I apologize in advance for the lengthy post, but I want to give the whole background on this issue.
In June, I began riding two 15 year old warmbloods who had been out of consistent work for 4 years. Both are very nice horses, and have had some decent training in their pasts. The place where they are kept only has an indoor, so that's where I started riding them at first. One really nice day, I decided I would like to try riding the one outside in the field (he hadn't been ridden outside in over 4 years). When I went to get on, his owner told me that he has a little habit of rearing up when you first get on him if he is excited. Sure enough, the moment I sat on his back, he hopped up about a foot off the ground and just stood there. After a few seconds he came down and that was the end of it.
Things were going well for a few months. I had some friends come over and never had any second thoughts about anyone getting on him (even a walk-trot rider). At the beginning of December, my one friend came over and wanted to ride him (she had been on him once before) and I was fine with it. Well, she tried 12 times to get on him and every time he backed and stepped away from the mounting block. Finally, he ripped her off the mounting block and got away from her. I caught him and took him over to the block to give it a try myself. After some patience and a few tries, he stood long enough for me to get on. That lasted for about 3 seconds and then he threw his head to the ground then came back up in one of his "little rears". I sent him forward, circling him in a medium sized circle and he settled after about 4 circles. Walked him once around the ring, trotted a long side, he was fine. Put my friend on him and she had a great ride!
I got on him two times after that and he was still having a problem standing while being mounted, but no big explosions. The third time I got on him, he was great about standing, and we had a nice ride. Towards the end of the ride, I was trotting down the long side and asked him to halt. He stood for about two seconds, then tried to back up. I put a little leg on and he jumped forward. I gently pulled back and he moved off the wall. I corrected that and he reared up. Again, it wasn't very high, but nonetheless, it was a rear.
He is generally very impatient (paws in his stall and in the aisle, when you are standing in the middle of the ring he is flipping his head and pulling on the reins, etc.) but otherwise is a pretty nice horse. He just seems to like to do what he wants to do and as long as you do that, you're fine. The owner also told me that they had a girl riding him at the place they had boarded at before. He would rear with her, and she didn't make him rear but she wouldn't discourage it either.
His owner wants him ridden, but I just don't trust that he's not going to pull something and even though they are only small, you never know if or when he will decide to go higher.
With all that said, does anyone have any suggestions on what I could do with him? Or does this seem like a lost cause? I appreciate any advice!
My first thought is saddle fit/sore back. Sometimes stoic horses can deal with issues for awhile before it becomes bad enough to affect their behaviour. The swinging away from the mounting block, resisting going forward, etc. seems like his back might be sore.
It took about 8 months before my first saddle started affecting my horse to the point where he'd fuss. He never pinned his ears when being tacked up or brushed, but he started trying to walk away when I brought the saddle out and lifted it onto his back. He started walking away from the mounting block before I was ready to get on him and would do a little circle. Once i was in the saddle, he'd generally be 'good' but halt-walk or halt-trot transitions were really hard for him. Once I figured out what was going on, I switched saddles and it was like night and day. His trot was better, he was more eager and he stopped fussing with the saddle being placed on him and at the mounting block.
I'd be checking back and re-checking saddle fit. Then teeth, bit, hocks, etc. Check all physical aspects, see if the owner is interested in a vet check-up or chiro/masseuse, and go from there.
Sounds like he's reacting to pain.
Could be the saddle, or maybe the girth pinching him. I suggest you change the saddle and see what happens. He also may be a little "cinchy" with the girth. I suggest tightening the girth in steps.
Could he be a bit fresh, maybe a short lunging under tack could help.
What I would do would be to have him looked over thoroughly for front end pain issues, address them properly then begin with step one from the ground. Sounds like yes, could be pain issues of some sort or pain memories that set up habituated behavior. Doesn't trust the human. Needs a good leader to help him through this. Force and restraint will only exacerbate the situation. Let him learn he can make choices - the right choices. Teach, cue and reward the 'right choices' while ignoring the 'wrong choices'. If the pain issues are removed then the rewarded 'right choices' will help to extinguish the 'wrong choices' (whatever they may be). I would look into positive reinforcement 'training' for sure.
And remember -- rearing only takes place when the horse feels the need to get away from something (physical or emotional pressure) and has nowhere else to go.
OTV - The problem isn't that he resists going forward, it's that he wants to go forward all the time and not stand still. And he has always been impatient in the aisle (pawing, biting the ties) no matter if what I'm doing. I could be cleaning his stall, just grooming him, or tacking him up, and he is the same all the time.
