Two common mistakes that I see in the back-up are poor timing of the release and asking the horse to go forward too soon afterward.
Proper timing involves releasing the pressure on the horse’s mouth while he is still moving backward. For example, if your horse is standing still and you apply one pound of pressure evenly to both reins, he should back up. If he doesn’t, then continue to hold the pressure, even though he may chew the bit, pull on the reins or show other signs of resistance. As soon as he begins to take a step, preferably while his foot is in the air, release the reins. If you release after your horse has completed the step and has lost backward motion, you’re too late.
Once you’ve backed up, you have two choices: Stand for two to three minutes, or turn your horse at least 180 degrees before moving forward. Avoid going directly forward after the stop because horses generally like to go forward more than they like to back up and will learn to anticipate this, eventually moving forward before they’re asked to.
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This article originally appeared in the May 2012 issue of Horse Illustrated. Click here to subscribe.