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Horse that rears -- what to do?

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  • Horse that rears -- what to do?

    I bought a 12-year old TWH that was trained at some point but mostly just left in the pasture his entire life. We've been going very slowly and recently conquered trailer loading. Once during the loading training he reared up, but that was the only time.

    So, I've been taking him off our property (trailering) and riding with hubby and with friends. All has been fine -- he's been wonderful. We are working on his gaits and he's making good progress.

    THEN - on the trails behind our house a John Deere went rolling down a hill without an occupant. The kids that were mowing did manage to get the mower stopped. But my TWH went nuts and reared. I got him to stop, took about two steps forward and he reared again, going over backwards and landing on my leg (I'm fine, bruised but fine).

    So, my question to all of you great COTHers -- is this a dangerous horse? What would you do -- send him to a trainer (if I can find one that will take a rearing horse)? Expose him to more strange things (sack him out) in the paddock? Just continue to ride him/work him and hope for the best?

    If you cannot set a good example, at least serve as a terrible warning....

  • #2
    IMO a rearing horse is really bad- especially since it sounds as though this is something he does as a flight reaction.

    What do you have him in for a bit? What did you do when he started to act up. If you have him in a curb and grabbed his mouth when this happened, then that could be a big part of the problem, but it sounds to me like this is a dangerous horse for you, and the flipping completely over is a dissaster waiting to happen. I only knew 2 horses like this- one we found out had 1/2 of his tounge cut off at some point- and once in a hackamore was fine, the other did it because he was in a curb and the rider had a death grip on him and would not let go- even though several people were yelling at her to let go.

    The other explaination for this behavior is pain, but it doesn't sound like he is doing this for pain, because there was a clear trigger for the behavior.


    • #3
      From your description, his rearing is a fear reaction, and is the beginning of his flight response (in the wild they'll rear, land, spin, then run). Most likely, the flip occurred because the extra weight of the rider pulled him off balance.

      Some horses rear out of fear, some out of pain, some because they just do not want to go forward. IME, the first is usually the hardest to fix, because it is the most unpredictable, so harder to 'program' into the horse's behaviour, and also the one the horse does with the least amount of physical control on his part.

      He needs to be taught many things. In most cases the first would be to move forward when asked, any time, every time, but in his case I think teaching him to spook in place and look to his handler for guidance in scary situations would be the most valuable skill to work on first. This takes skill, time, and trust and definitely is NOT a job for an amatuer! The average trainer with good 'riding' skills who can usually 'ride through' things to fix a baby or a bucker may not necessarily be the person who can fix this. You'll need to find someone who can truly teach the horse to look to the handler for instructions in a situation where he's startled.

      If you want to start working with him on the ground to work through his extreme fear reactions, check out the Meredith Manor website for some great articles on teaching a horse to focus his attention on the handler at all times. Also, take a hard look at his feeding program to be sure he's not being fed more calories than he needs, making him more excitable and hyper-sensitive. But don't get on his back until he's been with a pro you trust to teach him of the above, under saddle. In the end, he may still be dangerous under saddle, but he may also be fixable. At his age, its hard to tell whether or not he can be re-trained.
      Lowly Farm Hand with Delusions of Barn Biddieom.
      Witherun Farm


      • #4
        Not enough info to work with, I'm sorry. Too many variables that an onsite assessment of you two together would answer in an instant.

        BUT-With that said, rearing and flipping, when
        A)you had slack in the reins the whole time, and were leaning forward to encourage him forward...
        b) you had NOT been trying to hold him in a halt , and
        C) you had NOT fought him to halt about this scary thing as it went past, instead let him look and think and remained in a leadership role as a rider

        rearing and flipping with the above variables met and passed... he's dangerous. If you put him in a trap as described above- might be just the perfect storm of bad timing, bad moment.


        • #5
          He doesn't sound like a chronic rearer to me. Sounds like he was genuinely frightened, and may have overreacted. Also think that gloriginger's comment about the bit used, is a definite possibility.

          That said, I would consult a trainer well versed in dealing with horses like this, and would think about desensitizing training as well. Although, I gotta admit that a riderless John Deere heading my direction would leave a stain on my upholstery, too.
          In loving memory of Laura Jahnke.
          A life lived by example, done too soon.


          • #6
            Originally posted by ESG View Post
            Although, I gotta admit that a riderless John Deere heading my direction would leave a stain on my upholstery, too.
            Approved helmet: Every time; every ride.
            "When a sport gets to be predictable it ceases to be fun." - RAR's wise brother


            • #7
              Rearing and falling over backwards is very dangerous!

              No matter what his trigger is you are putting yourself in danger every time you climb aboard!

              I would not pursue this horse as a reliable mount - it's just too risky. I have fixed a few over the years, but it is hard and dangerous work. Consider the liability!
              "If you don't know where you are going, any road will take you there"


              • #8
                probably reared because you tried to hold him too still and he was scared. Turn him in a circle, keep him moving, let him go away somewhat from the thing he is scared of. If rearing is a habit he would be doing it all the time, not just when he is being scared.

