What Should You Do If Your Horse Rears?

It’s no secret that horseback riding has various safety risks. If you want to pursue working with horses, you’re bound to sooner or later come across a horse that rears. Rearing is when a horse stands up on its hind legs. This is especially dangerous since the horse’s balance is shifting from over four feet to over two. If handled incorrectly, a rider can contribute to causing the horse to flip over on itself. It’s imperative to know how to handle these situations for both you and your horse’s safety.

What should you do if your horse rears? When your horse starts rearing, do these things:

  • Try to get off if you can; this is a problem easily corrected from the ground.
  • Lean forward to help keep your horse’s balance center.
  • Don’t pull on the reins; put your hands forward, grab mane, or hug your horse’s neck.
  • Try to get your horse moving forward.
  • One-rein stop to disengage the horse’s movements

Rearing can be surprising and scary to deal with, but the good news is that horses will usually give warning signs before they rear. To learn more about why horses rear, how to tell if they’re about to rear, and how to respond if they do, keep reading!

Why Do Horses Rear?

The main reason horses will rear is pain, pent-up energy, or feeling stuck. It’s always important to rule out pain when your horse starts rearing. There can be many health problems that would cause a horse to respond this way, from a pinching nerve, to ill-fitting tack, to needing their teeth floated. If your horse has been rearing regularly, I recommend having them looked at by a vet.

A horse rearing due to pent-up energy or feeling stuck has the same effect. In that moment, the horse has energy or wants to go forward, but doesn’t feel like they can. Their energy has to go somewhere, and usually, it goes up. You’ll often see frustrated horses act out by rearing; at the moment, they are usually being asked to move forward, but can’t quite figure out how to do it correctly, whether it’s over a jump or learning a new dressage movement.

How to Tell if Your Horse is About to Rear

Some common signs that your horse may be about to rear, or behaviors that can lead to that include:

  • Head-tossing
  • Prancing
  • Tail-swishing
  • Doesn’t want to move forward

If a horse is about to rear, they will usually demonstrate all of these signs at the same time. Rarely will a horse just decide to rear randomly; if they do, that could be a good indicator that it’s pain-based.

Riding a Rearing Horse #1: Get Off the Horse if You Can

Rearing is very dangerous for the horse and the rider. I have had a horse rear and flip over on me. For safety reasons, I will always recommend getting off the horse if you can if they start to rear or you feel like they are about to rear. I find that rearing can easily be corrected from the ground, where you and the horse are both a bit safer.

Just because you get off the horse doesn’t mean you quit and end your ride. You have to actively correct the horse in that moment so that it doesn’t become a habit. The best way I have found to correct rearing is to get off and lunge the horse hard until they are tired. Then, get back on and ride again. Lunging is an easy way to make the wrong thing hard to do for your horse.

If you are new to lunging and would like a step-by-step walk-through of how to lunge a horse, visit my Leveled Up Lunging online course here.

Riding a Rearing Horse #2: Lean Forward

The reason rearing is dangerous is that horses are used to their balance being over four legs. Rarely do horses rear, but when they do, they’re suddenly balancing on only two legs. It could be quite easy for them to be thrown off balance and fall over.

While the ideal situation may be to get off your horse if they rear, that’s not always going to be an option. If you have to ride through the rear, lean forward toward your horse’s neck to help keep their center of balance. If you lean back, you may tip the center of balance backward.

While you may feel tempted to stand up in your stirrups to stay up with your horse, I recommend not doing that. By doing this, you may slide right off the back of the horse, which could put you in an even more dangerous position standing right behind the horse. By keeping your heels down and bending at your waist, you’ll be able to stay with the movement of the horse.

Riding a Rearing Horse #3: Don’t Pull on the Reins

Another thing you want to be conscious of is not pulling your horse over on itself by pulling back on the reins. Getting out of the horse’s mouth gives the horse its head to use for balance. One thing you can do to ensure you don’t pull on the reins is to put your hands forward, resting them on the crest of the horse’s neck. You can also grab the horse’s mane if you have to to steady your hands.

To help you feel even more secure, you can lean forward and wrap your arms around the horse’s neck, as if you’re hugging them. This will keep you from getting thrown back in the saddle.

Riding a Rearing Horse #4: Try to Get Your Horse Moving Forward

If horses rear because they feel stuck, one thing you can do to help them stop rearing is to let them go forward. Many horses will rear because the rider is trying to hold them back or make them stand still. In those instances, just let the horse move out, even if you have to do it in a small circle to maintain control.

One thing you want to avoid doing if a horse is already rearing is to try and make them go forward. Kicking them or smacking them with a crop will likely have the opposite effect and will just make them rear more. Remember, by the time a horse starts rearing, they are already usually frustrated. By beating up on them, you’ll be adding fuel to the fire.

Riding a Rearing Horse #5: The One-Rein Stop

Did you know that horses have an emergency break? It’s called the one-rein stop! In the one-rein stop, you’ll reach your hand down the rain towards the horse’s head. Then, bring your hand out to the side and back to your hip, causing the horse to tip their nose around to your knee.

This will put your horse in a tight circle. To keep the horse moving so they can’t rear again, keep the horse’s head at your knee and use the leg they are bent toward to bump behind the girth. This will make the horse step their back legs one over the other. This is called disengaging the hind end, and this movement disengages the power from the horse. You can use this exercise to stop your horse from bucking, bolting, or rearing.

When you go to do a one-rein stop on a rearing horse, always be careful when bringing the horse’s head around. If you do this too fast or too suddenly, you can cause the horse to fall over if they are on two legs.

Rearing Horses: Dangerous, But Doable

If you want to work with many different horses, coming across a horse that rears is inevitable. While it can be scary at the moment, arming yourself with information and knowledge is the best way to overcome fear. Also knowing how to correct the horse in the moment can go a long way in building your confidence. The way I would correct this behavior is to get off and lunge the horse until they are tired, then get back on and try whatever I was doing again.

It’s also important to remember why horses rear. If your horse is rearing out of frustration, that means you need to find a better way of asking your horse to do something or go back to basics they can understand. I have a rule when working with frustrated horses: “Release more.” Oftentimes, horses get frustrated because the rider is holding more pressure and not releasing when the horse responds correctly. If you can tell your horse is getting frustrated, you should be more quick to release pressure and reward.

To learn the signs that your horse is frustrated, visit my article Signs Your Horse Doesn’t Understand What You’re Asking.

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Carmella Abel, Pro Horse Trainer

Hi! I’m Carmella

My husband and I started Equine Helper to share what we’ve learned about owning and caring for horses. I’ve spent my whole life around horses, and I currently own a POA named Tucker. You can learn more here.

Thank you for reading, and happy trails!

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