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Groundwork: Backing Up

Teaching the horse to back up on cue is helpful for moving him out of your space, positioning him during groundwork or in cross ties, among other things. 

Waving the Rope

  1. Stand in front of the horse about five feet away.
  2. Hold your lead rope in one hand. Use your right hand if you’re right handed and vice versa.
  3. Stand up straight, this will be the horse’s pre cue that asks him to move away.
  4. Start moving your right wrist back and forth. This will cause a little wave in the rope that will travel down to the snap and bump the horse on the jaw.
  5. If the horse doesn’t step back after counting to 3, increase the waving by moving your forearm side to side quickly.
  6. Again give him 3 seconds to respond before increasing the pressure even more by moving your whole arm up and down, bumping him hard with the rope.
  7. When he takes even one step back, release all the pressure. Let the horse back away from you and create a space between you. Don’t walk towards him.
  8. Once the horse will take a step back from the smallest amount of pressure consistently, start asking for two steps before releasing the pressure then build up from there.

Ask your horse to back up as gently as you can at first. Horses will only be as light as the first amount of pressure you put on them, so don’t start by waving the rope hard. Also, remember that the release is the most important part of any lesson. When your horse moves backward only a little, stop waving the rope instantly. Once the horse can take multiple steps backward from light pressure have him increase his speed by waving the rope until he backs up with energy, then release. Don’t reward just any step you get like you did in the beginning, instead only reward quick steps.

In the next exercise you will teach the horse to back away from steady pressure on the halter. This lesson will carry over to under saddle work.

Steady Pressure

  1. Stand next to your horse parallel to his head, with your lead rope in the hand closest to the horse.
  2. Hold your lead rope about six inches away from the snap.
  3. Apply gentle backward pressure on the lead rope (toward the horse’s chest).
  4. Hold the pressure on the lead until he takes a step backward.
  5. Release the pressure on the lead rope.
  6. If he is resistant to step backwards increase the pressure on the lead.
  7. If the horse still hasn’t moved, bump your rope toward his chest until he takes a step, then release.

If your horse tosses his head and moves around, keep the pressure on the rope just quietly follow him until he gives you the correct answer by stepping back. When doing both the backing lessons be sure to only ask for one step at a time. If he can give you one good step today ask him for two good steps tomorrow and build on that.