Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Backing Uphill

Kathleen wrote to me saying she was having trouble getting her horse to back up hill.

Getting a horse to back, which is really unnatural for them past a step or two, begins on the ground under halter moving to backing on level ground under a saddle. Your horse will have to do this well, moving his feet when you ask them to. Many horse back well enough but at an angle, I think because they can’t see directly behind themselves so it is natural to move a little laterally to be able to see behind and in the direction of movement.

Horses keep the majority of their weight on their front end and backing up a hill, or going down hill for that matter, will cause them to add more of their body weight to the front end. This can be aggravated by the rider placing their weight over the saddle horn or otherwise leaning forward making it hard for the horse to pickup and move their front legs.

Not being able to back well on level ground could cause a horse backing up hill to get his back legs underneath himself, not being able to move them and can lead to a horse flipping over worst case.

It would be common for the horse to turn his head and neck to try and look behind himself which will probably result in his back end moving the other direction and getting off a line perpendicular to the incline you are trying to backup. Keep the horse between your legs and control his movement side to side with leg pressure.

I think the keys to backing uphill after backing on level ground can be performed well, is for the rider to look over each shoulder making the rider lean backwards somewhat releasing some of the weight bearing on the front end. Only use rein pressure as necessary, back slow and provide the horse with a release on each step or try. It may be a good idea to get one or two steps out of your horse backing uphill, then ride forward, give him a short break then try again maybe for an additional step this time. I’d say start slow, accept your horse’s smallest try, build on that and shortly your horse will be backing uphill just fine.

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