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...When everyone in the group wants to pick up the pace a little, and if he isn't in the lead, my horse will rear up a little or crow hop. Do you think he may be in pain? Or under conditioned? He goes out alone with no problem so I don't think it's a buddy sour issue. He also tries to nip at other horses when riding side by side. When I try to slow his pace or stop him on the trail... he head tosses which leads to the rearing. He just seems like if he does not get his way, he throws temper tantrums. I have been told I need to establish being alpha with him, but on the ground he minds me wonderfully.

-- D. T.

Policeman cueing horse to rear ANSWER:

Without knowing all the details, I'll take a guess at what may be happening. I frequently see riders in situations like this who are actually cueing their mounts to go faster, rear, or otherwise act up. Here's what happens: when the rider sees the rest of the group starting to move faster, the rider instinctively goes into a protective curl -- moving his body forward and the feet back. Often they are totally unaware that they are doing this. Moving the body forward and the feet back are both cues to the horse to go faster -- not slower. Now, having "told" the horse to go faster, the rider fights the horse's ability to obey -- pulling back on the reins and restricting the horse's ability to stretch its neck out and stay balanced. Under those circumstances, the horse will naturally fight the bit. On the other hand, if the rider leans forward while pulling back hard on the reins and moving the legs forward -- well, that's how the movie folks teach a horse to rear. What do those cues say to the horse?

Leaning forward = "I'm ready for you to move"
Legs forward = "I don't want you to go forward"
Pulling hard on reins = "Pull your head back"
Conclusion: "Move and pull your head back, while standing right where you are." In other words, "Rear up."

The 1922 Chicago Daily News photo shows a mounted policeman demonstrating all the cues I've talked about. (Courtesy of the Library of Congress.)

As for riding side-by-side, that's a tough thing to ask most horses to do. I was interested in some comments made by actors in the film "Silverado." Although the stars were mounted on very well trained movie horses, it was hard to get them to ride alongside each other without fighting. The actors had to work with the horses for hours each day over the course of several weeks before they could pull it off. Don't expect your horse to perform that well unless you're willing to put in an equivalent amount of training time. Since you know your horse tends to do that, play it smart and back off from such situations.

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