Safety Concerns: Rearing Causes Death Of Rider Logo

Question Category: Safety Concerns

Question: Dear Julie

My cousin, who hadn’t been around horses much, bought a used 20yr. old Tennessee Walker, supposedly a calm, old gelding. My other cousin, who’s been around horses and was in 4H said he’d been starting to lift his front feet. Supposedly she and a friend were coming up a slight hill when he reared and she fell off and broke her neck, instantly killing her. Horses are big animals and not warm and fuzzy friendly, I love you like a dog pets. I believe there was a combination of factors: inexperience, lack of paying attention, and the wrong breed. I’ve seen footage of Tennessees moving and they do lift their front legs very high…Yeesh. I’d’ve never bought one.

My husband says he would’ve stayed on, but would never have let me ride him. How do you stay on a rearing horse, like Roy Rogers and Trigger? Can you train a horse not to rear?

The people who sold him to her said he was, of course well mannered. How can you tell? The first 2 horses she had were Arabians and she had to give them to my other cousin. They were high strung.

I realize there’s risk in just driving, but at least I’ve taken lessons. I saw your clinic in 2003 at the Equine affaire in Columbus, Ohio, and told you you’d shown me more in 1/2 an hour than I’d learned in 4 years. You had.

But I still feel she was taken by the used horse dealer, if you know what I mean. How do you keep from being taken, how do you stay on or prevent a rearing? And is it true that some breeds really are patient and pretty unspookable? All the breeders say theirs is the best and most ‘versatile’.
Sorry for the long letter. Thanks for your precious time. I wish I could afford to take lessons from you.

God Bless,
Julia Grauel, Cleveland Ohio

Answer: Julia,

What a tragic story and I am sorry for the loss your family has suffered. Rearing is indeed one of the most dangerous behaviors of horses. When left on their own, horses will rarely turn over on themselves, but when a human interferes, it is very easy for the horse to lose his balance and fall over, and that is what makes rearing so dangerous.

When a horse rears, you should instantly reach forward with both arms and grab around his neck like you are hugging him. This will keep your weight forward, keep you balanced on the horse and prevent you from pulling back on the reins and causing him to lose his balance. Some horses seem to have more tendencies to rear than others but it is an individual tendency not a breed characteristic. It has a lot to do with how they have been trained, their temperament and their general inclination (just like some horses tend to buck more than others, some tend to kick more than others, etc.).

There are several Q&As on my website about rearing. Basically it is caused by a refusal to move forward or when forward movement is inhibited. Fear, pain, obstinance or poor riding can instigate rearing. Who knows what caused your cousin’s horse to rear; we’ll never know the answer to that. But she probably did not have the riding skill necessary to be riding this horse. Horses can certainly be trained not to rear, just as easily as they can be trained to rear. The solution to rearing is always to move the horse forward; it is ineffective and cruel to hit the horse in the head for rearing, which a lot of old-timers will tell you to do.

I don’t think anyone should blame this tragic incident on a breed. Within any breed, you can find individuals that are prone to rear. While it is certainly true that some breeds are calmer, more docile and cold-blooded (insensitive) than others, you’ll always find horses with both good and bad qualities within each breed. Tennessee Walkers do tend to be on the hot-blooded side but there are many TWs used for trail riding with a great deal of success.

The only way to truly evaluate a horse’s training and temperament before purchasing is to be around him and ride him in several different settings. I always encourage people to look at a horse at least three times before purchasing and at least one of those visits should be unannounced, so that you can see the horse in it’s normal state. You should work with the horse on the ground, groom him, handle his feet, trailer load, etc. You should ride him in the arena and on the trail and in any situation that you might be subjecting him to, such as working cattle. Ideally, you should buy a horse on a two-week trial period, but the seller is not always willing to do that. Another idea would be to have an experienced trainer look at the horse and give you his/her impressions. Usually you can pay their normal lesson fee and get them to go check out the horse and ride him. A person that has had experience with hundreds of horses can generally get a pretty good feel for a horse in one session.

Seeing a horrible accident like this and losing a loved one can certainly lead to emotional trauma. It would be perfectly normal for someone who has witnessed such a thing to develop a fear of horses and riding. There is an article on my website called “Coping with a Fear of Horses,” that may be helpful for you or anyone else that has been traumatized by this incident.

Again, I am so sorry for your loss. Riding is certainly a risky sport but I fully believe that having a safe horse, good riding skills and taking all safety precautions, such as wearing a helmet, will help prevent terrible incidents such as this.

Kindest regards,
Julie Goodnight, Clinician and Trainer

Copyright ©Julie Goodnight 2000. All Rights Reserved. No part of this website may be reproduced without owner’s express consent.

