Horse Training: Teaching Your Horse to Back

Apply these horse-training tips for a safer, more finished horse.

From AQHA’s “Fundamentals of Horsemanship”

When training horses to back, it's important to be consistent and not ask for too much too soon. Journal photo

AQHA’s “Fundamentals of Horsemanship” is a great resource whether you’re working with a green horse or giving a refresher lesson to your old school horse. Today’s exercise is teaching your horse to back up by walking to a fence, stopping and backing up. The only pieces of equipment you’ll need for this lesson are a saddle, halter and two reins.

Imagine your horse walking straight through a fence. Using your reins and legs to keep him straight, keep asking him to go farther until you feel his back lift as he can no longer move forward. Stop pushing forward and allow him to step backward.

Don’t ask for any more from the horse right away. After having repeated the exercise a few times, you could then use your reins to ask for a couple of extra steps.

AQHA’s “Fundamentals of Horsemanship” offers a multitude of tips, from how to teach your horse to back up, to how to tie a quick-release knot. Never be without a copy.

The way you use your legs will depend on your style of riding. Some people prefer to place their legs slightly forward, others slightly farther back. There really is no right or wrong answer; either the horse understands what you are asking of him or he doesn’t. The most important thing when using horseback riding cues or aids is to be consistent.

If you are doing this exercise with a young horse and teaching him his first back-up, it is best to avoid engaging the horse’s hindquarters too much. Many people who start horses professionally recommend keeping your legs away from the horse’s body and placing them slightly forward.

A young horse that engages while being pulled backward might become confused and rear up. Try to find timing between your reins and the horse’s feet. Simply pulling back on both reins can cause the horse to brace up. If at any point you feel your horse brace, spread his hind legs and get stuck, don’t keep pulling backward. Ask him to disengage slightly by stepping his hindquarters before repeating the backing exercise.

Try to stay light in the saddle, because it is very difficult for a horse to back up with his back hollowed and his head raised. It is important that backing be comfortable for the horse.

Using training tips from AQHA’s “Fundamentals of Horsemanship” can help you learn to communicate more effectively with your horse. Start yourself on the path to better communication, today.

Points to remember:

  • Going backward is easier when you can’t go left, right or forward.
  • Finish each back-up with a vertical flexion (soft feel).
  • Stop if you can feel the horse really trying.
  • Do not pull backward if he gets stuck, or you may leave him with no choice but to rear.
  • Do not ask your horse for too much, too quickly.