The back-through might be one of the slowest maneuvers required in a trail class, but it’s also one that leaves many riders in the penalty box. Here, I’ll first show you two common mistakes I see in the show pen, and then I’ll walk you through my backing approach. I’ll also offer pointers that’ll help you successfully guide your horse through any type of back-through. My poles are set 36 inches apart, but for green horses I recommend setting them farther apart until your horse becomes more comfortable backing. As you begin to work this element it’s important to take your time with every step, if your horse tenses up, stop where you are and wait until he relaxes before moving on to the next step.
The first mistake I see riders make is anticipating the corner of their L, as shown here. I’ve asked my horse to turn too early. I’m also not supporting my horse with my inside leg and I’m not looking at the two inside poles, which means I don’t know where my horse is in relation to them. Because I left my inside leg off of my horse, she’s able to swing her hip to the inside and hit the pole with her left hind foot.
The second mistake, also at the turn in the L, is looking over my outside shoulder to find the outside poles rather than checking the inside poles. My horse follows my eyes and upper-body language, moving her shoulders in the direction I’m looking. My lack of inside-leg support allows her to move her hips to the inside, causing her to hit the back pole. My horse then has no option but to step outside the L-shaped obstacle.
To learn to avoid these two problems, let’s start from the beginning. Before I ask for the first step of my back, I take a moment to gather my thoughts and ensure that my horse is straight and centered between poles. To signal for the first step, I lean back and softly squeeze with both legs to keep my horse straight from the get-go. For the first two backward steps, I look straight ahead to help me stay in the middle of my saddle and, hence, centered between the poles.
As I approach the turn, I look for my danger spot: the inside corner of the L. I continue looking down and to the inside through the entire corner so I know where my horse is in relation to the poles. I use my inside leg for support and to keep my horse’s hip from moving to the inside as I guide her back end through the turn. I softly “fan” (lightly tap) with my outside leg to signal to keep backing.
Next I must move my horse’s front end to the right. To do this, I rotate my hips to the right and open up that side of my body to guide my horse’s front feet. I’m still looking at my danger spot—the inside corner of the L—to avoid hitting it, and I continue to support my horse with my inside leg so she doesn’t swing her hip in as she moves her front feet to the right.
Once my horse has straightened out and is centered between the two poles, I shift my weight back to the middle of my saddle. I apply even pressure with my feet and look down at my horse’s neck to help as a guide for straightness. I don’t look over my shoulder as I back straight to avoid shifting my body weight and causing my horse to drift in either direction.
As I near the completion of my back-through, I continue looking down and forward until I come to a stop. In practice I like to back my horse past the outside pole, so she doesn’t anticipate stopping. Before I move on to my next maneuver I have my horse stand and take a breath. This also gives me a chance to prepare for the next obstacle in my trail pattern. ´