Monday, March 31, 2008

English Equitation - The Back Up

Here is Gabrielle backing her gelding Jesse at the end of their class. The following information can be applied to any class that you may be asked to back the horse, not just an equitation class.

Rider: Equitation
First I’d like to say Gabrielle’s position looks great. Her ear, hip, and heel are in perfect alignment. She has a nice soft bend in her elbow. I would also like to note how calm and relaxed she looks.

I would ask that she elevate her chin slightly, and look ahead instead of down at the horse. At home, it’s fine to glance down with your eyes, but while showing I like to see riders are able to feel the position on the horse rather than have to look and check the position. I would also say to shift her shoulders slightly back. By bringing her shoulders back (approximately one inch) that will help her lift Jesse up off of his forehand. When she brings her shoulders back slightly her hands will be a bit farther apart and be more effective. I like to see a riders hands shoulder width apart.

Equitation refers to the rider, and the horse is not being judged per se, but if there is a tie between two equal riders, the one with the more correct horse will be placed above the other. A more correct horse will also showcase the rider better so we need to fix a few minor things with the horse as well.

When you look at Jesse, besides being cute and having a beautiful hair coat, his mouth is gaping because he is resisting his riders cue for the back up. If you look at the front legs of the horse it appears that he has most of his weight on his forehand. He is being heavy on the rider’s hands. This problem is fairly common with a lot of horses.

What I would like to see is the horse shifting his weight back onto his haunches, lifting his shoulders and becoming soft in the mouth as the rider asks him to back. During this process, the horse’s back will lift and his momentum will move backward instead of downward where it is headed in this picture.

The Fix:
Once the rider has fixed her position, she should lift the horse’s head and ask him to back. I know, I am always preaching head down, but first we need to lift those shoulders, and then we can lower the head. In the above photo, the horse has his head down where it belongs so it would almost appear correct, but the rest of his body is not in the right frame.

A horse may know each time he is asked to back the rider wants the head down, so he uses his head down position as an opportunity to fight the back up. The goal should be the moment you ask the horse to back up; he backs without any fight involved. This way you can also maintain that beautiful position in the saddle.

When you lift the horse up, his weight will rock back onto his haunches. As you lift the horse, gently pull and release with both hands to back him off of the bit. When the horse is backing correctly, you will feel him underneath you. What I mean by that is you can feel the front of the horse is very light, and the back of the horse is moving under you and backing.

Once you have the horse lifting his shoulders, work the head back down into a lower position. The horse may revert to his old habits, if he does, just lift up the shoulders again. You will probably have to move your hands out of your comfort zone, but remember, you are training at home not being judged in an equitation class. To recap, bring the horse's shoulders up and his head down, keep practicing until you can do both at the same time.

The final step will be to back the horse in this collected position with your hands quiet and steady in the desired position.

The Back Up Cue:
Once you have fixed the problem, your back up cue will be simple. To cue the horse to back, hold the horse back with your reins by bending your elbows. When you feel a shift of weight backward, start to see saw your hands gently back and forth backing the horse off of the bit. At the same time, gently squeeze and release your legs to help the horse move his hind quarters backwards, as he lifts his shoulder and rounds his back maintain soft contact with his mouth.

Trouble Shooting Tip:
If your horse refuses to maintain backward momentum, you may be using too much leg. Too much leg would result in your horse becoming confused and thinking you want him to stop or to move forward.

Tune in next time for English Equitation, Part Two.

Thanks Gabrielle and Jesse!



EquineSpirit said...

LOVE this series! Looking forward to reading more! :)

Rising Rainbow said...

It's interesting how even in the pic with the horse standing still it's obvious the horse is leaning on his front end.

Deanna said...

It is so interesting, it's such a great picture.

Deanna said...

Thanks equinespirit! :)

photogchic said...

Good info---great photo to show the horse pulling on pressure instead of giving. You did a nice job expaining the "mechanics."

Katie said...

Hey Deanna,
This is a great resource for riders to be able to self correct riding problems visually.

Its a great illustration of a horse looking good on the surface but leaning on the riders hands and not in self carriage in reality, you see a lot of this in the show ring.

ps. This is a great blog and i have added you to my blog roll.

Looking forward to blogging with you in the near future.

The Home Grown Horse Whisperer

Innovative And Alternative Horse Training Methods

Deanna said...

Hey Gals!

Thanks :)


Matt Jenkins said...

Great article. I was just backing my mare the other day and my wife was trying to help me improve, so the article was definitely an informative read. I ride western and mainly trail ride, but want to improve the backup cue so I am not on my horses' mouths so much when I ask them to back. Thanks and keep up the great work!

Deanna said...

Hi Matt,

You're welcome! I'm glad I can help. Your reason for wanting to improve is one of the best reasons there are. :)

Thanks for your support.


Jackie said...

One thing you didn't mention is that she should probably put more of her foot into the stirrup. If she has it across the ball of her foot, she'll be able to put her heel further down and anchor her leg.

Beautiful horse! And interesting critique on backing up. I hadn't thought about it much before as it wasn't something we worked on much, but now I'll have to pay more attention.

Just curious, why do you prefer the hands to be shoulder width apart? I'd agree, hers are too close together, but I haven't really seen hands that wide either. Just looking to learn something new!

Deanna said...

Hi Jackie,

Excellent observation! You are absolutely correct, she needs to have more of her foot in the stirrup. I need to add that onto the post.

I would like to see her widen her hands to shoulder width apart because she is going to need some power to lift that horse off of his forehand. I am a big advocate of training with wider hands than may be traditional. With her hands farther apart, she won't have to crank on his mouth as much to get the desired result. It will actually give her some leverage.



Jackie said...

Ahhh, I see. So, are you meaning the hands should be wider just for backing up, or all the time? Now that I think about it, it is much more effective to widen the hands for backing (I guess I've always done it without thinking about it).

Deanna said...

Another great question!

Yes, wider hands for backing.
However... whenever a rider needs a bit more leverage, they should try widening the hands and it will give them some more power without cranking on the horse's mouth, just like with the back up.

For instance, if the horse is not driving into the bit at the trot, I would train the horse by widening my hands and driving him forward with my legs, but once the horse understood what I wanted, I could bring my hands closer together, widening them again only as necessary.

I like to compare my hand width to whispering and speaking a bit louder (hands wider apart) so the horse can hear me. I want to ride at a whisper, but when the horse can't hear me, I speak louder with my hands without being harsh.

I hope that makes sense.


Jackie said...

Yep! I realized exactly what you meant after I posted the comment. I ride that way without thinking about it. It's good to have it brought to my attention so I can use it more consciously.

Good explanation.

Deanna said...