Sunday, July 26, 2009

Teaching the Young Horse to Back

Teaching a young horse to back is something that I feel has to be done absolutely right from the very beginning. If done wrong, the problems that can arise when done wrong can affect the way that a horse responds to the bit for the rest of his career.

One thing that I need to mention here is that I never use backing to soften a horse. The horse has to be soft and supple in the snaffle before I even ask the horse to back. He has to be supple in his shoulders and move away form my leg laterally in both directions. I also prefer at the time that I am teaching the horse to back, that he is nice and quite and he has to know how to whoa. I will not teach a horse to side pass before I teach him to back because it can be very easy for the horse to become confused.

When I start teaching a horse to back, I never want him to gap at the mouth, he has to be comfortable with giving to both sides of his mouth in a snaffle.

Lets start with the importance of 'Whoa'. When I teach a horse to stop, like I have said in many of my posts, when I teach a horse to stop, I like to 'quit riding' and teach the horse to shut his hind end down first before he shuts down his front end. By doing this, the horse already has his hind end underneath him making it easier for him to go forward or back, and it will allow the horse to push off with his front end when I ask him to back. If they stop on the front end then they have to gather themselves up to move forward and they will hollow out their backs if I ask them to back. I want the horse to stay as rounded as possible.

Now that I have the horse stopping the way that I want him to and I have him nice and soft laterally, I will start to set my hands when I ask for the stop and allow there to be a little bit of contact on the horses mouth when he stops. Just enough contact, a little more on the inside rein to get the horse to back a step and then I release him and sit for a few seconds.

The next time I stop the horse , I will ask for two steps and increasingly asking for a little more as we continue.

If the horse decides that he wants to stop on his front end, then, after the horse stops,I will push his shoulders to the outside of the circle so he can not. That way he has to rock back on his hind end to get his shoulders to move over.

I never want to get into a pulling match with a horse, I do not want him to learn to resist in any way shape or form. If the horse starts to pull on me, then I will go do something else with him for a little while and then I will finish the day by asking for the back one last time.

Always remember to keep the horse soft so that this is a pleasant experience for both horse and rider. By doing so, I have never had a horse try to rear or pull back on me.


fernvalley01 said...

I was taught to treat backing like a forward motion. As in I collect myself at a stop , then set my hands and gently drive him onto the bit, I am OK if I get a half step or so ahead as they learn to give in and step back .Hope that makes some sense.
I alos think that sometimes we get too much in a hurry to back a horse , Nicer when they are steady at all gaits and giving freely to the bit.

JohnieRotten said...

I agree with you FV, we do tend to get into too much of a hurry to back a horse. Our training program follows the everything in moderation and on the horses timeline.

As long as we are able to teach them to back properly, then we have no problems that will arise.

pedfjords said...

We do not teach a horse thats intended to drive, to back very quickly either. At least not more than one step or so. The last thing you want if a hitched horse gets excited is to back up...usually ending with a tip over when the cart jackknifes.

That said....once hitched, we do ask for a simple 3 steps back before moving forward every drive.
Every time.

Every drive.

Every. Time.

They also never know when we are going to ask them to move off. Many bad habits are started when horses are allowed to decide anything, and esp. when to go forward. Often I get a horse thats been allowed to head right out, no matter if you are safely in the box seat or not. If a header has to physically hold your horses head, or keep it up off the ground for you, then you skipped steps in training.

Getting in and reading a few chapters of a good book, then getting out and un-hitching about a million times for every time they have been allowed to blast off is the cure. Easier to teach it right the first time.

horspoor said...

Oh, just get a tack collar and a big old shank bit. They'll back up. Way quicker than taking all that extra time training on them.

Hey, I was seriously told that once. Or to take a nail, and jab them in the chest until they backed up. Nice, don't you think.

BittieBonnie said...

We have always taught our horses to back one step at a time like you do. Never any faster because we did not want the horses to start running backwards.

Like you have said in the past and I quote "nice and slow is the way to go"

CharlesCityCat said...


Sticking a nail in the horses chest to make it backup, that is truly horrible.

horspoor said...

I was pretty shocked when I was told that is how to do it. Yeesh. Amazing the 'techniques' and gimick tools out there.

Hey JR...doing a post on insane horse training equipment would be cool.

SFTS said...

Excellent post, JR! Very well written and I agree 100% with how you do things as expressed in this post. I do things essentially the same. Well done. :)

HP...I have heard that sort of thing, too. I was horrified.

Just like when one of my clients told me the other day that her old farrier had instructed her to put a thin twisted wire snaffle in one of her mares' mouths and tear her mouth open in order to "establish respect" in the mare. WTF???????? I have never had a problem in riding this mare. She is a bit headstrong, but that one just floored me. :(

AlmightyMarshmellow said...

I'm always super crazy cautious about finally backing a horse. Some people feel that I'm a little TOO over-cautious about it and do too much training on the ground before-hand. A lot of my clients often get overly annoyed with me but no one complains when the end result sees a rideable horse, from the first ride. Details about my opinion can be read here if you're at all interested.

GoLightly said...

Great post, great comments!

I do find it hard to understand why (in some circles) such importance and speed! is put into backing.
It's such an un-natural movement for them. They go forward, reallly well, usually;)

It needs to be a calm thing. Not a painful thing.

