ADDING LEG CUES
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.
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.
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.
- 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.
- 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. )
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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