and go over backward. If the rider can’t scramble out of the way, he can be seriously hurt.

There are two main reasons why a horse rears, and the first reason is the heavy-handed rider. This type of rider helps keep his balance in the saddle by hanging on to the reins. Or, when he wants the horse to slow down or stop, he gives a mighty jerk on the reins.

A rider might get away with this on a cold-jawed horse, but a horse with a sensitive and responsive mouth will probably rear from the pain.

If you classify yourself as a heavy-handed rider, learn to keep your balance without clinging to the reins. When you want the horse to stop, say “whoa” and give a series of quick, easy tugs on the reins; don’t suddenly haul back on the reins with all your weight.

The second main reason why a horse will rear is instigated by the horse himself. This happens when the horse gets “smarter than the rider.” He senses a novice rider right away and might rear when the rider tries to make him leave the barn or corral area. As a result, the novice rider will usually get off right away and forget the ride. About the second time this happens, Ol’ Dobbin has learned a new trick: rear a couple of times, and you don’t have to work the rest of the day.

This is the start of a barn-soured horse, and it should be corrected right away.

A horse with a novice rider will also rear at other times to avoid doing something – such as crossing a stream What this horse and the barn-soured horse need are good riders who can effectively discipline them when they need it; and who can make the horse understand that the rider is boss.


There are also three more reasons that sometimes cause a horse to rear. Although they are not as frequently responsible for causing this bad habit, they should be mentioned. One is ill-fitting equipment such as a curb chain (or curb strap) that pinches the horse. When the reins pull the bit back, a fold of skin is sometimes caught between the shank of the bit and the curb chain. This can really aggravate the horse until he finally rears. So can a bit that is too wide or too narrow.

So check your equipment. If the curb chain pinches the horse, you might get a bit with the special loops for attaching the curb chain. Or if the bit doesn’t fit properly, get one that does.

The horse’s teeth can also cause him to rear. Occasionally a horse, especially a young one, will have a tooth that interferes with the bit. Every time the rider pulls on the reins and the bit hits that tooth, it hurts. If you suddenly jerk the reins and the bit really hits that tooth, anything might happen ! If you suspect this trouble, have your veterinarian check the horse’s teeth.

The final reason why a horse will sometimes rear deals with training. The horse has not been trained how to correctly respond to the bit. When the rider checks the horse with the reins to slow down or stop, the horse should yield to the bit by dropping his nose and relaxing his lower jaw. The horse that doesn’t want to yield to the bit- or doesn’t know how – will fight against it by jamming his nose up in the air and sometimes by rearing. This often happens when a rider signals a horse to back up; he pulls on the reins and the horse doesn’t move. So he pulls harder, and this time the horse might rear.

In a case like this, the horse needs schooling, or re-schooling, to learn how to correctly respond to the bit.

Read “Ride with a Reason”

It should also be mentioned that there are some horses that rear in a deliberate attempt to unload their riders. And sometimes these horses will deliberately go over backward. These horses either have rank dispositions or are mentally unbalanced. But whatever the reason, such a horse should be turned over to a professional trainer or sold.

One last thought about rearing. A lot of youngsters think it’s fun to teach their horses to rear so they can imitate TV and movie horses. But this is one of the worst things a horse can be taught. If a horse has been taught to rear, sooner or later he will start rearing when you don’t want him to, such as when you try to teach him to back up. Then you have to break him from rearing.

If a horse has never been taught to rear, he is less likely to rear for any reason. So just be proud to have a well-trained and well-mannered horse that keeps all four feet solidly on the ground!

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