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Dealing with a Horse that Rears


By Clinton Anderson

he’s using the thinking side of his brain, and he’s no longer fearful—and he’s able to focus on you and what you’re asking of him.

How to handle a hot and nervous horse If your horse is rearing because he’s hot and nervous, make sure you’re not adding to the situation by pulling back on both reins to try to stop him from moving. The more you pull back on the reins and say, “Don’t go!” the more upset and nervous the horse will get. When a horse panics and uses the reactive side of his brain, use only one rein to control him, and concentrate on getting him to use the thinking side of his brain by doing lots of changes of direction.

Yield your horse’s hindquarters for control. The best way to gain immediate control of the situation is to yield your horse’s hindquarters. When a horse crosses his back legs over one another, it takes away his balance. Without balance, the horse can’t stand on his hind legs and rear. Think of yielding the horse’s hindquarters like pushing the clutch in on a car, you’re taking the power away from the horse. Yielding the hindquarters also gets the horse to stop thinking about being disrespectful or fearful and makes him concentrate on where he’s placing his feet.

earing is a very dangerous situation for both you and your horse. If left uncorrected, it is a problem that only gets worse. The key to understanding how to fix your horse’s problem is to

first understand that rearing is just a symptom. A horse doesn’t rear for the fun of it; he rears because he falls into one of two categories:

1. He’s hot and nervous, wants to run, and is using the reactive side of his brain. To make matters worse, his rider holds on to the reins with both hands, trying to force the horse to slow down and relax. However, since the horse is a prey animal, the more the rider says, “Don’t go!” and tries to stop him by pulling back on the reins, the more trapped and claustrophobic he feels. In his mind, the only way he can escape is by going up in the air.

2. He’s disrespectful and has sticky feet. When he doesn’t want to do something, his way of getting out of it is to run backwards or to rear up.

Gain his respect on the ground Whatever the cause of rearing, it’s a clear sign of disrespect. To gain a horse’s respect, you have to move his feet forwards, backwards, left and right, and reward the slightest try. If your horse is rearing, he’s telling you that you don’t truly have his respect. You need to spend more time working with him on the ground, establishing yourself as the leader. The Downunder Horsemanship Method contains over 30 groundwork exercises you can use to gain your horse’s respect and get him to use the thinking side of his brain, all of which make him a willing partner.

After working with hundreds of horses over the years, I’ve found that a week or two of consistent groundwork usually cures rearing before you get back in the saddle. Why? Because when the horse is moving his feet,

How to handle a horse with sticky feet When a horse rears because he has sticky feet and doesn’t want to go forward, it’s due to a lack of control on the rider’s part. You first need to get control of the horse on the ground and then practice basic impulsion exercises like my Cruising Lesson to teach the horse to respond to your cues and to be responsible for maintaining the gait you set him in. When you gently squeeze his sides with the calves of your legs, he should immediately move forward.

If your horse is rearing because he doesn’t want to go somewhere, use a little reverse psychology. Don’t think, “How can I make the horse move?” Think, “How can I make it uncomfortable for him not to go the direction that I want?” Do that by working the horse hard wherever he wants to be and letting him rest and relax where he doesn’t want to be.

For example, if the horse tries to rear up when you go to ride him away from the barn, work him hard at the barn. Using one rein to direct him, hustle his feet. You can do a lot of serpentines by bending the horse with your left hand and left leg, or going the opposite way, your right hand and right leg. Rollbacks, cantering the horse off, bringing him to a stop, and rolling him over his hocks to change directions are also a great exercise in this situation. But in reality, it doesn’t really matter how you move the horse as long as you hustle his feet and are constantly changing directions. The more times a horse changes directions, the more he has to think and pay attention to you.

About the author Clinton apprenticed under top Australian trainers Gordon McKinlay and Ian Francis. In 1996, he moved to America and apprenticed under Al Dunning before starting Downunder Horsemanship. Visit

Cruising Lesson This is a valuable way to earn the respect of your horse without a fight. To cruise, you have to help your horse feel like he is in control. Gently squeeze your horse’s sides with your legs and let him go wherever he wants without steering him, and keep a loose grip on the reins. If he breaks gait squeeze, cluck, and spank to get him to maintain the pace. To stop your horse, sit back in your seat and let him feel you relax.

32 November-December 2011 | Honest Horses Magazine

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