The backup can be one of the most useful exercises in riding.
Done correctly, it improves far more than just the ability for you and your horse to move backwards.
The backup develops the strength of the horse, particularly in their hind end muscles as they lower and transfer more weight to their hind legs to correctly make the movement. As they do this, their topline lengthens, their neck stretches forward, and they step back with a diagonal movement.
For the rider, the backup is also a very useful exercise for learning to feel these weight shifts from the horse and adjusting in response to them.
None of these benefits are achieved by pulling back on the reins.
The backup needs to be initiated by a change in the rider’s center, a slight shift in their weight, and then the creation of movement. The reins should only be communicating “don’t go forward”.
No movement happens in isolation, and as soon as we begin pulling on the reins to try and get a backup, the horse will have to tense and shorten their neck, therefore hollowing their back and dragging their legs backwards.
The process of riding a good backup begins with just a weight shift, then a step, and then two…
I will demonstrate in the video below, how I move my body to ask for the backup without creating tension, and you will see how I work through when my horse gets “stuck”.
Hit play below to watch!