Do you ever ask your horse to back up from you and they respond, but are slow about it? Or maybe they only take a step or two before they ignore you. There are several ways I practice backing my horse from the ground and I want to share them with you.
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Why work on backing your horse?
Horses rarely back up in their natural habitat. You won’t see them backing up very far in the pasture except possibly to move away from another horse. But often we ask our horses to back several steps on the ground or under saddle. Since it’s not a natural movement for the horse, it’s a good thing to practice often and builds up muscles in the horse they aren’t used to using.
More important to me than how far I’m able to back my horse is how light my horse can back up. The lighter the pressure, the more your horse is listening and in tune with you. In these exercises, the goal is to get to a point where you only have to use the smallest amount of pressure to achieve the results you want. Starting with only asking for a couple of steps in the beginning.
7 Backing Exercises
As always, be safe when working with your horse. Make sure your horse is comfortable with you touching different parts of their body. For these exercises, you will need:
Keep in mind your horse only learns by the release of pressure, so as soon as you get even the smallest try, relax and reward. They will learn much quicker this way.
This exercise is probably the most common way, and it’s simply using the lead rope to ask them to move backwards. Facing your horse, you should be able to lightly bump the halter as you walk forward and your horse back up. Start with only lightly bumping on the halter and you can add a cue word such as “back.” Only increasing the pressure (in this case the bumping of the lead rope) if you don’t get any response.
Back by the face
This exercise is by the face. Facing your horse lightly add pressure to his face with your hand. If you’ve never done this exercise before, your horse may push against you, but as soon as he even leans backwards, release and reward.
This exercise is great if they don’t have a halter or on and your horse gets in your space, you can quietly back them away.
back by the chest
This way is similar to the second, but it is by applying pressure to the chest. You can do this exercise either facing your horse or away, but to start, I recommended facing them. Once they learn, you can do either. Again, lightly add pressure to their chest until you get a response and add your cue word if you want.
This exercise requires a dressage whip. You stand facing your horse and lean forward with your body to engage him and then move your whip back and forth, sending him backwards. If you’ve never done this before, your horse may not know what you are asking. If so, you may tap their chest lightly to add more pressure. With consistency, they will learn when you lean forward with your body that you mean back. You can stand still or walk towards them.
lifting the rein
In this exercise, you will use your lead rope tied as a rein or your reins from your bridle. Standing at your horse’s withers, pick up on the rein and lightly add pressure. As soon as you feel them, move back, release and reward.
wiggle the rope
This exercise is one of the quickest ways to get their attention. Your horse may be busy looking off at another horse or trying to graze. Wiggling the rope will tell them, “Hey! Pay attention to me. I need you to back up.” It’s a great place to begin teaching the back up.
back from behind
Last is backing your horse from behind. This way involves tapping above their tail with your dressage whip. This exercise is trickier than the others, but extremely practical and useful, especially for backing off a trailer. For this, your pressure needs to be extremely light! If you add too much pressure on the hind end, it will send your horse forward. You can use your vocal cue to help them understand. To teach this method, start at your horse’s ribs and utilize your rein if needed. Helping them understand what it is you’re asking.
tips for success
- Be patient with your horse when teaching them new things
- Reward even the slightest try
- Begin with 1-2 steps back before you ask for more
- Short sessions work better
- Success of each exercise will carry over to the others
If you need help, check out the video below to see a demonstration on all 7 exercises.
If you tried any of these exercises, leave a comment and let me know how they went. I’d love to hear from you!
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Need more training ideas? Check out these posts.