Back-Around Drill: Part 1

In Part 1 of this series, learn about an exercise that can be used to prepare your horse for any discipline.

The American Quarter Horse Journal

This circle-backaround drill is a multiple-part drill that really works on one thing – a horse’s flexibility, one side at a time.

It’s all about making perfect circles, going forward and back, teaching a horse how to arc his body. I use it as a warm-up drill, a way to get that horse round and broke at the poll and comfortable. It has a lot to do with helping a horse’s overall form and balance.

It’s not event-specific. It can help a horse in the turnarounds in reining or working cow horse. It helps teach a cutting horse to stay in form while bending his neck and looking at the cow, and then be able to load up on his hocks to get ready to spring out of that turn to catch the cow. I used to use it on western pleasure horses, to get them soft and flexible, and on trail horses, for backing and turning.

It helps you focus, too, as a rider. It is a drill that works on one side of the horse at a time. Often, trainers don’t go slowly enough and concentrate on one side. They go from one side to the other quickly – turn to the right, turn to the left, go forward, stop, back, etc. – and the horse gets confused. This drill helps you really focus on one side.

Interested in the working cow horse class? Bobby Ingersoll, Don Dodge and Al Dunning share their expertise in AQHA's "Working Cow Horse" DVD.

The Basic Drill
Before you can do this drill, you and your horse have to be able to walk and trot a perfect circle going forward. And your horse needs to want to back up.

Start out trotting or walking a good, perfect circle to the left, 12 to 14 feet in diameter. To ride a proper, perfectly round circle is difficult. It means that the horse’s head, shoulders, ribs, hips, everything, is in line and on the line of the circle. The withers are standing up and are not shouldering into the circle or leaning out of the circle. The whole body is on that circle, the whole way around.

Then stop on that circle and maintain a left arc as you stop. Don’t take the horse’s body off the arc of the circle.

Make a left half-turn to the inside of the circle, maintaining the left arc in the horse’s body. When you finish the half-turn, the horse will be counter-arced to the circle. His head is to the outside of the circle but you keep his hips on the circle.

Now back around the circle in the same direction you were going, still maintaining the left arc in the horse’s body.

When you want to finish the drill, simply rotate the horse another half-turn to the left, back onto the circle, and continue going forward on the circle, still with that left arc in the horse’s body.

When you finish, you’ve walked, trotted, half-turned, backed up and then turned forward again, all with the same arc in the horse’s body. By that time, that horse is giving in and being soft, and the exercise has given you a real focal point to work on that horse on one side.

In AQHA's "Working Cow Horse" DVD, Bobby Ingersoll, Don Dodge and Al Dunning explain the class and give some basic training techniques. This is one DVD you don't want to be without!

Take a short transition period and then work the opposite direction in the same training session.

You have to build up your horse’s ability to do this – don’t expect him to be able to back a full circle the first time. On a green or less flexible horse, you might make that half-turn and only be able to take three or four steps back.

Eventually, the object is to back up as far as you want and as long as you want while the horse stays comfortable, not interfering with his feet or losing his balance.

Work it into your program as your horse needs it. If I have a horse that’s good going to the left but is a little sticky going to the right, I might just do this drill on the right side and that’s it.

When I rotate the horse to go forward again, if he’s a reining horse, I’ll rotate him with a slight bit of forward motion, turning around on his inside hind foot. If he’s a cutting horse, I’ll rotate him with more weight on his hocks, using either both hind feet or the outside hind foot to turn around on.