Ready to Roll

Ready to Roll

Horse-training tips for rollbacks that really roll.

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The rollback consists of three separate maneuvers - a stop, a 180-degree turn and a lead departure. The rollback should be one continuous, fluid motion. However, this is easier said than done. National Reining Horse Association $3 million-dollar rider Craig Schmersal describes some of the techniques he uses at home to ensure precise rollbacks.

Getting Started

  1. The first thing you need on a horse before teaching the rollback is suppleness. He must be willing to give his face. Using two hands, if I pull his head to the right, I only want him to move his head. I do not want his body to move to the right until I add the left neck rein.

  2. The horse needs to know how to yield to leg pressure.

  3. The horse has to know how to back up. When I take hold of him and back him up, I don't want to be pulling him back. I want him to back up on a fairly loose rein.

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I want the horse to almost lock in the reverse position in the backup. I then apply the outside rein to see if the horse will step into a turn by himself. If he doesn’t, then I’ll take my direct rein and pull him through a time or two into a good spin and a half or two spins. I’ll stop, back up and ask him with the neck rein again. I don’t want to crowd my horse too much, especially in the beginning steps of learning the rollback.

I just want him to back up, and when I add the neck rein, to come to me. I don’t want him to pick up his head. I don’t want him to take three more steps backward as soon as he feels the neck rein. When I move my hand, if I’ve done my job properly, the horse goes. He won’t get stuck.

Some people think they have to stop, stand still and then roll back. For my horses, it doesn’t matter. If they are stopped, standing still, running backward, they know how to roll back. When my horse feels the neck rein, he knows that is when it is time to turn. That is why I don’t worry about getting stuck in a rollback when I’m showing. He might not have the prettiest rollback, but he will roll back.

Think Ahead

Once I get his backup going well, I’ll position his head, make sure his body is straight and then take my inside leg and push his hip and ribs a little bit out of the way so he doesn’t have to roll over the rib cage. You want to make it as easy as possible for the horse, and if his rib cage is stuck out there, then he has to work too much to turn.

If the horse has a problem moving the rib cage out of the way, then take his nose to the inside and back into a circle. For example, move his head to the right and use your right leg to ask him to back in a circle to the right. Before asking a horse to turn, look behind you and make sure the hip is out of the way. If you can see that hip out of your peripheral vision, don’t roll back. When you see that hip is gone, then put the rein to his neck and ask for the turn.

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When you are in your rundown, you need to be thinking a step ahead:

  • Make sure your horse is running straight

  • Check the hip; if it’s out of the way, move the outside rein to the neck and ask your horse to turn.

  • If his hip is in the way, use your inside leg to move it before asking for the rollback.

Cause Trouble

I always try to get stuck while practicing rollbacks at home and find ways to get myself out of trouble. I like to put a horse in the worst case scenario that I can think of when I train and then make sure he can get out of it. Sometimes, I will put the horse in an awkward position by bunching or binding him up and then making him roll back.

I do that repetitively so many times that I can take his shoulders whenever I want and make them do what I want. I take the bad experiences and just try to recreate them. I do whatever I can to ensure that I don’t get stuck.