Is your horse attentive to you? Really responsive? My most successful teaching moments have come in helping riders improve their technique to gain better responsiveness, thus better overall control of their horses. When your horse is more “yes, ma’am!” obedient, you feel more secure and happier in the saddle—and more confident, too.
A favorite exercise of mine is something I call the relaxed reverse. You ask your horse to go straight from a walk into a back-up, with no moment of stopping in between. At the end of the back-up comes a moment of peaceful standstill.
When you can easily and fluidly reverse your horse’s forward energy, then cap it with a willing pause, you will have upped your control over your horse and fine-tuned the lines of communication between the two of you.
Before you begin. Commit to doing this exercise at least once during each of the next 10 times you handle your horse—no deviating. Then, record each day’s results by jotting down a short note to yourself, detailing only your successes and rating your and your horse’s improvement with a number from one to 10. Trust me on this: Keeping a written record will dramatically affect how quickly you progress. Finally, no matter what, express no anger with your horse—or with yourself—as you work on this exercise.
How to do it. Perform this exercise anywhere you like, with your horse in hand (haltered) or while you’re mounted. Ask your horse to walk forward. Count exactly nine of his strides, then precisely on the 10th pick up on your reins or draw back on the lead and ask him to back up immediately—no moment of stopping first. If all you can get at first is one step, that’s fine. You’re going to build from there.
After the back-up, put slack in the reins or lead rope and ask your horse to stand quietly still. Don’t actively prevent him from pushing forward, however; instead, let him make that mistake if he wants, then simply back him up again, once more asking him to stand still on a draped rein or lead. Repeat this as often as necessary, until he willingly remains motionless. When he does, praise him lavishly.
Don’t expect perfection. If your horse backs up crookedly, don’t worry about it, especially at first. Your primary goal is just to get that fluid reversal of forward motion, and then the patient pause. Once he consistently, willingly takes as many backward steps as you direct him to, then stands quietly as long as you request, you can start fine-tuning for a straighter back-up.
Keep upping the ante. Each time you practice this exercise, expect more of yourself and of your horse. Strive to be clearer and more accurate in your cueing; increase the number of backward steps; lengthen the amount of time your horse stands with a drape in the reins or lead rope. If you do this every day for 10 days and record your progress, I promise you will be amazed!
Bill Bormes trains horses and coaches riders in multiple events; his specialties are Western riding, ranch riding, and pattern classes. Elizabeth, Colorado, is home base; find him on Facebook at Bill Bormes Performance Horses.