Angry Bird - I do tighten the girth in steps: loosely in the barn, another hole before getting on and then again once I do get on if need be. The problems are not just happening at the beginning, it could be at the end of the ride too, like when I simply asked him to halt on the rail.
At first, I didn't think pain was the issue because as long as you're doing something (w/t/c/jump), he goes in a frame, is very willing and seems fine. However, now that I think about it, I was noticing some very mild tripping a while back that I was just contributing to him being lazy and not picking up his feet. I tried multiple times to get the owner to have the vet check him out, but they have yet to do so. It almost seems as if they don't want to accept the fact that something may be wrong with him.
I'd also have his teeth checked, if you haven't already. I could see a horse going up when you hold on to them to keep them going forward if there was an issue there.
If it's not pain or teeth, make sure you are not poking him in the side with your toe when mounting - if you are holding his face and you do that, he might go up because he can't go forward.
I taught my friend's horse to stand still when mounting with a loose rein in the round pen. If you held him he would go up and he wouldn't stand still for mounting. I put a set of roping reins on him and looped them over the saddle horn (or you could run them through a grab strap on your saddle for english), brought him in the middle of the round pen, then stood on the mounting block. If the horse fidgeted, he got sent out to the rail in the round pen and worked at a good trot for a few minutes. Then I brought him in and tried again, at first just standing on the block and telling him stand. When he did, I gave him a cookie to keep him focused on me and let him stand there for a minute. Then I led him around at a walk, took him back to the block, stood on it again. If he stood, treat time. If not, then off he went to work. Eventually I added a foot in the stirrup, then weight in the stirrup, then swinging a leg over. If he stood, he got a cookie. If he didn't, then off to work he went.
Took me a few sessions, but until the day that horse died he would stand like a rock while you got on him, with a loose rein, then when you were sitting he would swing his head around to get his treat.
If he's rearing or hopping under tack, put your leg on him and put him right to work doing something not so easy. Growling is good too so he knows that is Not a Good Thing.
My mare as a 3 year old would go straight up when she didn't want to go forward - refusing to go in the ring or something like that. No pain issues, just bratty herdbound mare issues. So, if she went up, I would put her nose to my knee and spin her around and yell at her. She couldn't go up when she was circling that tight, she really didn't LIKE it, and she def got the message that all 4 feet belong on the ground. I went pretty extreme with the correction because she was going up so high and it was obviously her planting her feet and refusing to go forward. Those feet were going to move because I said so, and she could do it the easy way or the hard way. She chose the easy way. :-) You don't need to go so extreme but you get the idea.
I'll second the checking his teeth, saddle fit, and also consider ulcers. I only say that because of the anxious behavior you explain when tacking up, etc. My mare exhibited the same behaviors when we were fighting ulcers. BUT it could just be a general anticipating pain response if the saddle doesn't fit, etc.
If all checks out, and it is a behavioral issue only, I'd find a trainer that is knwon for correcting the problem and go that route. I say this because I once worked with a mare that had the same kind of behavior. She'd be fine for weeks at a time and then would start up again, at the mounting block, or just randomly mid ride. She was checked out, no obvious physical issues. I decided I could work through it and one day at the mounting block, she went up and we went back and forth for 30 minutes. Leading her up, foot in the stirrup, up she'd go. Lead her around try again. I got on her and made 6 or 7 successful mounts/dismounts. Then she went up again, flipped, and broke her neck. I was inches away from ending up under her and meeting a similar fate. I was never rough with her or harsh, just consistent. She'd rear, that meant walk forward, come around to mounting block, try again. Didn't matter.
I would also not recommend trying to turn a rearing horse sharply... that's an easy way to flip them even if they weren't headed that way...
Strong promoter of READING the entire post before responding.
I highly doubt that it's his teeth, these horses get them checked/done twice a year. And I am very careful when I get on him. I try not to give him any more reason to be silly!
I've tried to read up on other threads about rearing, and most of them say to send them forward when they rear (which makes complete sense) however, I feel that if I do that, I will be giving him exactly what he wants and therefore encouraging the behavior. The horse likes to work, so even making him trot/canter when he does it, seems to me like a reward.
I will still push for the owner to get him checked out for any physical reasons, but I believe this comes from some glitches in his training/riding prior to the 4 years off. Things such as taking his tack off and putting him away if he won't let you get on him or getting on and immediately cantering around to get rid of excess energy when he has it.
FindersKeepers - That's a shame about the mare. I am trying at all costs to avoid a similar thing happening. I did tell the owners that I will give it one more try, but if he rears up again, I really have not interest in getting back on him unless they have a trainer take a look at him first. It isn't worth anyone getting hurt.