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QUESTION:

Recently my six-year-old paint developed the habit of rearing when leaving the barn or hitching post. I ride western and do a lot of trail riding, three to four days a week for about five hours a day. He has been very well behaved until about six weeks ago. The only way I seem to be able to get him away from the barn without a major fuss is to follow other horses. One thing that confuses me is that he used to be the lead horse on every trail we would ride on.

He is very docile when grooming and tacking, however after I mount and try to turn him away from the hitching post he backs, turns, and rears. It makes no difference which of our other horses are around. He will even try to stop when I ask him to pass and lead another horse on a trail miles from the barn. Even with four or five other horses on the trail, he will turn and rear, pushing into other riders when I attempt to have him take lead. The frustrating part of this is, as I said before, he used to be a lead on trails and advance trails. I used to even take him out by himself for hours with no problem at all. This has occurred in the last six weeks.

He seems to have no apparent health problems or injuries. We use the same tack as always, and it is in good order. I'm looking forward to hearing any advice you may be able to offer.

- T. C.
ANSWER:

When a horse rears, he is displaying a natural reaction to excitement, fear, or - most commonly - a feeling of aggressiveness. Rearing is not a comfortable position for the horse - he is putting his full weight on the hind legs and has difficulty staying balanced in that position. It takes a pretty strong emotion to motivate a horse to rear. I trust that your horse is a gelding, since riding a stallion in a mixed group is extremely dangerous. Although it has nothing to do with solving the problem, I'd guess that he's either worried about letting a mare get in a position where she can nip him in the rear or he's concerned about assuming a position in the herd where he can't keep his eye on the horse he considers to be the lead brood mare.

Whatever the cause, we know two things for certain:

It's impossible for a horse to rear without raising its head, and if your mount has its attention on you and your cues, it won't be worried about the other animals. A running martingale may keep him from raising his head, but it won't solve the root problems. You'll need to start with some more ground work, getting him to willingly lower his head on cue and getting him to keep his attention on you - no matter what is happening around him. As you master keeping his attention focused on you, gradually increase the activity and excitement levels - a sort of sacking-out under saddle. Put another horse and rider in the area and work on getting your horse to ignore the others as he busily carries out your commands. Loud noises, fluttering flags, maybe even a volleyball game next to the round pen will all help him learn to ignore distractions.

Of course, your horse may have genuine cause for concern. Is that mare in heat? Does she have a tendency to kick or nip? If your horse doesn't trust you to protect him from such hazards, he'll try to take charge of his own well-being.

The training techniques involved in all this are a bit too involved for me to describe on a single web page, so I'm just going to tell you how to get some detailed help. Get your credit card handy and call 1-800-424-7887 between 9 am and 5 pm Eastern time. Ask for a back issue of John Lyon's Perfect Horse from September 1998. It will cost you $7.50 plus $2.00 shipping and handling. The article you want to read is titled "A Rear-Ending Lesson." If you don't mind paying a bit more, for $34.95 you can order Tape Number Two of John's "Training from The Heart" trail training series, which includes handling the problem of buddy sours. (The full two-tape set costs $63.95.) If you want to pay by check, mail your order to PO Box 2626, Greenwich, CT 06836-2626. (And, no, I don't make a cent off of this little ad!)

Happy Riding!

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