Trail-Class Back-Through

Horse & Rider - - Private Lesson -

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.

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