"Softness Issue?"

„I have a gelding who will not back in a halter. I at first thought it was just the fact that he wasn’t used to being ridden bitless, so I tried in a snaffle, and then a mild curb, and nothing will get him to back up. I’ve tried lateral flexion with a snaffle, and nothing seems to be working. Would you be able to give any ideas?“

– Anonymous

When we ask a horse to back up, we’re asking them to be confident and use their brain. They really have to think, because they are more comfortable going forward, as all flight animals are. Seeing it as this, a concept, we have to ask how are we asking for a back up. Not: with what am I asking for a back up. While our tools greatly influence how we communicate, it really comes down to our savvy.

That out of the way, I always recommend staying bitless (in a knotted halter, bitless bridle, etc) until the horse completely understands what you’re asking for and responds to the lightest request from you. From the way you asked, I’m assuming you are talking about riding – have you tried backing your horse up on the ground? If so: how, and is that working?

Lateral flexion will not directly help your backup. That is asking your horse to bend, when what you really want is for your horse to move backwards and they have to be straight for that. When I ask a horse to back up I:

  1. Think about backing up (through our thoughts, our body can send subconscious signals to our horse). Pull my weight backwards (imagine pulling your belly button to your spine).
  2. Lift up my reins and add a light backwards pressure – starting extremely light and slowly adding pressure.
  3. Hold it until even just onefoot moves and then immediately relax and let the reins fall. Then I relax for a moment with my horse.
  4. Repeat and after a while ask for more and more steps. Be patient, be light, and do it with an „enjoy the journey“ attitude!

If you would like to get more detailed, personalized advice, please send me a short video of you and your horse attempting the back up so that I can get a better feel for what might be getting in your way.

I also recommend that you look up parelli videos on Youtube on how to get your horse to back up or do the „yo-yo game“ on the ground and riding. I’m sure you’ll get many ideas from that. Good luck!

– Humanima

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