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Rearing & Pulling

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Most people are scared when a horse rears up. Their first
reaction is to jerk on the lead rope or get out in front of the
horse and pull on it.

Dealing with Rearing and Pulling
by Ron Meredith

At some point in its training, something will startle or frighten
an energetic, red blooded baby horse and he will rear or pull
back or run sideways while the trainer is leading him. Or he may
jump around just because he's young and he's feeling good. Or
maybe he's challenging his trainer like he would another horse in
the herd just to see who's who in the pecking order.

These things are actually the trainer's fault because they
allowed the animal's attention to wander. Then an awful lot of
trainers make a second mistake. To get the horse's attention
back, they jerk the shank or yank the horse sideways or pop him
with the end of the lead rope or they yell at him.

This is the "biggest, baddest wins" school of horse training.
This method sometimes looks like it works. If the trainer really
is the biggest, baddest one, they may get the horse to freeze and
hesitate before they startle or rear or pull back the next time.

But the horse hasn't really learned anything except that when
they're frightened or startled, they're going to get attacked so
they better watch out. That's not a lesson you can build on to
teach the horse anything else.

The trainer intends these jerking or pulling or popping pressures
as punishment for the horse's "disobedience." They think if the
consequences of a particular behavior are bad enough, the horse
will avoid that behavior. But it doesn't work that way. The horse
feels shanking, jerking, yelling, or popping as an attack. So
instead of shaping the behavior the trainer really wants, these
things just accelerate the behavior they were trying to correct.

Most people are scared when a horse rears up. Their first
reaction is to jerk on the lead rope or get out in front of the
horse and pull on it. Pulling down on a horse's head gives the
horse the feeling of being trapped. The fastest way to put a
rearing horse over backwards is to keep pulling on his head
because his natural tendency is to fight back against the
pressure. Just the same, if you get out in front of a horse
that's running back and start pulling on his head, the horse will
just go backwards faster. You'll see horses running backwards
with someone running right in front of them holding on to the
rope and jerking. To the horse, this is a head on attack that
just drives him back more. If it's a horse that's challenging you
or unhappy for some reason and you get in front of him, he can
get you with his left or right front foot or with his teeth.

The only really safe place to be around a horse is close enough
to it so that it can't get any swing going with anything. That
means at and right against the shoulder. When you work with a
horse, you always work from the shoulder back and from the
shoulder forward as you get to know the horse. When a horse rears
as you are walking beside it, you want to stay as close to the
shoulder as possible. The front feet are what will hurt you and
if you can stay against the shoulder, there is no way the front
feet, back feet, or teeth can get you. If you need to, grab a
chunk of mane and pull yourself against the shoulder. You give
the horse all the lead line it needs to go up.

The best way to deal with rearing or pulling is not to let them
get started in the first place. You do that by keeping your
attention on the horse and the horse's attention on you at all
times. Every stride. Nobody's perfect, however. So if the horse
does startle or pull back or rear, you just go about your
business and put him right back to work. Don't attack or punish
the horse for "being disobedient." Remember, there is no such
thing as a disobedience if you're not directing the horse. That
means you have to be telling the horse what TO DO and what NOT TO
DO. Pulling or rearing or jumping sideways may be a lapse of
obedience but when they happen, you simply interrupt them with
instructions of what to BE doing. No punishment. No fight. No

Your primary objective in any training session whether you're
working on the ground or from the saddle is rhythm and
relaxation. What the horse needs is steady, physical work at a
mental level that you have created which is alert enough and
excited enough to pay attention to you but not frightened and not
tense. He's just looking to have a good time, and that's what
we're trying to teach him to do--how to have a good time playing
our game. If he gets startled or frightened, you want him to come
to you as the safe place to be. You want to be a person he can
trust for some direction to get him past whatever is frightening
or startling.

When you're working with a horse, pay attention to his ears
because they'll tell you where his attention is and whether he's
relaxed. Whether you're walking alongside him or up on his back,
you want one or both of those ears swiveled in your direction to
let you know you have his attention. If you don't, put him to
work with some heeding or change what you're asking for under
saddle just a little until he gives his attention back to you.

1997-2004 Meredith Manor International Equestrian Centre.
Ron Meredith has refined his "horse logical" methods for
communicating with equines for over 30 years as president of
Meredith Manor International Equestrian Centre.

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