How to Set Up a Trail Class L Back-Up

Here are step-by-step instructions for putting together your own L back-up obstacle when practicing for trail classes.

The L Back-Up obstacle is easy to construct; just configure an L-shaped obstacle using railroad ties or poles. For practicing, I recommend you start with the railroad ties because they’re thicker and heavier than poles, thus stay in position even if your horse ticks or walks into them. By contrast, a displaced pole will hinder your ability to keep your horse straight while he and you are learning.

You do need to practice with poles too, though, so set up both types of L and school over both before showing. A displaced pole (or even a ticked one) will incur a penalty in the show pen.

I suggest you use railroad ties that are longer than the standard poles. Fourteen- and 16-foot ties work well, but don’t stress about having the ties exactly at these lengths. Adding even a little more length will give you more space to perfect your backing-up.

You’ll need:

  • Two 14-foot and two 16-foot railroad ties (look for them at home-gardening or home-improvement stores).
  • Two 12-foot and two 14-foot poles (check home repair, gardening, or barn and farm supply stores).

How to build them:

For each L, place the longer set of ties or poles on the outside of the “elbow,” so each wing of the L is even at the end (see diagram). Space the ties or poles 28 to 30 inches apart; you can space the ties slightly wider than the poles to help you while you and your horse are first learning.

You can enter from the either wing and turn to the left or right as you prefer. If your horse is better turning a particular direction, start making your L back-ups that way, but always practice both directions because you’ll see both in the show pen.

Team Horse & Rider member Charlie Cole has trained more than 50 AQHA World and All-American Congress champions; his events, in addition to trail, include Western pleasure, hunter hack, pleasure driving and more. Charlie and his partner, Jason Martin, are four-time winners of the AQHA Superhorse award and four-time winners of the APHA World Show All-Around Horse. They own and operate Highpoint Performance Horses in Pilot Point, Texas.

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