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Wrangling on the Range #107

Better Backup - Moving the Hindquarters


Horse and Rider

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A Better Backup; Moving the Hindquarters Carol Metcalf helps with
a horse that doesn't want to back more than a few steps; Robin
Gollehon offers tips for moving the hind end of a horse that's
resentful of leg pressure.




My 8-year-old Appaloosa mare will back only a few steps before
lifting and flipping her head and deciding she abso lutely won't
go any farther. Why does she do this? How can I convince her to
keep backing up and follow my cues?


A lot of times, a horse won't back up because she figures she
just doesn't have to. She might move backward a few steps, and
then refuse or toss her head. At this point, a lot of riders quit
trying-they stop being effective.
The most important thing is not to give up. If you do, your horse
will know that she's won and that you simply won't make her do
any more than she offers to do. This puts her in charge, which is
not a good situation.

When you work on backing, it's best to use two hands on the
reins. Your headgear shouldn't matter-just use whatever your mare
is accustomed to being ridden in.

First you have to address the headflipping. Bump your mare's face
softly until she breaks (flexes) at the poll. Her head doesn't
have to come down, she just has to stop flipping her head. It
might take a few tries before she really understands what you're
looking for, so be persistent and patient.
Once she breaks (flexes) at the poll, draw back steadily and
evenly with your reins until your horse takes a step backward. At
some point, she'll have to start moving her feet. As you draw
backward with your reins, you can lightly tap her sides with your
feet to encourage movement. But be very careful with leg
pressure. You can't pull back firmly on the reins and really kick
her in the belly, or she's likely to rear. She has no place to go
but straight up in that situation.

Repeat the bump-draw process until your mare moves backward
without flipping her head-even if it's only a step or two after
her initial refusal. Once she takes a step backward, reward her
with praise and by removing the pressure. Don't expect her to
take 10 steps back after her initial refusal the first day. Be
sure to work slowly and patiently, and work on this process every
time you ride. The more persistent and patient you are, the
sooner you'll see results.

CAROL METCALF, Pilot Point, Texas. Carol has won multiple world
and national championships as a trainer and as a rider. For more
information on her training program and Metcalf Quarter Horses,
go to, and click on our Team H&R page, or visit
our Team Horse&Rider page on Facebook.



How would you deal with a 3-year-old filly that's extremely
sensitive to and resentful of leg pressure applied to the rear
section of her barrel? She accepts leg pressure at and around the
front cinch, and will move her shoulders and rib cage in
response. But I'm having trouble moving her hindquarters, because
she responds to pressure there by pinning her ears and either
trying to back up, kick out, or lift up in front.


My instructions are suit able for either a horse that is just
learning to move away from pressure or one that has an issue with
doing that.
When asking your horse to yield her hindquarters to leg pressure,
if there's going to be resistance, it's normal for that
resistance to be in the form of rearing, backing up, or kicking
out. That's her way of communicating that she either doesn't want
to do what you're asking, or that she doesn't understand what you

To gain the upper hand, you can be successful by using the
natural mechanics of the horse. With my plan, you'll
take her head around to the side, which will naturally make her
want to move her hip toward the opposite direction to straighten
out her body.

But before I get into further details on moving your mare's
hindquarters without resistance, I want to point out that the
more energy your horse has, the more likely she'll be to resist
whatever you're asking of her. I recommend that you longe her
until she's ready to go to work. Get her brain ready by getting
her body tired.

Begin working on her hindquarters issue from the ground, with
your mare saddled and bridled with a snaffle bit. While standing
at her side and facing the saddle, draw her head around toward
you, holding the rein in one hand while using the stirrup in the
other hand to gently bump her side. Bump the stirrup on her
belly, encouraging her to take a step away from it. As soon as
she takes a step, keep her head where it is, but reward her by
not asking for more steps and with petting. Then ask for another
step, and reward. Once she moves away easily, ask for more steps
at a time. Repeat the process on the other side.

Next, ask for the same movement while on the mare's back. Remove
your spurs if you wear them. If she's overly sensitive to your
legs, swing them back and forth like you're walking, rubbing them
against her in the process. If she hardly notices, go on with the
next step, but if she squirms around, try to make her stand
still, continuing to move your legs until she accepts them.
Now draw her head around to the side while gently bumping her
with your heel and clucking to put motion into her body. If she
takes a step, respond just like you did when you were standing on
the ground: Reward her by not asking for more, keeping her neck
bent and her head taken around with your rein. Then lay your leg
against her again, and ask again.

If she resists, bend her farther around with your hand out wide,
and increase the amount of bump with your leg. If you have her
body bent around enough, it will be difficult for her to rear or
back up in resistance. Wait her out, and reward immediately when
she takes a step. She has to see there's incentive for her to
try, so don't ask for too much too soon. Ask for one step at a
time, with reward each time, gradually increasing the number of

As long as she tries, you can give her as many chances as it
takes. Keep in mind that, like people, most horses are
righthanded or left-handed, so they're better to one side than
the other. For every time you work to the good side, work twice
to the side that's more difficult. Don't let her train you to
stop asking, but instead give her incentive to try whatever you
ask. As an added note, if your horse continues to be resistant to
bending or giving you her face, seek the opinion of a
chiropractor or veterinarian.

ROBIN GOLLEHON, Versailles, Kentucky. Robin and her husband,
Roger, own and operate Gollehon Quarter Horses, home of the
Yearling Head Start Program and National Snaffle Bit Association
Horse of the Year Good Cowboy Margarita. They breed, train, and
show world champion Quarter Horses and specialize in Western
pleasure and yearling lorige line. To learn more, go to


To be continued from time to time

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