                My guess is that you tried to rush it, don't take a horse out of the ring and trail ride til you know him better and know how he reacts to things and can be sure you can stay safe with him.


                • #9
                  Rearing was his response to fear, a very dangerous response.
                  The question is, will he do this every time he's afraid of something?
                  Sure you can try to prevent a rear from happening, but when a horse is frightened, they sometimes stop thinking and just react.
                  Rearing and flipping over, is not something I would want to deal with. Think twice before taking this horse out on the trails again.


                  • #10
                    I think you may have just discovered why he was in a field for so long...

                    A rearer is never worth the effort, in my opinion. I had one flip on me a little over a year ago,break her neck, and die. It was terrible and traumatic for everyone... and if I had paid attention to the warning signs, she would have been tossed out in a field months before that.

                    I would proceed with caution, definitely. Even though he did rear for a legitimate reason... it's not the choice reaction by any means. I would be tempted to say try to handle his spook differently. Don't encourage him to stand still, but let him go forward and get away. However, that does put you in the position of being faced with another rear and flip, and that could end in much more than a bruise...
                    Strong promoter of READING the entire post before responding.


                    • #11
                      For me, it doesn't matter 'why' the horse rears- rearing is bad and I won't mess with it. I did in my youth, mind you, but I've outgrown the need.


                      • #12
                        Originally posted by Queen Latisha View Post
                        Rearing was his response to fear, a very dangerous response.
                        The question is, will he do this every time he's afraid of something?
                        Sure you can try to prevent a rear from happening, but when a horse is frightened, they sometimes stop thinking and just react.
                        Rearing and flipping over, is not something I would want to deal with. Think twice before taking this horse out on the trails again.
                        Agree, completely.

                        The horse could have chosen to spin, bolt, startle, whatever but it chose to rear. And went high enough, twice, to flip over.

                        Having dealt with chronic rearers, and been flipped on once.... it is just not worth it. If it is their evasion du jour, you're in big trouble. You have to be very good at diffusing situations very quickly before they get to the point of rearing. That's not always possible. 99% of the time maybe if you get good at it, but that last 1%... can kill you.
                        We couldn't all be cowboys, so some of us are clowns.


                        • #13
                          I will ride a bucker a bolter even an idiot but I will not knowingly ride a horse that rears. As everyone has said this is probably an evasion. You could go for years with this not occuring again and when you least expect it it will 'rear it's ugly head' again.

                          Not worth it in any way shape or form. I'm also harsh in that I would not sell this horse down the road for fear of what might happen to someone else.


                          • #14
                            it does matter why! If she trapped him in the mouth with a typical low port grazing bit to 'whoa and face the monster' and he panicked- up and over is the only place he had to go.


                            • #15
                              Originally posted by katarine View Post
                              it does matter why! If she trapped him in the mouth with a typical low port grazing bit to 'whoa and face the monster' and he panicked- up and over is the only place he had to go.
                              I will grant you that I once saw a horse go over backwards and break a girl's pelvis. She had put the double bridle on incorrectly, had the snaffle wedged under the curb, and as soon as she mounted and picked up the reins he just went over- spontaneous pain reaction, freak thing, the horse never normally even thought about rearing in a wide variety of circumstances, he was a real sweetie named Patchouli. She was carted off to the hospital, bridle sorted out, spare rider climbed aboard, and we continued with the show (parade in Fontainebleau, France).

                              However- what is described in the OP's post- rear once, two steps forward, rear again- no. That is, to me, in the context of what was written (and the OP can correct me if my assumption is wrong), a fear/avoidance rear. I'm with High Hat- buckers, bolters and idiots don't particularly concern me (though I try to avoid being on an idiot on a narrow mountain trail), because you can do something about it. I've been on a horse rearing as avoidance- not his fault he was screwed up by others, but still- when you are wrapping your arms around the neck, feeling the hocks buckle, kicking feet out of the stirrups and gauging how you might push off on the way down to avoid being squished- sorry, but that's just not worth dealing with.


                              • #16
                                Yes, were the reins slack, were you leaning forward and encouraging the horse to go froward? If you had any pressure on the reins or were trying to make him stand or walk then i would not blame the horse. Walking Horses are typically "forward" horses, that is they want to go, and if you put a roadblock on forward in a scary situation in the wrong way you may have very well asked for the rear.

                                I would not call this horse a confirmed rearer at all, as a rider I would think ahead to developing strategies in dealing with a spook or startle with this horse where you will not be putting them in a trap that asks for a rear.


                                • Original Poster

                                  Originally posted by katarine View Post
                                  it does matter why! If she trapped him in the mouth with a typical low port grazing bit to 'whoa and face the monster' and he panicked- up and over is the only place he had to go.
                                  It all happened so fast, but I honestly don't think I was in his mouth at all. Like I said, I was asking him to move forward, not trying to "hold" him.

                                  BTW I use a typical Walking Horse bit on him (fixed cheek with 5" shanks).