Safety Concerns: Broken Bones, Concussion, Whiplash… Should I Buy This Horse? Logo

Question Category: Safety Concerns

Question: Dear Julie,

I recently picked up riding after a lifelong LOVE of horses and have been taking lessons twice weekly for about two and a half months with the intention of learning everything I can in preparation of purchasing my own after making sure I was up to the commitment. I have also purchased and read almost every equine book and magazine I could get my hands on. It only took about two weeks of lessons before I started hanging out at my barn even when I didn’t have lessons; basically I am hooked and ready to purchase. About a month ago one of the horses at the barn came up for sale, he is a beautiful 9 year old chestnut quarter gelding that I already knew didn’t have the best reputation for ground manners as he fractured my hand when he rushed out of the paddock when I was getting the school horse out who is in his turn out group. My instructor none the less thought he would be the perfect fit as the work he needed would fulfill my need for a challenge.

I rode him in my lesson the first day and talked it over and I decided I would lease him for one month to see if my instructor and I felt we could turn him around in the long run by making minor progress in the short term. In two and a half very hot and muggy weeks I only missed one day working with him and during that time he stopped bolting when presented with the bridle (I did buy a gentler bit). Although he still holds his head high at least he wasn’t running off and dragging us with him and also started coming to me when I called him instead of running away from me every time I, or anyone else for that matter, came near him. Then during my first ride on my own without my instructor I fell. It was my first fall off any horse and left me with a minor concussion and whiplash a sore back and bruised ego. It also set me back to almost day one of my lessons as I became afraid to do anything but ride while the horse was walking. After reading your chapters in “Ride With Confidence!” I realized I got back on him a little to early as I had not gotten over the fall emotionally and had all but convinced myself that I would fall off again even though I knew that the original incident was caused by me in the first place; and I almost did fall, had my instructor not had him on a lounge line when I freaked. At that point after the fracture, the ground manners, the concussion and being stepped on more times than I can count I decided that he wasn’t the horse for me because of the work needed on his ground manners which also means he needs work under saddle as his previous owners taught him he did not have to respect humans and my level of experience.

Unfortunately or fortunately I love this horse and we have completely bonded even in the short time I had with him and you can see his desire to do the right thing if just taught (Not to mention he is a TOTAL sweetheart). I left him alone and dealt with school horses only for two weeks until last Sunday when I couldn’t stand it anymore. I remain still the only human at the barn that he will come to, in fact most of the time he comes running when he sees me (he does stop before he runs me over without a signal from me and he isn’t crowding as much and generally is doing better). I am not afraid of him now that I have had time to get over my fall but I am still riding school horses until my confidence is back to where it needs to be on the trot and canter (I am re-learning both right now and much faster thanks to your book) and I have no intention of riding him until such time. I have restarted his training at least the parts I am able to do with my skill level and have started with making him wait for me to say its OK before he can come out of the stall, before moving forward, etc and by carefully taking his food away as he is eating in an attempt to begin to instill that I am alpha not him (I also stopped being his personal carrot dispenser and he only gets them out of his grain bucket now). Is the food trick a good one? Will it actually yield the results I am looking for?

I do plan to supplement what I am doing with him with a professional trainer. My problem is my instructor who is also a trainer understandably wants the task but I am leery as I am not completely convinced of her methods because I feel they are a little too heavy handed and emotional. In the meantime she is still my instructor and I know that not giving her the job will hurt her feelings if not cause some downright tension when it comes to me and my horse. I still have a week to decide for sure if I want to purchase him. After what you have heard here do you think it is a good idea to continue? If so, what would you do about the training situation? If I do not use her for training him how would I go about finding one with gentler methods as she is the only equestrian professional I know and asking questions at the barn, I fear, will only create tension within the barn. Any help with this would be greatly appreciated and I look forward to receiving your much valued advice.


Answer: Trish,

Who needs a challenge? Horses and riding are difficult enough when everything is perfect. Why would you want to make it harder? Listen carefully, DO NOT BUY THIS HORSE. Life’s too short, you need a well trained horse, especially for your first horse. Are a broken hand, concussion, being stomped on, whiplash and a bruised ego not enough for you? My guess is that you, like me, are not a spring chicken and have perhaps lost a little of your bounce. You don’t need a challenge at this stage of your life, I know I don’t.

You need to find the safest and best trained horse that your money can buy. This horse will be fine in someone else’s hands, in fact, he will probably be better off in more capable hands. It is naïve to think you are the only one that can give this horse a good life; let him go. You will love a horse that you feel safe with even more than you love this horse. The horse is a huge factor in the equation of gaining confidence with horses; get one that you can build confidence with instead of constantly re-building.

BTW- I am looking for a horse to replace my 25 y/o Morgan mare, who is now sadly unsound. I am looking for a 14-15 y/o gelding that has been there and done that and is totally push button and seasoned. I have ridden professionally for thirty years and specialize in training young horses, but what I want for MY horse, is mature and settled task master, NOT a project. Life’s too short and I don’t have that much time to ride (I ride almost every day, just not my own horse).

Sorry, I am not normally inclined to tell people what to do, but this answer seems obvious. I just hope it is not too late.


Copyright ©Julie Goodnight 2000. All Rights Reserved. No part of this website may be reproduced without owner’s express consent.