The Back Up

By Steve Bauhr
This year, I proposed the idea to friends on Facebook regarding a Goal setting challenge. The idea was to promote and inspire folks to do more with their horses, at least January through June. It’s been fun so far, and the participation has been from folks all over the country. For March’s goals, I included several that involved backing the horse.

One goal was simply backing 10 straight steps, that was followed by backing out a gate and then back in again, and another was to back some circles in both directions. It’s been fun to watch as each person involved in the challenge has filmed their progress and posted their videos for all to see. I expected that the Back Up goals would be difficult for many since I meet so many horses that do not back well, which is followed by lots of riders who really don’t know how to get a good back up from their horse.

Let’s look at why that is: one reason is due to the horse not practicing the back up when we’re not around. With the exception of lateral movement, the horse does practice lots of things that we need. They walk out nice heading for new grass, they stop nice once they get there, and they lower their head to eat the grass. If their buddy locates better grass across the pasture, they might strike a nice trot to get over there, or maybe even break into a nice canter, and then again followed by a nice stop once they are there. But backing up isn’t practiced much at all.

Curiosity will sometimes take the horses feet into a tight area, requiring a back up to get out. If your horse lives with other horses, there’s a pecking order. Within that whole deal can bring about expressive behavior, in which one horse moves violently toward another, requiring a quick back up, but it’s seldom nice and controlled, so the practice doesn’t help us much. So we’re kind of stuck having to teach an almost new movement to the horse.

Here are a few things I think about when building a back up into a horse: The first is cadence, the second is foot work. Third is cadence, fourth thing is head position, fifth is cadence. Lastly is speed. Did I mention cadence? If you make a study of horses backing poorly with a rider, they all have a lack of cadence or pace. The steps lack confidence and consistency, and that’s then followed by poor posture, usually hollowed out through the back.

Here are three things that will improve your horses back up: don’t be obsessed with their head position at first. Allow them a chance to learn the foot work. It’s a 2 beat gait, same as the trot, moving in diagonal pairs. Reward any movement backward at first, and be quick to reward it as you progress. This will develop a very light back up off the bit or bosal. As a rider, remember to look up and outward. This will get you off the horse’s back. Looking down at the horse’s head will actually drive you deep in the saddle, with your body pushing against the horses back, which should be rising as the horse backs up.
Backing your horse consistently and correctly will also develop a nice top line, and put the horse physically exactly where we want them when going forward in a collected frame.

Good luck with this project.

See ya out there!

Steve Bauhr owns and operates Bauhr Ranch- a full horse training facility in Chinese Camp, CA. For more info, go to Find Steve Bauhr on Facebook & Youtube!

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