CharlesCityCat said...

Good point GL. Really if you think about it, a horse in the wild is pretty much going to back up to escape something.

We humans do ask our equines to do so many unnatural things.

JohnieRotten said...


The reason for this post was to get people to be a little cautious when teaching a horse to back. I prefer that they do it right from the beginning so that we do see a lot of the problems that are associated with pulling on a horse too much.

We prefer to get a few steps and that is all. I do know a lot of people that back their horses way too much.

Like everything else, I prefer my horses are rounded when they back and they are backing slow and not running backwards. I have had those come into the barn to be fixed in the past.


I have had someone tell me the nail trick before. I have also had a client in the past that would kick her horse in the front legs to get the horse to back. She would do so while her child was riding the horse so the child would not have problems backing.

LizBeth said...

I was told / taught that when asking for a back, to set my hands, ask on both reins the same pressure, and let go when the horse backs up a step. At the same time as asking by the pressure on the bit, sitting deep in the saddle and wiggling back and forth a little. I was never comfortable with the wiggling, so I changed it with my own horse to pushing my knees at the same time into the horse repeatedly. She hasn't made the full transition yet from mouth contact to seat pressure, but we are getting there.

CharlesCityCat said...


Wanting to ask your opinion on this whole backing thing.

I have never trained a horse to back per se. They have all had that training when I started to ride them, although for a few, they needed practice.

My question to you:

I have been told by a number of trainers, if your horse isn't listening or is too forward, stop them and then make them back up. I have done this for many years but am now wondering if that is such a good idea.

Your thoughts are appreciated.

JohnieRotten said...


I usually use a little more pressure on the inside rein so the horse can not hollow his back.


If the hores is too forward backing will work to a point, however, there are other ways to get a horse to balance out and use his hind end more. For that I prefer to teach the horse more lateral aids to get him to lift his shoulders. Being that a horse carries 70% of his weight on the front end,if he is able to move his lift and move his shoulders freely, they there he will have to use his hind end more!

There always has to be a balance as to what we do when we train our horses, too much backing can create a horse that anticipates backing up when we stop, and will start to back up everytime we stop. And that can start other bad habits such as rearing as the horse becomes more confused. So I do prefer the lateral aids.

I hope that was clear enough and I was not rambling. It is this damn heat I tell ya!

horspoor said...

Or what about the horses that will back and then spring forward. Gawd...wait till I ask. lol I can always tell when somebody has backed and then immediately let their horse go forward. No wait time. Hurry, hurry, rush, rush.

Anonymous said...


I was wondering if your blog is an appropriate place to post the pitiful CL ads (like the horse needs to go somewhere else NOW)?

I don't know that anything ever came of any of the posts, but these appeared pretty frequently on FHOTD. I cannot get over the appy waiting in the trailer-I think about where he may have ended up almost every day...

Let me know if there is another blog more appropriate. I do pass them on the BAEN rehoming page when I have a chance, but that's only for the freebies.


CharlesCityCat said...


I now suspect you are right, better to work them laterally than to force them to back.

Maybe, you could start a topic on ways we have dealt with "bad" behavior and why they are good or not so much. This would be on the ground or in the saddle, no matter what the discipline.

horspoor said...

Okay, I don't understand. She'd kick the horse in the front? She'd stand on the ground and kick the horse? Or she'd sit in the saddle and try to reach forward with her legs, and kick in the front. Neither is acceptable...I just wanted a visual...before I spewed. lol

JohnieRotten said...


They can be posted here as well as on the gloves. Anything we can do to help a horse find a home I okay with. Why don't we do the Sunday CL blog and during th week we can post one as needed. Please email me ads so they can be featured or put them in your posts.

Anonymous said...


charlienchico said...

NHM- Where are you located? From what I've read I'm thinking you're near me.

charlienchico said...

JR & CNJ- Your decision makes sense. Sagebrush could get a little old. I'd love to see you guys settle close to here, but I know of so many leaving Cali because it's just too expensive anymore. Our highs here can get tedious, but we do have seasons.

equus said...

i also think it is important to move the horse forward after backing. the correct footfall of the rein-back is diagonal left front/right hind, right front/left hind. done correctly, a rein-back is smooth, not forced, and no tension in the head or neck. the rein-back should not be taught until the horse can balance himself in walk/trot/canter transitions and be in balance at the halt.

nice blog jr.

Anonymous said...


My first CL ad. CharlienChico, do you want/need another horse?

He's "free" to $100 and located in Orland. They will deliver. He bucks, but I think I would too...

charlienchico said...

NHM- He would be a perfect match to my old grey mare- she's 23 but looks almost exactly like him, she's still got lots of "go" also, but we know each other so well it's not an issue for me. Still got too many mouths as it is and a "little buck from excitement" sounds a too scary for my old bones. I hope they're able to find a good home for him.

charlienchico said...

P.S. Did you even see one pic where that poor horse looks remotely happy?

Cut-N-Jump said...

New Horse Mommy- Hopefully someone can upgrade that horse. Quick! I agree with CNC. Not one pic where the horse looks anything less than annoyed.

And what's with the cell phone? Why does everyone have to be on the damn phone, all the time? Can anyone tell what makes me nuts?