Is Your Horse Actually Backing Up or Just Going Backwards
A while back I was talking with my friend, Maurice Thibault, a Parelli 4-Star Senior Instructor. We began commenting on how some horses seem to naturally backup well and others just complain and drag their feet as though it were the worst thing imaginable. We talked about how, maybe, it was the rider’s position with his weight or where his hands were or even how the horse was built. It then occurred to us that these same horses struggled with their backup on the ground as well as when ridden, and in some cases, had an even harder time backing on-line than while being ridden.
Some time later I was helping a student with his backup, going through Pat’s 9-step backup procedure and I noticed that I had not put much emphasis on where we were backing to. The English may be poor; but the focus becomes very important. I recall Pat telling me year ago to have eyes in the back of my head and to see where I was going backwards. Then, when my horse puts a little effort into going towards my focal point to release the pressure and give him some relief.
As I thought more about it, I reminded myself that Mother Nature does not give my horse a good backup. He would rather wheel and run than to backup. Just about the only time a horse backs in nature is when challenged and he can’t turn to run. Dr Miller tells us that backing is a submissive posture for our horse and that we often use it as a way of maintaining dominance.
I started thinking about all of the games that we play with our horses that involve backing such as Game #4 the Yo-Yo game or setting up Game #5 the Circling game with a backup to help the horse transfer his weight to the hindquarters. It becomes easy for us to say to our horse “Get Back from us” rather than “Get over to there”. Mother Nature seems to program us to tell our horse to get away rather than ask our horse to go somewhere in a backwards direction.
From the very beginning of their Savvy System of Pat and Linda have searched for ways to get us to use our focus, to establish a focal point; then go to it. Try to not rely on merely technique. Pat and Linda remind us at every available opportunity that backing helps our horse become better at everything else. There are many reasons why, and that’s for another discussion. When asking for a backup I do my best, which means I don’t make it all the time, to disallow forward motion and give my horse a place to be; then make sure that he’s comfortable when he gets there. If I’m teaching a youngster, I’ll provide comfort several times during the journey to my focal point. Then he gets relief from the pressure
Maurice and I both have noted that the best of techniques may not provide you with a soft smooth backup depending upon your attitude. If my horse is getting away from the pressure, he’ll probably just be going backwards, weight on the forehand, sour look on his face. When he’s trying to get somewhere expecting relief, he’ll most likely be actually backing up with his weight on the hind quarters, ears erect, footfalls in a smooth and even cadence and actually making an effort to get to our focal point with no opposition.
A good backup to get somewhere may be the greatest gift that you can give your horse.
See you down the trail, Ranger Dave.