Back That Thing Up

Back That Thing Up

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Improved Backing Strategies

Whether you’re preparing for a horse show or just trying to make your horse more handy, there are three cues to keep in mind when working on the back up.  These cues will help develop a better trained, more responsive horse.  Remember, everything you work on with a horse is connected to another part of that animal’s feel.  In other words, when I work on my horse’s backing up, it is also establishing more connection between my seat and the horse’s stride, it is helping him stay light and responsive to the bridle reins, and it aids in his stopping in a more dynamic fashion.   

The first and most obvious cue is to pull on the bridle reins. For me, the a priori step in horse training is teaching the horse that pulling on the reins means stop and step back until I release the pressure on the reins.  On a baby, I will work on this in driving lines before I ever swing a leg over his back. Obviously, you have to take time and not ask for too much too soon, but I often see people asking their horse to stop without requiring them to rock back at all.  This not only makes the horse less apt to back willingly, but also encourages him to ignore the stop cue.

The second cue that I use to back is to press weight in my heels and the stirrups of my saddle.  The horse can feel the pressure as well as periferally seeing my feet forward and out.  Through patient repitition, I’ve taught my four-legged partner that this means stop and back up.  This also encourages my horse to think about what I’m doing with my weight on his back.  If I’m loping a circle, for example, and I slow the motion of my hips and press into the saddle, he should think slow down to the motion and pressure I’ve offered.

The final  cue to keep in mind when backing is to use a cue to quit backing.  When I cue a horse to execute a maneuver, I want them to continue to think about executing that maneuver until I give them something else to do.  Thus, if I’ve cued my horse to back and then relax my legs allowing them to slide back toward his belly and allow the reins to relax to slack, I don’t want him to make the assumption that he can choose to quit stepping back.  If I allow him this idea, pretty soon, he may resist backing in the first place or at the very least will possibly become less willing to continue to back to the point I want him to.  Therefore, I always touch my horse infront on the saddle on his neck, right in front of his withers, as a cue to stop moving and relax.

While there is a lot more that goes into teaching the back up and there are a lot more considerations that can be drawn from using this maneuver as a training tool, if you keep these couple cues in mind when you ride, I think you’ll have improved communication with your horse.

Check out our youtube video to see this in action:

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