What is Rearing?
Most horses try rearing up on their back legs and lashing out with their front hoofs at one time or another. This is very dangerous and must be addressed. Rearing up can be a defensive behavior as a result of fear, perhaps when faced with another horse, a person or something that surprises them. Horses may rear up as a way to express their dominance (particularly stallions) or to show that they are objecting to being restrained. Without management, the horse may use rearing as a way to avoid cooperating with the person riding or handling him. Rearing causes accidents and injury, therefore it is imperative that the horse receive proper training to stop the behavior.
Often a behavioral problem in horses, rearing may occur to show dominance, as a result of fear, due to surprise, as an objection to being restrained or to avoid cooperating.
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Symptoms of Rearing in Horses
The following may be seen with rearing in horses:
- The horse will tense up and possibly stop suddenly
- The horse will kick back, raising his front legs from the ground and standing on his back legs, showing dominance
- The horse’s body may shudder and his front hoofs may lash out should his rearing be the result of fear or a threat
Causes of Rearing in Horses
A variety of things may lead to rearing in a horse to include the following:
- Fear, anxiety, or confusion; while most horses will run to the side when afraid, some will rear, especially if feeling closed in.
- The horse has a bad temperament and is hesitant to work with his handlers; by looking threatening when he rears, he is demonstrating rebellion and unwillingness to be handled.
- Stallions may rear and strike in order to announce their dominance to other horses.
- Stallions may also rear and paw when they are wooing a mare.
- When a bit is harsh or leads to pain, the horse may rear as a reaction to pressure and pain
- If your horse rears right after you have mounted him, the saddle may be pinching him or you can be tugging on the reins; the cinch may also be too tight.
- If the horse finds that rearing allows him to get out of going to a certain place or doing something in particular, he will rear as a way to avoid doing what he does not want.
- Excess of energy and being playful
Diagnosis of Rearing in Horses
That your horse is rearing will be apparent. It will be important to first figure out what is leading to your horse rearing, so that you can best address the behavior. Your veterinarian may be able to assist you by examining your horse to ensure that pain is not the cause of his rearing. Particularly in cases where your horse is usually compliant, should he suddenly start to rear he should have a physical examination, as physical discomfort can lead to such a strong reaction. Signs that may point to an injury include his having trouble transitioning between gaits, trouble maintaining a steady pace, and a decrease in his appetite.
Should there be nothing physical discovered, your veterinarian may have some advice on working with your horse, or may be able to refer you to a trainer or another professional who can help you with this behavior.
Treatment of Rearing in Horses
Should your veterinarian determine that rearing is a result of a physical issue, he will recommend how to best treat your horse so that he may recover.
In many cases, rearing is found to be a behavioral issue. Once you are clear as to why your horse is rearing, you will be able to work with him on changing the behavior. Depending on your level of experience, it might be best to work with a trainer on resolving the issue that is leading to your horse rearing.
It is very important that you not panic should your horse rear, as it can make things worse. Taking control of your horse’s rearing by pulling down hard on the lead shank as your horse is about to rear is helpful in ending the behavior. Should this not be possible, you can pull down hard on the lead shank right after your horse rears and his front feet have returned to the ground. Once the shank has been pulled down, you will want to back your horse up a few steps in order to demonstrate that you are in control.
In cases of stallions that have reared in the past, using a combined lead shank, chain and halter will be useful in training him to not rear. The chain will be put over the horse’s nose or through his mouth. Upon being pulled down hard, the chain will cause significant pain, which will lead your stallion to pay attention. Each horse is different and experience will help to show what works the best for your horse.
Due to the danger of rearing, both the riders and the handlers should be aware if a horse may rear so that they have a plan regarding how to proceed. Those involved in riding and handling the horse should stay attentive to the signs of the horse being about to rear, including any sudden movements. It is recommended that the rider or handler stand at the horse’s side, outside of the area where they could be struck.
Recovery of Rearing in Horses
If your horse undergoes treatment for a physical issue that is believed to be causing the rearing, you will want to follow up with your veterinarian as recommended in order to ensure that the issue is resolved.
As rearing is often due to behavior, a trainer or other professional may be helpful in resolving this behavior in your horse. Rearing can be a significant safety issue and it is important that someone with experience assist in its resolution.