What you see. The starting point for addressing any equine health related issue is your observation.


Rearing while Under Saddle


Rearing with a rider in the saddle is a very dangerous habit that needs to be resolved. Horses are taught to rear in the same way they are taught to engage in many other unwanted behaviors. They perceive the behavior to be easier and more rewarding than alternative (desirable) behaviors. Rearing may begin as a response to discomfort. Rearing is a natural escape. At some point they got relief from it, and so they continue the behavior until the cost of the behavior exceeds the reward.

Rearing is often a response to pain. A variety of physical problems may cause a horse to rear including mouth problems (loose wolf tooth, mouth wound, a snaffle that pinches the corner of the mouth), ill-fitting tack, back or neck pain, or lameness due to undiagnosed injury. Your vet can help you determine whether this behavior is a result of physical pain.

  • Code Orange

    Call Your Vet at Their First Available Office Hours
    • If this is a new behavior and you fear it is due to a physical problem.
  • Code Yellow

    Contact Your Vet at Your Convenience for an Appointment
    • If you have questions about how management or feeding might affect this.
    • If you have other questions or concerns about the horse.
    • Some vets have valuable advice regarding behavioral and training issues.

your role


What To Do

If a physical cause is ruled out, look to yourself, your own riding technique and others who have handled the horse as both the cause of the problem and the solution. Engage a trainer who knows how to stop this behavior. Do not ride the horse again until the problem has been adequately solved.

A horse's natural response to pressure is to pull against it. In proper halter training, horses are taught instead to yield to pressure. The problem most often starts because of a rider's careless and random pressure on the mouth. The horse rears, the rider releases the reins. Quickly the horse learns to rear. The elements of the problem are usually present when you are handling your horse from the ground. Thus, much of the problem can usually be worked through on the ground, rather than from the dangerous position of being in the saddle.

If you have video of the behavior, be sure to share that with your vet, along with a detailed history of the appearance of the behavior and anything you think might be associated.

What Not To Do

Unless you know exactly how to solve the problem, do not try to correct it.

Do not use gadgets of any kind to solve this problem. A gadget is rarely the solution to any horse behavioral problem.

your vet's role

Your vet attempts to rule out physical causes as the reason for the behavior. As they do when they assess rearing in hand, they will likely need to actually witness the behavior in order to better understand its causes. They will want to see the horse tacked up so they can assess tack fit. They will want to watch you interact with the horse and reproduce the conditions that cause the behavior. Safety must always be paramount. If the problem is severe, it may be best to try to reproduce it from the ground versus taking the risk of being in the saddle.
Questions Your Vet Might Ask:
  • How old is the horse?
  • Have you changed tack or technique?
  • What is your experience level?
  • What is the horse's age, sex, breed and history?
  • Are bit and bridle of appropriate fit, type and are they adjusted properly?
  • Is this a new problem?
  • Have you been riding the horse all along or are you a new rider?
  • What are the results of the Whole Horse Exam (WHE)?
  • Has the horse had any dental or mouth issues that you are aware of?
  • What is the horse currently eating?
  • Has your horse had any physical issues that you know of that may relate to this?
  • Do saddle fit, girth and tack look OK?
  • Is your horse bracing against the bit or seem irritated by a bit in their mouth?
  • Do you feel confident in managing the training aspects of this behavior?

Diagnoses Your Vet May Consider

The cause of the problem. These are conditions or ailments that are the cause of the observations you make.

Very Common
Less Common
more diagnoses

Author: Doug Thal DVM Dipl. ABVP