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Why Horses Rear & What to Do About It: Insights from Parelli Natural Horsemanship

vid Parelli Professionals Jul 12, 2023

Why Horses Rear & What to Do About It: Insights from Parelli Natural Horsemanship

By Ryan Pfouts - 4 Star Parelli Professional and Horse Development Specialist

Horses are magnificent creatures that captivate our hearts with their beauty, grace, and strength. However, there are times when horses exhibit challenging behaviors, and one such behavior that can be dangerous for both horse and rider is rearing. Rearing occurs when a horse lifts its front legs off the ground, sometimes even going vertical. Understanding why horses rear and knowing how to address this behavior is crucial for every horse rider. 

Why Do Horses Rear?

Rearing is a complex behavior stemming from various factors, including fear, pain, frustration, or even a lack of understanding. It is essential to identify the underlying cause to address the issue effectively. 

Here are some common reasons why horses may rear:

  1. Fear and anxiety: Horses are prey animals, and when faced with a perceived threat or a situation that triggers fear, they may resort to rearing as a means of defense or escape.
  2. Pain or discomfort: Physical discomforts, such as ill-fitting tack, back pain, or mouth issues, can cause a horse to rear to relieve the discomfort or avoid further pain.
  3. Confusion or lack of understanding: Horses, like humans, can become confused when they encounter tasks or situations they find challenging and need help understanding. Horses are looking for comfort, and if rearing gets the pressure they perceive as negative or confusing to stop, they may learn this behavior to take over and find comfort.
  4. Lack of respect and boundaries: Horses are herd animals with a natural hierarchy within their social structure. If a horse learns to push through pressure, it may rear to take control of the leadership and become dominant, avoiding the rider's aid. 

What to do about rearing?

Addressing rearing requires a patient and consistent approach, focusing on understanding and addressing the underlying cause. Parelli Natural Horsemanship provides valuable insights and techniques to handle rearing and build an effectively strong partnership with your horse. 


Here are some key strategies:

  1. Stay calm! Don’t panic if your horse rears. Focus on the fact that rearing is simply an over-engagement to pressure, resulting in the ultimate brace. If your horse rears, disengage the hindquarters; this is a disengaging maneuver that will cause your horse to cross its legs, no longer being able to rear. If you push too much from the front, you might cause your horse to engage more, potentially causing them to flip over instead of disengaging the hindquarters. This must be a “game” to you. If you get a too-direct line, you might make the situation worse.
  2. Prior and Proper Preparation: Building a trusting relationship with your horse is crucial. Develop a foundation of respect and clear communication through groundwork exercises such as the Parelli Seven Games. Teach your horse to yield to pressure rather than push into it when stressed.
  3. Identify and address pain or discomfort: Regular veterinary check-ups, proper saddle fitting, and dental care are essential to ensure your horse's physical well-being.
  4. Minimize Stress: Gradual exposure to new environments, objects, and experiences can help your horse build confidence. Introduce new stimuli gradually and teach your horse by releasing when your horse responds calmly and appropriately.
  5. Effective communication: Parelli Natural Horsemanship emphasizes using natural horsemanship techniques such as body language, energy, and intention to establish practical communication skills and develop a harmonious partnership. Using the Seven Games will give you strategies to train your horse to yield in stressful situations rather than to react and rear. 

Rearing in horses can be dangerous and requires careful attention and understanding. By recognizing the underlying causes and implementing appropriate techniques, we can effectively address rearing and develop a positive relationship with our horses. Remember to keep it simple, don’t get direct line, and disengage the brace.  

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