Understanding the Hindquarters

Understanding the Hindquarters

Learn how to properly back your horse by understanding how to control its body.

front and back legs of a bay western horse (Credit: Kirstie Marie Photography for AQHA)

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The American Quarter Horse Journal logo

By Martin Black

In dealing with problems with their horses, people often address issues that seem to relate to the front half of the horse, the shoulders, neck and head. But more often than not, what is taking place in front of the saddle is the result of what is taking place behind the saddle.

How many times do we address the hindquarters to find the solution? We may think we can see the problem: The head elevates when we ask our horse to back up, or he doesn’t reach enough with his front feet when he turns around.

How do you get the front feet to reach while turning? The only way for the horse to elevate the front end is to place the hind feet farther forward to bear more weight and decrease the weight on the front feet. When the front end moves laterally in a forward motion and a hind foot is pulling in a reverse motion, centrifugal force is created. This allows the front end to lengthen its stride and increase speed, giving the horse a faster, smoother turnaround or a tight circle while loping. A horse can only move so fast with the shoulders, but centrifugal force can double or triple the speed the front end is traveling.

When a horse backs up, if a hind foot leaves before the opposite front foot, the horse will back up more freely than if the front foot leaves before the opposite hind foot. When the hindquarters are initiating the backup, it is like pulling a chain. From the neck through the loin, the horse will be straight and his body parts will follow one another like one link following the next. When the front end initiates the backup, the horse’s head will elevate and his body will wad up, the same response we would get trying to push a chain.

Let’s address the backing.

  • This is a slow exercise, so take your time.
  • If you have an observer call the foot motion while you feel for it, you may get a better understanding of how to feel what is taking place with the feet.
  • Slowly start to take the slack out of the reins, stop drawing and hold the pressure as soon as the horse acknowledges your hand.
  • Then take your left leg and step the hindquarters to the right one step.
  • Then use your right leg to step the hindquarters back to the left one step.
  • Be ready to stop the front end from moving forward or to the side, but don’t pull the reins to move the front end back.
  • If you gently block the front end from moving forward or to the sides and keep the hind end active, the horse will tolerate only so much of this and will look for a way to get out of this situation.
  • When he takes one step back, relax and let him stand.

Allow the horse to take a rest that equals the amount of time he worked to find the escape.

  • After the rest, ask him again.
  • The second attempt should take less time.
  • By the third time, if the horse acts like it is starting to make sense to him, leave it alone for a spell and revisit it later.

Martin Black is an international horsemanship clinician specializing in starting young horses. His focus is always on the horse first. For more horsemanship lessons, download the FREE e-book from AQHA, Martin Black Training Tips.