Help - My Mare has Started Rearing!

Question: My 4 year old mare has started rearing outside with the other horses and now recently under saddle and even in her stable. Should I follow my friends's advice and break an egg over her head?

Your young mare sounds like she is becoming quite a handful! I would like to say off the bat that I believe that rearing is one of those problems that no owner should attempt to solve on their own. You must enlist the help of a qualified professional - someone who has dealt with rearers and has experience and whose judgment you trust. How tragic it would be if you discovered that she now does rear under saddle too - only she falls over onto and breaks your neck! Or rears up while you lead her and she comes down on your head. This really happens and people do die! This type of problem is dangerous and can escalate. She is young, so if you can get the correct assistance, you may be able to nip this behaviour in the bud. Please, please do not take any chances - get the professionals in!

You are quite correct in thinking that responding to her rearing by hitting her over the head, breaking bottles over her head, breaking eggs over her head, yanking her lead or any other similar behaviour will not only probably not work, it will make the behaviour worse and will only destroy the trust you are trying so hard to build up with her. What you do need to do is a bit of thinking to try and understand why she is doing this and outsmart her. (Which it seems you are starting to do quite well!)

I should also say that your mare is playing up under saddle most likely because at four years old, she is most likely not ready for the work you are asking her to do. She first showed her objection to lateral work and canter (two exercises that require supreme balance, coordination, suppleness and strength) by bucking (that was her whispering at you) but when it appeared to her that you could not hear her, she progressed to a more violent protest (she is now talking louder at you!) in the hope that you will hear what she is saying! A horse of four is rarely physically developed enough to tackle what may be seen as more advanced work like lateral work (although there are a few out there) and I would take the training down just a notch and rather work on the skills she needs developed. (like strength to carry her own body correctly, learning to round her back and work through from behind, suppleness, coordination and balance) By your own admission she is not very well balanced – she is not comfortable with the level of work you are asking. There is a range of exercises that you can do with her that are not as demanding physically but will keep her stimulated mentally and most importantly, develop the bond between you two and a good instructor will be able to give you a program that you can follow with her. With horses that seem to come on easily, it is often very tempting to progress their training at a pace faster than their bodies can handle.

Your mare sounds like the type of horse that I like to call 'a physical talker', meaning that they communicate in a very physical fashion. If something upsets them, they react by striking, rearing, biting, jumping around, etc. They often become aware of their own strength early on and when they do, it takes a special type of handler to work sympathetically and patiently with them. Often people resort to physical force in return, and that usually ends up in a fight that the human handler cannot win. They remain sweet, intelligent animals and if they can be taught what is appropriate behaviour, they make fantastic animals to keep. (They are the kinds of horses that will kill you by accident, really, and not mean it!) She is most likely a very dominant mare (they often keep to their own when out, until something changes the herd dynamic, like removing a member or feeding) and may be reacting to what she sees as you interfering with her herd. The napping would be typical behaviour of this type of horse too – objecting to leaving the herd. Some people refer to this type of behaviour as a separation anxiety and it often stems from a traumatic early separation or weaning experience, and the horse simply has difficulty with it after that. In such instances, I always wonder whether it was the horse's basic nature that caused the initial distress response to separation, or did the initial stressful separation experience set the animal up to be a lifelong separation problem? Not sure. However, she seems to be suffering from it.

George has given some great advise on what to do if she rears with you in tow, and I do agree with him that if she is rears in the group situation, you should let her be, as she is either showing displeasure as the alpha mare, or her herd will punish her accordingly in the framework of their dynamic. I am not going to repeat everything he has suggested, suffice to say it is great advice. The thing is to keep her moving as soon as she lands to make her understand that you are still in control. What you may want to do to set your mind at ease, is protect her from potential damage by turning her out in boots (such as overreach boots and sports medicine boots) or by ‘injury-proofing’ the gate. (Such as by lining it with rubber matting to prevent her legs getting caught up in it.) Her ‘mini-rears’ in the stable are most likely only going to stay that way as there is not much space for full-blown rearing, and you can try to keep her stable as safe as possible and protect her from injury.

I would not alter the routine completely in order to accommodate her, as you will be reinforcing her belief that she is in charge and that you are interfering. What I would do is structure your interaction with her to try and minimize the reaction and reward her when she ‘tones down’! For example, if she wants to be fed first, feed her a handful of food and proceed to feed her neighbours. If she shows no reaction, make a point of rewarding her by feeding her next and make a fuss. The next time repeat and if she is not reacting as badly, try to skip the handful once and feed one neighbor, immediately feeding her next. If in that instant there is no reaction yet, praise her. Give her the handful the next day and so on. I hope that makes sense. I would also suggest some type of join-up work with her that you should repeat on a regular basis so that she begins to accept you as the dominant leader.

I wish you the best of luck and really – please never be afraid to get the professionals in! It is never a sign of weakness or stupidity!

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