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Horse rearing when asked to lead group

Dear Mr. Levinson

My Mom and I enjoy participating in various organized trail rides. My mom's horse is a 6 year old registered Gaited Spotted Saddle Horse which she rescued when he was about 1 and a half or so. She took a number of lessons with the horse, but most of them focused on getting the horse to gait properly and not ruin the comfortable rides that they are. Recently the horse "Cisco" has been developing a bad habit of rearing up on it's hind legs when ever it doesn't want to do something. Cisco does a lot of things that my mom asks him to do, but every once in a while he decides he doesn't want to. This is especially true when my mom wants to take the lead in a group of 4 or more. If she put him in front he rears up and acts a fool, as soon as somebody else comes up front he is the greatest horse ever. However, when my mom is by herself Cisco has little problems, so it seems like he acts up more around groups. My mom went out and got a tie down for him which helped, but he has figured out a way to get around it and still rears up.

Mr. Levinson, Please help me in any way you can, because if my mother does not find a solution, she may sell the horse or it will end up going over backwards on her and ending her horse riding days for good.

Thank you, Charles

Hello Charles,

I strongly urge this procedure: have someone longe the horse with your mother riding it. The person longeing the horse should be very good at doing this and experienced. Additionally, there can be other horses in the paddock or arena. Sometimes these horses can be in front of your mother's horse. A horse moving forward cannot rear. Another thing to try is to provide a consequence of movement for the unwanted behavior. Have Mom get very good at asking for turns on the forehand from the horse. She should practice this before it might be needed as a consequence. Both she and the horse need to be very good at it and the horses response need to be immediately upon receiving the cue. Once proficiency is accomplished, the instant the horse indicates or signals it might rear, Mom needs to ask for the leg yield (turn on the forehand) and receive it. This puts the horses attention back on Mom as the leader of movement. This in particular is a very effective procedure when practiced. Never punish, it is always better to provide consequences which set up learning situations.

Physical restraints like tie-downs are never as good as addressing the root cause of the behavior you do not want. The horse is rearing because of fear. Here are some additional things to try. First off, more ground playing to establish more trust. Trust is formed between horse and human first and foremost on the ground. It is formed through very precise, clear, conscious leadership of all movement (every step, every stop, every turn) and immediate reward of total release of all pressure for compliance by the horse. These breaks from all pressure (ending all input of energy towards the horse, briefly but thoroughly) allows the horse some moments of total peace. This is the best reward that a horse can receive as peace=safe feelings. More than food, praise, shelter, companions, anything, feelings of safety are the single most important things in a horses life. This is because it is a prey animal (eaten by predators) and feelings of safety mean survival. So, the more humans can provide these feelings to horses, the better the relationship. In the wild horse herd, the herd gets these feelings of safety from their herd leader(s). Mom needs to become the great leader of all movement for the horse. So do you. Also, bending the horse in tight turns make it difficult for the horse to rear. These tight turns are akin to turns on the forehand (leg yields).

Additionally, I suggest not forcing the horse out in front of the group for very long at first. Perhaps ask the horse to lead for a minute and then allow it to move into the middle. After a few minutes ask it again to take the lead. So the horse is not forced in front for long at all. Gradually extend the time the horse is asked to be in front. Allow this process to take a few weeks. Additionally, if Mom is not confident in her riding abilities, the horse will pick up her fear and this will make the situation worse. The horse needs to be ridden by a very confident rider until this behavior has been worked through and resolved.

Thank you very much for your kind and generous donation to my website. It helps tremendously and I am very grateful. Please keep me posted and let me know if you have additional questions. I shall be teaching in the UK, Ireland and Greece over the summer and in Colorado, US, in the fall. If you would like, I am happy to come to your location when I am back in the states.

Sincerest regards, Franklin

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