A Good Grounding

Part 4: Back Up

Backing up on cue is one of the most respectful things your horse can do for you. You want to be able to look at your horse with active body language, wag a finger at him, and have him step back.

At first you are looking for just one step backward; then you'll build from there in small increments. Stand facing your horse, about 4 feet from his head, with the lead rope in one hand and so loose that it dips to the ground. Use active body language: face him squarely, lean slightly forward from the hips, and stare intently at his knees. With your rope hand in front of you at about waist height wiggle the rope side-to-side very gently — really just wag the extended index finger of your rope hand at him. I guarantee he won't move at this first signal when he's new to this exercise. If he doesn't move, increase the pressure by wiggling the rope side to side just hard enough for a gentle rocking movement at the halter. If you still get no response, continue to increase the pressure by wiggling the rope harder, and then harder, and then still harder, until you get that first backward step. With a dull horse you may at first need to take a step toward him while you really swing the rope and tap him in the chest with your training stick. The instant you get that first backward step relax your body language (stop leaning forward, cock your hip, turn your belt buckle slightly away from him, and stop staring intently at his knees) while you remove all pressure (stop wiggling the rope and let it hang loose). Rub his face gently with the tip of the training stick and praise him softly. Then let him relax a few seconds before asking him to back up again.

Once you are getting one or two steps backward with a gentle wiggle of the lead line, start asking for more steps in a row before releasing the pressure. Once he has learned this lesson well you will be able to back your horse up at any time without a lead rope, just by using the same active body language and wagging your finger at him.