Can your horse roll back on the fence? You may think of rollbacks as part of a reining pattern or something a cow horse does. But in fact there are many practical reasons why you might want your horse to perform a rollback?even if you never set foot in a reining or cow horse pen.
In this month’s arena exercise, I’ll show you how to teach your horse to roll back along the fence. You’ll ride a circle near the fence, then approach the fence at a 45-degree angle. You’ll let the fence stop your horse, then use your leg and rein to ask him to collect himself on his hindquarters, execute a 180-degree rollback, and continue in the opposite direction.
Why You Need This
Rollbacks are the easiest way to start teaching your horse to move his front end, work off his hindquarters, and collect himself. They’re especially beneficial for horses that want to run around on their front end and resist carrying more of their weight on their hindquarters.
This exercise is also great for horses with “sticky feet” because it gives them a reason to get up and go somewhere.
Another advantage of rollbacks is that you can start teaching them even with a colt that’s had only five to 10 rides, because you’re not forcing him into anything?you’re just using the fence to redirect his energy.
Bottom line: Mastering the rollback will improve your horse’s steering, collection, and overall attitude. Plus it will set you up for next month’s arena exercise, stopping on whoa.
For Best Results?
? Practice this exercise next to a sturdy fence that’s ideally at least 5 feet high. Avoid fences that are too short, made of flimsy or barbed wire, or potentially dangerous in any way, as these could cause injury to you or your horse.
? Outfit your horse in a snaffle bit; you’ll be riding with two hands for clearest communication.
? Do groundwork first to get your horse relaxed and using the thinking side of his brain.
? Learn this exercise at a brisk trot. I prefer to ride a rollback at a lope, and the photos show me at that gait, but I recommend you start at a trot so you can understand the steps before
? Allow at least three or four sessions of working on this exercise, ideally on consecutive days, to give your horse enough time to “get it.”
Warm your horse up by walking, trotting, and loping around your arena’s perimeter. When you’re ready to begin, hold the reins in both hands, with your hands comfortably out in front of you. (For this exercise, your hands should never come back past the saddle horn. If they do, your reins are too long and you won’t be able to be effective with your cues and timing.) Ride your horse at a brisk trot, posting (rising slightly out of the saddle every other step) if need be.
Now, begin making a 50-foot circle right next to one of the long sides of your fence. Every time you come around to the fence, you should be near enough that you could reach out and touch it with your hand.
Complete at least two circles, or as many as needed to get your horse to relax. When he does, as you come around to the fence, approach it at a 45-degree angle (see diagram). This will create a “pocket” for your horse to roll back into. (If you were to draw up to the fence so that your horse’s body was parallel to it, he wouldn’t be able to get his front end around without bumping into the fence. He’d have to kick his hindquarters out before bringing his front end through?the opposite of what you want. The goal is for him to stick his hindquarters in the ground and roll over his hocks.)
As your horse comes up to the fence at a 45-degree angle, sit back in the saddle (no leaning), say whoa, and use the rein closest to the fence to tip his nose slightly toward the fence. Do this by drawing the rein back toward your hip, not by carrying it out to the side. (Do not pull on both reins.)
Remember: You’re not physically trying to stop your horse. You’re simply redirecting his energy toward the fence and letting the fence stop him.
At the same time, press with your arena-side leg (this will be on the opposite side from the rein you’re using) up near the cinch to ask your horse to turn into the open pocket you’ve just created. He should rock his weight back on his hindquarters and jump his shoulders through the pocket.
As you’re turning, look back over your leading shoulder. This will put your body in the same position as your horse’s body, making it easier for him to come through the turn. (In the beginning, the farther forward you press with your leg, the easier it will be for your horse to understand that he should be moving his front end.)
As soon as your horse is fully turned in the opposite direction, hustle him back around the circle. As you do this exercise, repeat to yourself, “slow to come ’round, quick to get out.” In other words, ask for the rollback calmly and deliberately, but as soon as he brings his shoulders through, hustle his feet back around the circle.
Complete two circles, then roll back the other way by following the same steps. If, as you practice this exercise, your horse starts to anticipate the rollback, change up how many circles you make before turning to keep him guessing.
Continue in this way, allowing rest/reward breaks as needed to let your horse catch his air and know he’s done well. When you feel confident rolling back from a trot, perfect it at the lope.