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Here’s a fun challenge you can test your horsemanship with the next time you ride your horse. See if you can back your horse in a smooth, even circle around an inanimate object, such as a tree or cone, without him getting sticky feet or throwing his head up. You should tackle this challenge after you’ve taught your horse the Advanced Series exercises Backing Circles on the Ground With the Bridle and Backing Circles Under Saddle.
When you can get a horse to back up and stay soft and supple at the same time, you’ll be amazed at how responsive he’ll be going forwards as well. Backing Circles also 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. When a lot of horses roll back or spin, they put their inside front foot too far forward and then have trouble crossing over correctly. Not only that, but the more you can back your horse, the softer and more respectful he’ll be. The backup is the foundation for stops and collection.
Step 1: Use your inside rein to tip the horse’s head in so that it’s bent to a 45-degree angle toward the tree. This will help him arc his body around the tree in a circle. If his head is too straight, he’ll back in a straight line, and if his head is bent too much, he’ll have too much turn or he’ll get stuck and won’t back up at all.
Step 2: At the same time, place your inside leg up near the girth and keep your outside leg back near the horse’s flank and gently press. Your inside leg pushes the horse’s shoulders around and your outside leg pushes his hindquarters into the circle. Your hands basically ask the horse to back up, and your legs give him a reason to move his feet.
Step 3: Look where you want the horse to go. He will follow your focus, and you’ll be able to better gauge how you should be cueing him. Backing a horse in a smooth circle around an object requires good feel and constant adjustment of cues on your part.
Step 4: Mix it up by backing your horse in a circle while counterbending around the tree. You won’t change your leg cues, but instead of bending the horse’s head in toward the tree, you’ll bend his head away from the tree. Try to keep the bend in the horse’s head at a 45-degree angle.
Learn how to back your horse in circles under saddle in the Advanced Series.