When I introduced backing, we reviewed how to start a green colt backing from the ground (or an older spoiled horse who needs a “life review”).
Today, let’s go over how to advance your horse in backing.
While mounted. From his back, use the same rein action you used successfully from the ground. Put just enough tension in the reins to keep him from moving forward, while you gently bump your horse’s sides (both legs simultaneously) with legs in neutral position, increasing pressure (with your legs) as necessary to gain response. Keep enough tension on the reins so he doesn’t push “through” the bit, but no harder.
Again, ask for just one step at a time. The moment he complies, release all rein and leg pressure and praise him. Gradually ask for more steps, without worrying at this point whether he’s straight.
Remember, a horse learns from the release of pressure, not the application of it. If you make it easy and rewarding to take 1 step, then ask for 2, really soon you’ll have 10, no problem!
Once he’ll move back willingly three or four steps, begin asking for straightness, as well. Because of natural asymmetry, most horses will tend to back with their rear end veering to the right. To prevent this, apply pressure with your right leg a few inches behind neutral position to push his butt back to the left, using your right rein as necessary to help align him. (Eventually, we’ll correct this by moving his shoulders to the right, instead, but that requires more shoulder control than we have at this point.)
In my next article on reining, I’ll troubleshoot the different ways our horses evade backing straight or backing at all!