Spontaneous Rearing and Food Aggression in Horses

One mare’s rearing habit around her owner might be play initiation.
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Spontaneous Rearing and Food Aggression in Horses
Some rearing behavior in horses is play initiation, which is common among orphans. | Photo: iStock

Q: My 3-year-old Appaloosa mare is showing spontaneous odd behavior. I have owned her for about eight months, and I have known her since she was 2. Her former owner didn’t treat her well, chased her into her yard at feed times, etc.

Now she is rearing over me. She has done this three times in her yard and twice on the lead. I would start cleaning her yard, turn my back, and she would rear. There is no aggression toward me, and there is no warning sign that she will rear. Her ears are forward, there’s no striking action, she simply rears, comes down, lets out a sigh, and comes toward me for a pat or just walks away. I do tell her off when she does this.

She used to have a yard next to a yearling filly. She would rear and kick out at her and become very aggressive toward food. Since taking the filly away and placing my mare next to a gelding, this behavior has stopped. She still shows slight aggression toward food, but it has improved. If she is in a paddock with any horse she will attack them

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Written by:

Sue M. McDonnell, PhD, is a certified applied animal behaviorist and the founding head of the equine behavior program at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Veterinary Medicine. She is also the author of numerous books and articles about horse behavior and management.

One Response

  1. Thank you, this is helpful. I ride my friend’s small TB mare. She came to them underweight, cribbing, she is always busy with her mouth. Yesterday she became very focused on my gloves, was snorting, whickering and then eventually reared up. I moved swiftly out of the way but don’t want repeats of that. I realised that I had a few treats in my coat pocket and the smell must have been on the gloves and emanating from the pocket. Removed coat and gloves and she calmed down. She’s such a sweetie but she does remind me of a baby and she’s 9! I’m so glad I ignored the behaviour but changed the trigger.

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