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Ask the Trainer: Rearing

Topic_Info: rearing

Website_Info: came across it when looking up info on rearing
Location: Livermore falls, Maine
Date: March 14, 2011
My horse had been rearing a lot. The footing in my field isn't that good, she had been fine all summer then got her shoes off, the ground got hard, and then she started. Then when the first snow came she was fine for a month or so, then when the snow got hard, uneven, and high she started again. Do you think she is doing this because of the footing? It's very aggravating and I try to bring her head to my knee and make her go forward but I can't she's too powerful. I have been doing groundwork with her for now until she gets her shoes back on, and the snow is gone. I'm hoping she will be better.

If all possibilities of pain have been ruled out (such as sore feet- have a farrier or vet use a hoof tester to see if she is experiencing any soreness while barefoot) in all the cases of aggressive behavior that I have dealt with, such as rearing, the footing would not be a big enough issue to cause the dramatic behavior you are experiencing.

The horse's brain is what needs to be addressed. A horse's physical action is a direct result of their mental and emotional state. When they feel good on the inside, they are relaxed and compliant on the outside. When they are stressed, worried, insecure, etc. on the inside, they display unwanted and often dangerous behavior.

Something somewhere in her experience with people has caused a level of resistance within her brain that perhaps when it was first displayed probably appeared in a rather mild manner. As her "pleas" for help went either ignored or unnoticed, she had to start acting "bigger" until she got your attention and was finally addressed. By the time she is "consistently rearing" she is pretty convinced that people are NOT there to help her, and therefore she must make decisions to "protect" herself without considering the rider.

The rearing is a symptom; it is not the issue itself. You're going to need to step back and assess the quality and clarity of communication you currently have with your horse. You're going to need to address when you start being "hopeful" - these moments cause you to "survive the ride" rather than "taking your horse for the ride." This creates neither the horse nor you making decisions that result in a positive experience. Then both of you come away from the ride with less confidence which then sets a pattern in expecting a lack in quality in the next ride.
Horses are herd animals. There's only one leader in the herd, if you are not clear within your own mind of what you want, how and what aids you use and with what energy level, there is no way your horse will be clear on what is being asked of her.
Too many times a horse has tried multiple options when they are bothered, fearful, insecure, etc., but are ignored by their rider, until the horse finally displays drastic behavior. People tend to wait until their horse is behaving unreasonably to attempt to address the horse, and by then, it's too late, the horse already has mentally checked out, emotionally melted down and physical become unreasonable or dangerous.

Rather than consistently reaching this dramatic point in a ride by acting like a passenger, you'll need to first establish clear communication tools and then learn how to watch for the signs of when your horse starts telling you that she is feeling bothered about life so that you can then INFLUENCE what happens rather than attempt to survive it. You're going to have to offer your horse a clean slate and assume nothing.

BELIEVE your horse. Whether you're attempting to catch her, tack her up, mount, or hack out- if there is any level of stress, agitation, worry or fear- hard to catch, fussy when tied, fidgeting when mounting, tail swishing when you apply your leg, grinding teeth, "grabbing" or leaning on the bit, slow to respond to an aid, etc., you'll need to put your initial intentions or goals for the ride aside to address the current concerns your horse is having. Even if you don't think "it’s a big deal" or if your horse has "done this a million times before," pay attention to her concerns. If you don't respect and address her worries- however insignificant they may seem to you, and you continue to "force" her to "just deal with it" (it being whatever is bothering her,) you're creating a ticking bomb. It will not be a matter of "if" but rather "when" she explodes mentally and then physically- such as with her current rearing.

By focusing on your horse's brain when she is having a problem and helping her learn how to mentally work through her concerns, she will physically respond in a reasonable and safe manner. She'll learn to trust you when you use your aids with clear communication because they will mean something to her. This is the beginning of teaching a horse how to learn how to "try." When she has concerns or if she is having a problem rather than naturally responding defensively be being "reactive" which causes a dramatic result and only instills more fear in both horse and rider, we'd like the horse to pause (mentally and physically) and ask, "What would you like?" to its rider.
Obviously this is not a quick fix solution. But the rearing is not going to go away on its own. Don't be hopeful. Even if you were strong enough to "manhandle" your horse into giving you her head and she quit rearing, her current mental and emotional stress would then manifest itself into another form of dangerous behavior. Take the time to address the issue, and the dangerous symptom, in this case the rearing, will disappear on its own.
Good Luck,

1 comment:

  1. I really enjoyed this post, and the horse will thank you, too!

    Petra Christensen
    Parelli 2Star Junior Instructor
    Parelli Central


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