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How Long Does it Take to Back a Horse
 By Polo the Weirdo   •   30th Dec 2017   •   970 views   •   0 comments
How Long Does it Take to Back a Horse

We all know that backing a young horse is not for the weak-hearted. Horses struggle with new experiences at the best of times, and often backing involves throwing a thousand new questions at once at a young horse not yet equipped to deal with them. This does not always end well. Youngsters are unpredictable, and the only thing you can expect from a youngster the first time under saddle, is that it will not react in any way that you expect.

This was certainly true for my new youngster, De Niro.

Being something of a pessimist (and a thrill seeker) I expected (okay, kind of hoped for) plenty of fireworks in the backing process. Bucking, rodeo displays – the whole show. What else should you expect of a barely-handled warmblood who came off the stud a month ago, and was only gelded in the last couple weeks? Honestly, I don’t know, personally. I’ve never owned a warmblood. Ive tried to back a couple, and they’re been... interesting. From what I’ve heard from others, they can be nightmares. Basically, it all boiled down to a single expectation: That when I went upcountry to back my young horse last week, I was in for one heck of a show. So off I went, with Band-Aids and ice packs wedged into my luggage (thinking ahead, of course!), only to arrive to what I can only describe as an incredibly anticlimactic backing.

Step 1:  Mount horse.
Step 2:  Ride alone down to arena.
Step 3:  Walk and trot around.

I wish I had an interesting story for you, honestly. I wish I had videos that I couldn’t show due to ‘gore’ and ‘violence’ – or at least some mild thrills and spills, but I don’t. I’ve got nothing. I just got on the horse and trotted around, and that was that, he was backed.

Now, you might say that sounds like a fluke. That it can’t be that easy. That it’s got to get worse, not better. And I agree with you. Really. That’s exactly what I thought. Until I got on the horse the next day, trotted around, picked up a canter, and popped a little jump. And he was fine. Backed and jumping – kind of.

How Long Does it Take to Back a Horse

How long does it take to (properly) back a horse? Not to get a rider on its back, but to have it trained to the extent that it can be ridden alone in a large arena with fair steering, responsive upward and downward transitions through all gaits, and a vague concept of jumping? I would say it depends on the horse, but generally, it would take you about a month minimum to achieve all this properly without the horse spooking, taking off, sticking behind the leg, bucking, etc. I’ve always believed you want to spend about a week in a round pen, preferably on the lunge, with someone on the ground reinforcing your under saddle aids with commands the horse already knows. From there, a week of hacking out in company so it learns to follow the rider’s forward aids while following another horse, and becomes comfortable moving under saddle in straight lines. After that, if the horse is ready, one could start on arena work, and begin teaching leg aids, steering, understanding of the contact, etc. Once all that is fairly established (if the horse is of an appropriate age), maybe start popping small jumps. And I would still expect the horse to potentially try either stop / run out on approach, or buck / take off on landing. That is how backing goes... slowly... patiently. One step at a time, until the horse is ready for the next step.

How Long Does it Take to Back a Horse

For us, it took a week for De Niro to established obedient transitions upward and downward in all three gaits, reach for the contact and come into a frame, step over mats and through narrow channels and jump a simple gymnastic.

This horse came off a stud farm one month ago – a barely handled 4 year old stallion, with a fairly dominant personality. So how could all this happen? How could it go so smoothly? It’s like magic. Or maybe it is magic, because we do have a secret. There is a reason for all this – a method in our madness. Because you can’t just hop on a horse that’s come from those circumstances and expect those results. There’s a certain special ingredient that has to be added first – certain steps that must be taken to prepare the horse. Have I piqued your curiosity yet? I hope so, because this is certainly the sort of ‘secret weapon’ that every horse owner could benefit from learning about – and it’s dead simple (well, in concept). All it takes is a bit of learning, and a lot of homework. In order to properly prepare your horse to be backed (and believe me, it’s worth doing) you need to learn proper groundwork, behavioural training and desensitising: skills that many of us in the competitive world tend to neglect, when all our time is spent in the saddle. But let’s face it, figuring all this out on your own is easier said than done. What you really want is someone who’s already done it to help you figure it out yourself. That is exactly what is about to come to Ponybox.

So, if you want to get ahead of the game, establish proper respectful boundaries with your horse, become a ground work wizard and learn how to do our ‘Backing for the Week’, then stay tuned. Soon, you’ll be learning exactly how to prepare your horse for a quick, stress-free backing process. And much, much more.

How Long Does it Take to Back a Horse

How Long Does it Take to Back a Horse
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