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Back Up

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! 



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19 Responses

  1. Enjoyed this video on backing up. Found the graphics added was a great help in showing the intricacies of the movements

    1. Carla,

      Thank you for the nice feedback! Glad it was helpful to you.

  2. I enjoyed the video on backing up. Most of my riding experience is bitless and bareback.

    Is there an instructional video on backing up while riding bareback ?

    1. Hi Bill,

      Unfortunately we do not currently have a video on backing up bareback, however the fundamentals remain the same whether you are in a saddle or bareback. Movement should come from your seat and weight shift backwards to cue the horse to back, with your reins only blocking forward movement. Ask, follow the backwards movement, and release. 🙂

  3. The clarification, of the reins communicating don’t go forward with demonstrating the subtle and balanced shift in body to initiate backward movement, was very helpful. I believe I do this with my easy back mare, and start my ask this way with my gelding but then overcue when he’s slower and heavier. I do recognize he is light when I provide light and clear communication so this video helped me understand what I intuitively start out doing well and clarifies how I’m messing up when I get impatient. It was also very helpful to understand how the backup is useful for feeling and practicing movement with my horses and that this is an exercise in practice of movement not perfection.

    1. Laura,

      So glad the segment on the reins and body shift helped clarify the movement for you. With some horses, when you start to ask for backing, you may need to start slow. Cue, then wait for a response and encourage the correct one with release of pressure. Sometimes you have to put pressure on and just wait a moment before they offer movement. Release. It may only be one step at a time. But the more times you ask clearly, the easier and more quickly your horse will learn to offer the back up.

      Backing up is not something horses naturally do a lot of, so it is also a trust building exercise. You can ask your horse to back into their stall, the arena, or even over ground poles to trust where you are asking them to place their feet. This could add to why your gelding is slower and heavier about backing up, that he is still not confident with the movement. But keep at it and you’ll get there together! 🙂

    1. Robyn,

      Thank you for your kind words! So happy to hear you enjoyed it.

  4. Nice video. Got to be so careful not to pull. Not mentioned here but am I right in thinking that lifting the reins can help as it can encourage the horse to lift and lighten the forehand, so making the movement easier (checked by it being a 2 beat gait, rather than 4 when feet are dragging, for any reason)? Thanks

    1. Hi Alison,

      Yes, slightly lifting your reins when you ask to back can help create space for your horse to lift and lighten on the forehand. It removes downward pressure on the head and opens the space above the shoulders/withers to lift into. This can also help in forward movement if the horse is bracing or hollow in the back, for horses still learning to use their body effectively under saddle.

  5. Useful information when you pulled the back of your shirt to give more information on the feel we are looking for. Thank you.

    1. Hi Marjorie!

      So glad that was helpful for you! Thanks for your comment.

  6. Great video. I’ve never been taught how to back up, and had instinctively been shifting my weight etc, but I think I’d been using too much rein. Thanks!

    1. Hi Cate!

      That is awesome you found a feel without instruction. Sometimes what feels good intuitively for you and your horse is best for you. So happy to hear this video helped you identify how to be softer and clearer when you ask for the back up by using less rein. Thanks for watching!

  7. I think I simultaneously tip forward slightly with my upper body .. I don’t know what impact that has… But think I will try to avoid in future.

  8. Interesting. I was more working with pressure in the rein than anywhere else whenever I wanted a backup. I like this way better. Thank you.

  9. I was taught from a young age to just pull the reins back. My instructor was an older western rider and this was many years ago. I have tried myself for “less is more” over the years but love this explanation! I really enjoy that you are making videos of basic riding skills and how it helps not only your riding but how it benefits the horse as well. Many times I think it’s assumed that the riders know the cues but I don’t think it’s always the case. I also think this may be part of the reason folks have trouble communicating with their horses. I would love to see more videos on the basics and their benefits! Thanks Callie!!

  10. Thank you for this video. It reinforced for me how little is required to get a nice back up, and how it does not have to be fast or immediate. I tried it out yesterday and it worked beautifully.

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