                                  So, now I'm afraid. I'm too old to go flipping over again. I'll go back to arena work and see if I feel better about him, but can I even sell this guy? He's got a wonderful pedigree, he is a sweet boy otherwise, but he would have to go as a pasture pet (I have too little property to keep a pasture ornament). In this economy I fear this might be a death sentence for him.
                                  If you cannot set a good example, at least serve as a terrible warning....


                                  • #18
                                    Had a horse that was a phenominal jumper and he had one problem. When my rider attempted to mount, the horse stood up. The first time we thought it was a temporary attitude problem. The solution was that the next time the horse worked, my trainer got on and intentionally flipped him to scare the crap out of him. It did. When he made a move to rear, he flipped him again. I don't advocate this method to everyone as obviously my trainer knew what he was doing and wanted to give the horse the benefit of the doubt. Me? Never sat on him nor would I allow my rider. The trainer showed him with much success as he never ever tried it again. He showed for two seasons and was turned out forever as I knew I could never trust him nor would I sell him to anyone because my Dad used to say "once a rearer, always a rearer. if they learn to react that way just one time, it's always an option which you can never trust".


                                    • #19
                                      Originally posted by ESG View Post
                                      Although, I gotta admit that a riderless John Deere heading my direction would leave a stain on my upholstery, too.


                                      OP, I agree completely with Trevelyan and ESG. I would find a qualified trainer willing to work with him (of course fully disclosing the rearing issue) and not even think about taking him on the trails until the trainer (and you) are confident and trusting that he's moved past the issues.

                                      Also, seriously consider a different bit. A 5" shank gives a rider quite a bit of leverage, which isn't something that's necessarily beneficial in all situations. Maybe take several steps back with this guy- get him going confidently in the ring (in a non-shanked bit), and then gradually work up to the trails (in said non-shanked bit)... Not trying to point the finger soley at the bit, but I am giving the horse the benefit of the doubt considering that he sounds to be rather green; and at the time of this incident it sounds as though he was legitimately overfaced and reacted as many a greenbean might have. I'm not saying that rearing is ever acceptable, but given this situation and circumstances surrounding it, I wouldn't be ready to throw the towel in quite yet.

                                      I would tread very delicately and deliberately if I were you, and always heed your gut; whether it be when in doubt, uncertainty or even complete confidence. Err on the side of caution, act on the side of common sense and please do keep us updated.
                                      Originally posted by Martha Drum
                                      ...But I don't want to sit helmetless on my horse while he lies on the ground kicking a ball around without a bridle while Leatherface does an interpretive dance with his chainsaw around us.


                                      • #20
                                        oh my... now I feel bad that my daughter at 10 years old is on a rearer.

                                        Well, her horse is a TWH/QH cross and is 13 years old. She's not gaited, and is a push-button horse otherwise.

                                        She usually rears about 5 inches off the ground. She will only do it when thinking she is in a cowboy-type fun show, and not understanding why you are making her do certain things.

                                        For instance, she was just at her first hunter/jumper show - the horse and the rider never did a h/j show before. None of the under-12 competitors showed up so it was only my daughter. Daughter took horse out, horse was fine, until she had to "line up" and wait for the judges. The horse started getting antsy looking around thinking "why is she making me stand here, where are the other horses? Why am I not back out the gate if there are no horses around?" so my daughter was trying to make her stand and caught her in the mouth a little too tight and she popped up. Of course everyone stares in horror that the horse did a little rear. My daughter simply, turned her, turned her in a circle, and talked to her to reassure her she was okay. Then she stood fine.

                                        The horse gives warning when she is ready to rear, and my daughter knows how to diffuse the situation by making her go forward and turn. NEVER has this horse reared up super high to where she was even close to turning over. And her spook is completely different. When she spooks, she flattens, belly goes toward the ground, never a rear.

                                        I had another horse that reared on me when I tried to cross a street. SHe didn't understand what pavement was. I was tight on her mouth (by accident) and forcing her to go forward, she had nowhere to go but up. She never turned into a chronic rearer or anything.

                                        My limited experience says that your TWH probably did get caught up in the mouth a bit - those bits are harsh, trust me, I own several of them (and yes lots of gaited horses seem to go better on them with no pressure to their mouth at all but almost like they balance themselves with their gait with that type of bit), but that type of spook would very much concern me but then again, how often is a John Deere going to be goign down a hill without a driver

                                        Do whatever YOU are comfortable with.

                                        My current TWH just reared for the first time on me at a hunter pace a few weeks back. She was so excited since she knew the hunter pace is a race, and I was trying to get her to stand, she was fidgeting so much, again, tight in the mouth ,she had nowhere to go but up - not a high rear. When she went up, I cracked her on the head between the ears with my open hand. I know that may not sit well with a lot of you, but I did read that doing that can make a horse think that there is something above their head, and they may not try to go "up" again in fear of hitting whatever that is above their head. I can feel when my horse is going to go up (I used to ride my daughter's horse, I know that feeling, that antsy feeling they get - they give a bit of warning). I'm sure a horse that spooks and rears doesn't give warning, and THAT would scare me terribly.