The Back Up Part 2

By Evon Montgomery

Objective:  To continue adding skill and degree of difficulty to the back up.  Learn how to get a smooth, soft, head level, pleasant to watch, diagonal pair- reverse.  Depending on your division in the ACTHA event, you will be asked to do more challenging backing tasks.  Things such as backing up hills, around turns or into noisy objects could all be requirements.

Evon Montgomery

Last month we started by giving our horse a clue to our cue.  If you went to the blog and read further you will recall the cue the rider learned taught the horse to rock back into “reverse “.  The horse then learned how to “give” to the bit pressure, or “say yes” to the bit, and take one step back for each request.

Next, the rider learned the importance of immediately releasing the cue when the horse’s HIND foot moved back.  If you have done this correctly, your horse will not be bracing against the bit.  It will be soft and responsive; its head should be level and soft at the poll.  The horse will be able to back smoothly for 3-4 steps.

Now, we can begin to use leg pressure.  As always, each horse and rider team and situation may vary.   These are basic rules that can be used with variations.  The primary people I instruct are everyday riders who want to learn to be better equestrians and have an enhanced team with their horse.   If I teach people to put leg pressure on the ribs as soon as they apply hand pressure to the bit, the horse and rider usually become confused.   Head tossing, bracing, and possibly rearing could occur.  I have found that teaching in stages create better results, both horse and rider understand what is expected of them and can remain calm.

Taressa May Rankin and Baby Girl – Photo by Aponi

Here is some homework -Make an observation:  Watch someone back up, are they first putting the horse into ‘REVERSE’ or using their legs and reins at the same time.  You may be surprised.

Okay, let’s continue the Back up.

Step 1:  Prepare.  In order for a horse to have a smooth calm back up, their mind must be in reverse as well as their body.  In the January Blog, I discussed putting the “Cue” for the back up by lifting the reins “up” and holding gentle pressure until your horse actually responded by moving backward.  We will continue and I will assume your horse is by now backing up straight 3-4 steps with no resistance, head down and mouth closed.

  1. As you graduate to an unperceivable cue, your hands should only have to lift a couple of inches above riding position to request the back up. Lift your hand gently to put your horse into reverse and soften its poll.
  2. Glance down for just a second and decide which of your horses front legs are “leading” out in front. Let’s say the Left leg is ahead for this exercise. (A better trained horse will stop “square”, in that case you can use either of your leg cues. )
  3. As you lift your reins evenly to reverse, apply your LEFT calf light and rhythmic until the horse moves the LEFT rib cage AWAY and the LEFT HIND foot moves back. Remember, horses must move AWAY from pressure, not into pressure.
  4. In the beginning only use one calf at a time. If you use both calves and the horse is not trained, your RIGHT calf will block the swing of the horse’s rib cage.   Using your calf and not your heel is important.  As you apply your calf, you will stay on your seat bone and the horse backs straight, not crooked.  Using your “heel” on your horse’s side changes the angle of your pelvis causing you to lean forward on your pubic bone and giving your horse a mixed signal that may cause a twirl or crooked back up.
  5. After the horse moves its LEFT RIB and LEFT HIP, switch to your RIGHT CALF. Apply the RIGHT calf, light and rhythmic until the RIGHT side responds.  Do NOT pull super hard on your horse’s mouth, just lift your hand lightly and steady.   Cue ALTERNATELY with Left and right calves as many steps as you want to go.  It will take a little time for you to get the “feel” of the ribs swinging.  It is best if someone can watch or film you, then you will see as the rib swings, diagonal pairs are moving.  If your timing is off, you will block the swing of the rib and stop the backward motion.

Step 2:   Now add a turn while backing up.

  1. After the horse is backing easily with both legs it is time to “turn” the horse.. Set up some sort of poles or logs as a boundary to practice this maneuver.  It will eliminate confusion for the rider as to where you are going and where you have been.
  2. Let’s back an “L”. Set up an “L” to the LEFT. First, walk into the “L” alley.   This means you will be backing to the LEFT.  But you will be using your RIGHT calf!  Horses should move AWAY from pressure.
  3. Look STRAIGHT AHEAD. Cue your horse to back straight.  Take a couple of back steps, now, you can look to the left a little bit when you think you are close to the turn.  If you look left too much, you will lean into the center and your horse will be off of balance for the turn
  4. After you have reached the corner, STOP. Look forward again to straighten yourself up.  Now switch to looking over your RIGHT shoulder.  This will align your shoulder hips and heels to back correctly to the LEFT.
  5. Apply your RIGHT CALF in position 3, just behind the girth and begin to back again. Resist the urge to look both left and right rapidly while backing, it may confuse you or make you dizzy.   In an advanced maneuver, you will use your LEFT leg to move the shoulder and your right calf to move the hip. You have to be coordinated and know the timing.
  6. Once the horse has completed the turn, STOP.  Look straight ahead of you again so you can back STRAIGHT up out of the alley.  Where your head and eyes are looking is very important.  If you look down all of the time, you will confuse your horse and yourself.
  7. Remember use RIGHT calf while looking to the RIGHT to swing horses HIP to the left. Use your LEFT calf while looking to the LEFT to swing the horses HIP to the right.    If you don’t get this.  Practice with no boundaries, until you DO get the feel of it.  There is less stress this way.

