How to break a horse from rearing up
Horses can sometimes be like children, stubborn and defiant. Some horses will bite like a child, and some may kick or rear up to get their way. There are different tricks to break each habit. To break a horse from rearing up, you must first evaluate when the horse does it and why, if you can. After determining what makes the horse kick and rear up, then you can work on solving the problems.
First, for the horse that rears when bridling, saddling, mounting, or grooming, you have to realize there is usually a reason why the horse is acting up. For example, many horses are head shy and will rear up when you try to put a bridle or halter on them. For this type of situation, there can be a million reasons why the horse is rearing up. However, the most common reasons for a horse rearing up while putting a bridle on, are that the horse has had a bad experience such as being abused, has previously had a bridle with a bit that hurt due to not fitting properly, or the style not agreeing with the horse itself.
For these types of situations, you should first remember patience is a virtue. Before putting the bridle on the horse try giving it a treat such as a carrot or an alfalfa cube. While the horse is eating the treat keep the bridle wrapped on your arm and slowly move your arm with the bridle to the horses face and let him see and smell the bridle. Give the horse another treat if he does well. Then repeat the step and this time, try gently rubbing the bridle against the horse as if massaging it with the bridle. Work the massage and bridle up toward the horse's ears. Then take the reigns and wrap around the neck so if the horse starts to pull away you have some control. Pet the horse and massage up and down the face a few times working up to the ears, then back down to the mouth at this point the horse should be calm, maybe even looking for another treat.
Now, concentrate only on the bit. Slowly and gently insert the bit into the mouth, without trying to pull the bridle over the head, using your grip on the reigns around the neck to maintain a little control over the horse if he starts backing up or rearing his head. Once you have accomplished this step, reward him by petting him or giving a treat, or both. Let the horse know it wasn't so bad and that's all you wanted. Then hold the bit in place for a few minutes before bringing the rest of the bridle up over the head. As you start to bring the bridle up, massage and pet the horse as you slowly start to bring the bridle stall up the face. Finally, when you get to the ears, massage the ears for a minute or two, more if the horse is still skittish, as you pull the top of the bridle stall over the ears.
Now that you have completed the task, there is follow up care. Remember, horses can't talk. Therefore, they can't tell you why they were scared of the bridle to start with. Most likely, it wasn't a one time event that made the horse act that way. Therefore, you are not going to fix it in your first session. For this reason, it is recommended that you follow and repeat these steps for the next 10 or so times. This way you are making it an enjoyable event for the horse with the treats and gentle care. Eventually, the horse gets used to knowing you aren't going to hurt him. Just like house-breaking a puppy, it doesn't work the first time you show them. They have to get over the trauma and learn to trust you.
After you successfully bridle your horse this way the first time, evaluate the bridle and bit while it is on the horse, to make sure everything fits well. Sometimes, the bridle may be too small and dig in and cause pain in or around the mouth, ears, and chin. If you find this to be the case, replace the bit or whole bridle. This may fix your problem, but you should still repeat the compassionate process several more times over the next week or two, until the horse realizes your not putting something on him that hurts.
If you are trying to break a horse from rearing up when you put the saddle on, you can use the same method as the one with the bridle. First, start with the saddle pad. Lay it on your arm as if you are wearing it. With one hand give your horse a treat and massage his face while using the other hand arm to slowly approach the horse's face and let him smell the pad. Then slowly touch the horse's face with the pad and while keeping contact with the horse, slowly move the pad against the horses face, up the neck, across the side of the neck until you get to the back and slowly move the pad up on the horse. Give the horse a treat and repeat the process with the saddle. Then, you can sinch the saddle. Remember to do this the next 10 or so times you saddle the horse, so the horse will learn not to be afraid. Then it will be natural.
Now, comes the more serious type of issues with horses rearing up, the horse that rears up while you are riding it. If you are trying to break a horse from rearing up when you are riding it, you must first determine if the horse doing it due to fear or to be stubborn. For the horse that is being stubborn, you will notice that the horse does it when he wants to head toward the stable or pasture where the food usually is, or when the horse wants to stay with or follow other horses. You will want to go one way away from other horses and he will want to go toward the other horses. This is when the horse will ignore your commands and rear up when you pull the reigns to keep it from going where it wants.
For these situations, I first recommend just holding the horse still while you sit on it. Do not force it to go your way, but instead just sit and wait. No matter what, do not go the direction the horse wants to go. Sometimes you have to sit for 20-30 minutes or more. Do not let the horse put his head down and graze during this time. The horse will eventually get bored and be open to your suggestions to go your direction, just to get going. Remember patience is a virtue. If fear is the issue you may have to look around at what the surrounding environment is. For example, there may be a bright red tractor trailer parked nearby that the horse is scared of and doesn't want to go near. For this type of situation, you should get off your horse and walk to the object leading your horse. When the horse is following you, it will feel more secure. Once the horse gets near the object and realizes it's not a danger, the problem should pass.
Another method you can try is tying the horse down. For this you have to have a saddle equipped for tie down. Your saddle will have two rings, leather loops, or holes strategically placed. There will be one on the left side of the saddle, and one on the right side. For this method, you need to tie a lead to each side from the corresponding side of the horse's bridle or halter, then a third lead from the bottom of the halter down to the center top of the horse's front legs, where the breast plate is. By tying the horse's head down, you will prevent him from being able to raise its head to rear up.
Finally, for the really stubborn horse for which these methods do not work, there is a sure bet way to break it. I have personally used it several times on several different horses. Now, this is not a method I choose. While it does not hurt the horse and is not cruel, some may think it is harsh and it can be very dangerous. For this next step, I recommend only the very experienced rider who knows what signs to look for and knows their horse well enough to know what it is doing through the muscles it is using, especially twitching its back muscles. If your are not that experienced a rider or have a new horse you don't know very well, you may want to find a local cowboy so you do not injure yourself. The first thing you want to do is pull your boots out of your stirrups, so that just the tips of the toes are in the stirrup. This is so you can easily get your foot out of the stirrups and not end up under your horse with a broken leg or worse.
Once you have your feet out of the stirrups and you have nothing else keeping you from quickly jumping off the horse, this is what you do. Command your horse to do what you want it to do, such as go left and head down the road. When the horse starts to rear up, pull the reigns back. This will often scare the horse and after repeating this step a few times, the horse will stop. Be careful though, depending on how high the horse rears when you pull back, because the horse may flip back. This is why you want your feet free. Pay attention to the horse and its body signs. As the horse goes backwards, its back legs and butt will hit the ground. As the horse goes to sit on its butt, pay attention to whether the right side of the butt or left is hitting the ground first. Then roll off the horse in the opposite direction. Remember to keep holding the reigns so that when the horse jumps up, he doesn't take off running and leave you walking.