God may have spread the gifts equally among His creatures but He put an extra dose of “let’s get those feet moving and git goin’!” into every horse. This means horses are gifted for going forward. Everything in them yearns to go—ahead. Up there. Forward! And that’s what makes backing up such a perfect training exercise. There’s a whole host of reasons. I scarcely know where to start but let me try.
First, horses naturally move forwards and sideways but backing up is something they do rarely. It’s unnatural because God blessed horses with forward ability. So making a horse back up is training the horse to learn something they do not like to do.
That means that they’ll only do it for you when they respect you.
Not like you.
So every time you work on getting your horse to back up, think Aretha Franklin:
“Ooh, What you want…Ooh, Baby, I got it!…Ooh, What you need…Ooh, You know I’ve got it….
Every time you see your horse backing up sprightly, stepping lively, prancing rearward, slamming into reverse, be thinking how every step is a dance of respect for you.
Now how do you get your horse dancing out of respect for you? You do it, as they say, “the old fashioned way…you earn it.” And here’s how:
There are a thousand ways to back up your horse but here are the basics. There are two fundamental ways to back up your horse. One is facing the horse and the second is facing away from the horse; i.e., facing in the same direction as your horse.
1. Backing up facing the horse:
A. Making your horse back away from you while wiggling the lead
B. Making your horse back away from you wiggling the training wand (or dressage whip, lariat, plastic bag…name an object, any object. A goat?)
D. Cue the horse to step backward by pulsing tiny amounts
of energy (literally only the energy focused in one finger
tip!) into the lead
E. Cue the horse to step backward by rearward pressure
on his nose
G. Making your horse back away on a curve (using A through F….P.S. Forget the goat)
2. Backing up facing away from the horse:
B. Cue the horse to step backward by cueing off the energy in the elbow nearest the horse’s neck
C. Cue the horse to step backward with your training wand, whip, bag, lead rope
D. Cue the horse to step backward with fingertip pressure on the lead
3. Backing up for lovers:
A. Back up a ramp
B. Back over a log
C. Back around blind turns
D. Back up over a tarp
E. Back up through a pool of water
F. Back over a plywood board
G. Back up between trashcans
H. Back up over empty plastic containers
I. Back up over inflated balloons
You get the point. You can never, ever practice backing up enough because there’s always more respect to be earned from your horse. To quote another song, this time written by Paul Simon: “You just slip out the back, Jack…Make a new plan, Stan….You don’t need to be coy, Roy…Just get yourself free.”
Oh, one more thing, to paraphrase the most interesting man in the world: I don’t dance often but when I do, I dance backwards…Stay thirsty, my friend.