Teaching a young horse to back up should always be one of the last things you do. Backing up is actually an extension of moving forward correctly and is quite an advanced movement for a horse. Though every young horse needs to be taught to back up, it must never be the first thing you try to teach him.
When I was a teenager, I was told to always back up a few steps whenever I stopped a horse. I was also told to back every young horse from the ground before I rode him. Doing this invariably led to confrontations. Backing up was too much for those young horses. They didn’t understand what I wanted and they resisted and fought against me. I soon learned that training horses should never involve confrontation and fighting.
Backing up is easy when a horse is confident and relaxed and has been taught to move forward and give correctly. Every young horse should be ridden for at least three or four months before he’s asked to back. Every horse must understand to move forward and give before he’s asked to back.
To teach a horse to back up, the rider must bring his legs on and ask the horse to move forward in the walk. At the same time the rider should restrict the forward movement with his hands. If the horse has been well trained and is confident and relaxed, he won’t fight against the rider and the forward energy will translate into backward movement. Immediately the horse takes even one step back, the rider must give the reins and allow the horse to move forward and relax.
The same principle applies on the ground when you’re teaching a foal or young horse to lead. Backing up should only be taught after a month or so of handling. When a young horse is confident and relaxed and has learned to lead forward and step over obstacles, it will be easy to teach him to back up a few steps. If you try to teach him to back up in his early lessons, it will create confrontation.
One of my favourite sayings is “Never ask any horse to do anything until you’ve taught him to do it.” Everything you teach must lead on from the previous step. Avoid confrontation and fights at all costs. Instead, always go back a step and show every horse what you want him to do.
For more on this subject see: www.fearfreehorsetraining.com/blog/teach-your-horse-to-move-forward-not-backwards