10-Day Fundamentals & Intermediate ClinicDownunder Horsemanship RanchLearn More
A large part of training performance horses focuses on ensuring your horse’s entire body, from his nose to his tail, is soft and supple. You should be able to move any part of his body off a feather-light touch. If you can’t shape your horse for a maneuver, there’s no hope that he’ll be able to perform it well.
An exercise I use frequently to get my horses soft is Backing Circles. While the concept is simple, it’s a fairly difficult exercise for a horse to master. For that reason, I break the exercise up into two separate parts. Initially, I teach the horse to back up in a circle with his head tipped in the opposite of the direction he’s backing in because it makes it easier for him. A horse’s hindquarters naturally go in the opposite of the direction his head is tipped. So if his head is tipped to the right, it’s much easier for him to back in a circle to the left.
Once a horse is backing in a circle well, with his head tipped in the opposite direction from the one his hindquarters are moving in, then I ask him to back the circle with his head tipped in the same direction that his hindquarters are traveling in. It’s very important not to move on to this stage until the horse is easily doing the first stage well.
Not only is backing circles a great softening and suppling exercise, but it also helps set a horse up for executing spins and rollbacks better. When a lot of horses do a spin or rollback, they put their inside front foot too far forward and then have a hard time crossing over correctly. Backing circles gets the horse’s inside front foot to step back and over so that when he goes into a spin or rollback, his inside front foot is always stepping in the correct position.