How to Stop a Horse from Rearing

When you’re stuck with a horse that likes to be rearing, it can cause a lot of frustration. Horse owners have tried many unusual tactics to stop this behavior, from smacking a horse in the ears with a stick to using hot water in water balloons. These tactics don’t generally work for one simple reason: the horse feels like the method is abusive.

Instead of creating a positive behavioral reminder, a negative behavioral trigger is created.

Horses don’t rear because they’re playing a game. They’re doing it for two primary reasons.

  • The horse is afraid of something. Rearing when feeling fear is an indication that the horse wants to run. By pulling back at the bit to stay on, the fear is reinforced because the horse feels like it is being pulled back. So the surge of hormonal energy needs to be expelled somewhere, which typically results in you having a rearing horse.
  • The horse is refusing. If you’ve asked the horse to do something and it just doesn’t want to do it, then rearing is a way to communicate refusal. Some horses may even begin running backwards to avoid a command. This can also happen at times when you’re training the horse to do something new.

To know how to stop a horse from rearing means being able to address the cause of the behavior. You need to do more than just treat the symptoms. You must resolve the core issues that are causing the horse to rear in the first place.

These steps will help you to do just that.

#1. You must regain the respect of the horse.

A horse that is rearing is a horse that is not showing its rider any respect. All riders must be able to communicate to the horse that they are the leaders. They are in charge, not the horse. Respect is a need, but it isn’t automatically given. It must be earned.

Or in the instance of rearing, it must be re-earned.

To begin gaining that respect, start moving the horse in various directions. Right, left, backwards, forwards – it doesn’t really matter. You want the horse to be thinking about what you’re wanting done. When you see a result from your efforts, no matter how small it might be, then reward the positive behavior.

#2. Fear issues must also be addressed.

If you have a horse that is scared of something, then you may need to yield to the hindquarters. You can do this by picking up one rein. Pull it to your hip, which should bring the horse’s head around towards your toe. Then put your inside leg, the one that’s on the same side as the rein, to apply pressure to the flank of the horse. 

Continue placing pressure there until the horse moves off of it. Then the horse will then eventually soften to the rein, which will allow you to release it.

This works because when a horse has to cross a back leg over the other, it removes their primary balance point. When that is taken away, it becomes almost physically impossible for the horse to put weight on its hind legs in order to rear up.

Without that power, the horse is focused more on maintaining balance. This takes the focus off of the fear. Just one note: if the horse doesn’t respect you, then this method should not be used until it does. If you try to pull the rein to your hip with a disrespectful horse, you may trigger another negative physical behavior.

#3. Balking horses are an indication that there is a lack of control.

If you do not have control over your horse, then you are creating the circumstances which allows it to rear up. The good news is that you then have the power to stop the horse from rearing. The bad news is that you’re going to have to be the one who alters the behaviors of the horse.

As with the process in gaining respect back, the best thing you can do to start this process is to have the horse move. Any direction is fine. This will then translate into commands that are followed when riding the horse.

There’s a good chance that if balking is an issue that the horse will not move when you issue a command. If your horse is being stubborn, then one of the best things you can do is work the horse where there are the highest levels of comfort. If the horse likes to be in the barn, then do the work there.

Then let the horse relax in the places where there isn’t a desire to work.

You can do a lot of serpentines in a barn to establish your leadership. It’s a great exercise because it forces the horse to keep shifting its feet so it can change directions. Every directional change that is followed reinforces the idea that you’re the one who is in charge.

#4. Consider using rollbacks as a way to prevent rearing.

Anything that makes a horse need to hustle their feet is going to be a good exercise to stop rearing behaviors. This is why rollbacks can be an effective way to stop a horse from rearing, no matter what may be triggering the behavior.

Rollbacks are a stopping and turning movement which causes the horse to pivot a full 180 degrees on a hind foot. This slows the pace of the horse and can soften their forward movement. 

It may take a dozen rollbacks at first to begin modifying the rearing behavior. When you can perform this exercise on a frequent basis, you may find that it only takes a few to disengage the disrespect that is causing the negative behavior.

#5. Remember to stay safe in all circumstances.

If at any time you are riding a horse that rears, then immediately get off of the horse if you feel unsafe. There are plenty of groundwork exercises, such as lunging, that can help you to establish the respectful relationship the two of you need to have for a successful riding experience. Once you feel like the horse is listening and responding, you can try to get back into the saddle once again.

Some owners feel like they are conceding to the horse if they get off of it. This isn’t true. The horse wins when you reward him for the rearing behavior. So if you slip out of the saddle, give him some feed, and pat his neck to tell him that he’s a “good boy,” then you just told the horse that you’re not in charge. If you keep working the horse, making the feet move, then you are not reinforcing the negative behaviors.

#6. Do not pull on both reins.

Many riders are surprised when a horse rears. They get thrown off-balance and instinctively grab at the reins as an effort to stay upright. The only problem with this action is that it can pull the horse further backwards and off-balance, causing both of you to tumble over backwards.

Pulling both reins can also cause the horse to fight your hold. When both reins are used to stop a negative behavior, it tends to make a horse nervous and upset. Horses are quick to engage their fight or flight mechanism, so you shut off any possibility of escape, you’ll end up with a horse that either wants to fight you or wants to bolt.

So only use one rein. If you think you might have to use both reins for control, then try to grab their mane or grab the saddlehorn instead. This will prevent further behaviors from starting after the rearing episode.

Horses that are rearing are animals that lack a training foundation and respect for the rider. This typically means that you need to get back to the basics with this horse. Do more groundwork so you get the feet of the horse moving. Start making the horse use the thinking portions of its mind and this will help you to earn more of its respect.

And if the horse is fearful for some reason, then take actions to take away that fearfulness. Work on desensitizing the horse to what makes it afraid so that it rears. When you can re-establish respect and remove fear, the rearing problem will typically resolve itself.

Know how to stop a horse from rearing may not stop every episode. If your horse hates snakes and you run into one along a trail ride, then you might have to deal with rearing in that instance. This is a natural reaction. These methods are design to help you stop the problematic rearing that is associated with a lack of respect for you or an ongoing fear that never seems to subside. 

By addressing those issues, you can create a horse that is calmer, happier, and respectful.