Best Horse-Week 5: Backs up with Energy

Railroad NickelWow, here it is Week 5 and I’m having trouble keeping up already!  I’m blaming it on the heat because in the cool spells we’ve had I’ve been diligent.  When the temps reach the mid 90’s and 100’s this girl struggles.  Lots of days I have to settle for some ground work.  I have at least made sure to have some contact with my horses everyday!

Thanks to my new eating plan I do have energy now to at least look forward to doing stuff after work!  A real plus!

This weeks lesson deals with the backup.  It’s pretty easy to grab the reins and after a little pulling get your horse to back up.  My goal is to make it happen with body language and slight hand movement.  I also want my horse to back up immediately without question.  You know, like if a train is coming and I want to get the heck back right now!

So, here’s what I’ve come up with for this lesson:

  1. When you get the stop you’ve asked for (per Week 4 – Stops On Whoa!) sit down deep in the pocket with feet slightly forward.  Squish your belly button in and lean back slightly.  This is the body language indicating to your horse you want him to back up.
  2. Next lift both reins straight up holding them with your thumbs up and your pinkie and ring fingers out not touching the reins until you get light tension on the horse’s mouth.  Don’t pull straight back.  Be sure to lift straight up!

    Hand position on reins

    Hand position on reins

  3. Hold slight tension on your reins, but don’t pull and wait for a step back.  Be patient, but if you don’t get a response close your ring fingers down to increase tension.  Wait for that one step back or at least any indication that the horse is thinking back.  If you still get no response close your pinkie fingers to add more tension.  Wait.
  4. The instant you get any backward motion or a step back quickly release the reins.  Praise the heck out of your horse!
  5. After increasing pressure one step at a time and getting a consistent 1 step back then expect 2 steps back before releasing pressure.  Move your body with the alternating steps back.
  6. Keep getting just one more step at a time.  Spread this lesson out over days or weeks.  Don’t expect 20 steps back in one day!  And don’t brow beat your horse.  Get a step or two and then do something easy.
  7. After you get consistent backups you can then add speed by alternating bumps with your legs.

It is so important to begin with body language and then add slight rein tension straight up.  If you start out heavy handed the horse will never have the opportunity to be light to touch.


The video below stresses the importance of getting your horse to break at the poll as the first step to backing up.  He shows it better than I can explain it so please take the time to watch Ian Leighton in action.  I think this will make everything I said above make sense!




The horse is a gambler.  If he gets away with it 50% of the time, he’ll do it all the time.

Ray Lochard




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