Now you can practice backing around barrels, between cones, doing figure 8’s.  Use your imagination, be creative and have fun.  If your horse is tossing its head biting your feet and looking confused, STOP.  Evaluate where the situation went awry, figure out who is confused you or your horse.  Do an ERASER* and come back.  Take it slow and spend time enjoying the journey of learning.

Evonism *- ERASER = like a chalk board.  Erase and start with a clean slate.  Some of you will understand what a chalk board is..

Please feel free to contact me and request a maneuver that is giving you trouble.

Life is an Adventure, Saddle up and Ride !    Evon

Smooth Maneuvers

By Evon Montgomery

Photo by Aponi
Photo by Aponi

Objective: To get a light responsive “rein back” -“back”- “reverse” cue one step at a time. Your horse should back with a good attitude and using his legs in diagonal pairs to make it look smooth. The horse’s head should be level and hocks engaged, not resistant or bracing on the shoulder, mouth closed and not agape. All of this may be easier said than done.

When I judge a back-up obstacle, the most common picture I see is a rider pulling the reins like they are playing tug of war with the horse. The horse is tossing its head with mouth agape. I hope you are getting a mental picture. Imagery creates a “reminder tab” that helps a rider put their mind in the game as much as their body. This is huge in creating a winning team.

I am going to use the easiest method I know to teach maneuvers. 1) Spell out each step. 2) Eliminate guess work. Be kind as you read, mutter softly. As in everything horses, there are many different ways to get a result. This is just one of my ways of teaching how to back, see if it works for you. If you don’t get it, don’t worry. This technique may work for you with one horse, and not another. That is the beauty of horses; each one is a unique individual, just like YOU! The difference is that you have a reasoning ability.

Please learn to use your knowledge to the best of your ability. Read your horse’s warning signs. If you cannot get a teaching method to work, do not panic. Stop, take a break, and try again OR try another method. If necessary, seek professional help to learn if it is you or your horse that has a problem. Horses can be dangerous and you may inadvertently teach a horse to rear if you have unskilled hands and legs. The best way to have a horse without bad habits is to not create them in the first place.

Step 1: Prepare. In order for a horse to have a smooth calm back up, their mind must be in reverse as well as their body. How do you get that? Preparation it’s like putting a car into reverse. Are you getting the picture? As you shift your car into reverse, you feel a gentle rock back. Same goes with your horse. Here’s how you put your horse into reverse. Are you getting the picture? As you shift your car into reverse, you feel a gentle rock back. Same goes with your horse. Here’s how you put your horse into reverse.

1. Shorten your reins so you make light contact with your horse’s mouth.

2. Lift your reins up, NOT back. LIFT your reins up above your horse’s neck about 8-12 inches. One of my favorite Evon’isms is “exaggerate then graduate”. (Just like teaching a child to use the potty seat, reward the small steps.) Polish and finesse will come later.

3. Hold firm but gentle pressure from the up position until your horse “gives to the bit”. As the horse gives or yields to the pressure, it gives the appearance of “saying yes” or “nodding”. If your horse has its mouth gaped open; it is not “bit broke”. Bit broke is a term I will discuss later.

Step 2: Request ONE step. Since I am teaching the back up for primarily obstacle and trail type horses for these articles, I will aim my coaching as such. An obstacle trail horse should willingly back up as many steps as the rider requests and in whichever direction you choose. Your job as the rider is to know how to request each step and make it easier for you and your horse to work in unison.

1. After the horse “gives to the bit” and “shifts” into reverse, it is time to ask for one step backward. The best way to teach a horse a cue, is to give an “immediate” reward when the HIND foot moves. This means that as soon as the first HIND foot moves, you release the pressure on the bit. Do not be fooled into releasing pressure or “rewarding” if the front foot moves. The HIND foot must move. Either hind is ok for this phase.

2. The next request is a second step back. Smoothly lift the reins up again, making contact with your horse’s mouth. Gently but firmly request another HIND foot to move back. Most horses will stay in “reverse” for a few requests if you have good timing with your hands and release cue. It doesn’t matter which hind foot moves, just so that an “immediate” release of your reins follows your horses “try” at backing.

3. Only back 3-4 steps on the first practice. Go do another exercise or walk around before you do this again. If you keep requesting the back up when your horse gets it correct. The horse will assume it got the wrong answer because YOU KEEP on requesting it… A horse will quit trying if you ask for too much when you are teaching something new.

If your horse is not understanding, and begins to bob its head, try holding LIGHT, FIRM pressure, just a few seconds longer. Your horse may try forward, sideward left and sideward right before it tries to back up. If you let go of the pressure when your horse is doing any of the previous responses, you will have successfully taught your horse that when you apply the backup cue; you really mean bob the head, side step left or side step right. A horse thinks it has gotten the right answer when you let up the pressure.

Evon Montgomery
Evon Montgomery

Next month: Adding Leg aids to the back up.
Life is an Adventure, Saddle up and Ride !
Evon Montgomery, Horses-123