My horse rears when I lead her? Why does she do this?

Horse rearingQuestion: I moved my two year old mare a month ago. She was really behaved for the first three weeks but now when I lead her she keeps rearing. Why would this be and would it help to use a pressure halter or would it make her worse?

Answer from April Reeves: By a pressure halter, are you referring to a rope halter? If so, I would strongly suggest it. If you are referring to nose chains or other methods, then I strongly argue against it.

Rope halters teach a horse to pay attention and listen. Chains and other equipment only create pain and anxiety, but do not solve the problem as the horse will soon learn to walk through that also. Much like putting in a harder bit when the horse won’t stop. Pressure teaches; pain builds resentment.

Traditional halters have a nice elegant look to them and are easy to put on a horse. Unfortunately, some horses tend to pull against them and drag their handlers around, as the wide bands of leather (or nylon) are almost comfortable for a horse.

Rope halters are soft rope, but it’s thin, and creates a broad base of pressure on the poll and the nose. Instead of causing acute pain in sensitive areas, as a lip chain would produce, it sends a broader question to the horse “I suggest you pay attention” without causing the anxiety. In order to gain attention and keep respect without being aggressive or abusive, the rope halter is the answer for any horse.

Your two-year-old mare is quite typical of her age and sex. They are quite exuberant at 2, and everything is new, while legs and bones and body are growing and forming at a rapid rate. It is also the age when wild horses are considered for breeding, so young mares feel‚ the challenge and often display behaviors that humans are not acceptant of (and rightly so).

I don’t think it’s a matter of the move she just experienced but her age, and her need to be handled more.

I am not sure how much groundwork she has, so I will suggest that you work on this daily for about 10 days. The rearing is uncomfortable and can get dangerous, but it’s also something that will disappear when it’s replaced with learning new things to do, like stopping, backing, trotting forward quickly, turning.

It’s not so much a case of disciplining her for rearing but keeping her busy. So many vices are started out of boredom, and do not need discipline as much as the horse needs YOU. There is nothing more valuable than time spent doing small but continuous exercises daily.

Take her out and do things in rapid succession: walk up, stop, back, turn left, right, stop, back, send her in a small circle for about 5 rounds, walk up. Continue all these for as long as it takes to ask her to begin to listen. With young horses, I find it’s better to do small amounts twice a day if you are able to.

Use a long (12 foot) soft rope and a long stick or crop, about 5 feet. Here are a few good ground lessons to work with:

A ground lesson that’s valuable with youngsters is to learn how to stand quietly when you face them. This is where the stick or crop comes into play. Stand in front of her, keeping your lead very soft and quiet with some good slack. Tap the stick on the ground directly in front of her chest. Keep a low rhythm with the stick for about 6 taps, then increase it and bring the stick towards her about 6 inches. Move your energy level up also (just your energy, no voice or sound or anger). If she does not back at all still, increase the tapping and move forward a bit more. By now you should be almost at her chest. If still no response, bring up your energy and rhythm and give her a smack between the two front legs. Do it once and mean it. Some horses are quite shocked at this and will often jump backwards in response. Never, ever, pull or put pressure on the lead; just allow her to back up as far as she wants for as long as she wants until she stops. Watch her movements; licking and chewing.

As soon as she makes any move backward, stop and let her ‘soak’. Do not ask any more than that right now. What may appear as a half-attempt, it is a very big attempt to the horse. Continue to ask her until she is listening quietly with head lowered. Do not change the pattern or rhythm of what you are doing. Do the same think every time, asking her respectfully with small taps, and gain energy and rhythm as you go until you connect between the front legs with the stick.

Another exercise is to ‘walk up’. As you walk her, move along a fence line, and ask her to stay with you at her shoulder and walk with a good pace. Stop and bring the stick up to her chest. If she is paying attention to the standing exercise, she should respect the stick and stop. Repeat this exercise until she stops when you do. Keep your body language strong, so that she has the chance to read what you are asking. Most training problems are cured by a simple change in how the handler moves. With horses you need to be able to communicate clearly and directly. Without that, you will create anxiety in the horse, as they will always be questioning what you want and not spending the time to actually DO what you want.

There are many good ground exercises to do, but these two will help you to begin with.

Always work both sides of your horse. What happens on the left does not transfer to the right. Your horse has two eyes, thus two brains to train. Like Adiva Murphy says, “Two eyes, two horses. Don’t buy another horse; just train the two you already have.”

Giving a young horse something to do will teach her to think her way through situations as opposed to react to them. Horses do have the ability to think, but it’s up to us to set up the lesson and ask them to use their brain instead of their brawn. Horses by nature are not wired to think first, as the time spent thinking HOW they will run from a pack of wolves means the wolves will have the time to eat them. Instead they use instinct and run.

The work you do at 2 will stay with her and become your foundation for the rest of her life.

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