Training for Competitive Trail – Backing Through L Shapes

Backing Through an LHello Everyone,

Last article we talked about doing Competitive Trail Obstacles and we discussed side passing over logs. This month I would like to talk about backing through L shapes. The reason why that obstacle is used often is because it shows how much control the rider has over their horse’s hips and shoulders verses just backing a straight line.

Before we start backing through the L we need to get 3 basic points of control:

First: Our horse has to back softly off of our seat and rein aids.

Second: We have to be able to do a correct turn on the forehand.

Third: We have to be able to get a correct turn on the haunches.

Let’s talk about the first element, the backup. To queue my horse to go back I gather my reins then I sit back and deeper in the saddle, if my horse does not back at this point, I slowly and softly put soft constant pressure on both reins. If my horse still does not back up, I keep adding small amounts of constant pressure until my horse backs up. Once my horse takes a step I let go of the reins and let them know the backup was the correct answer. Once they can take one step back from my seat and very little rein, I start asking for more than 1 step. Once my horse can back up off my seat and very little reins for more than 5 steps, I ask them to get vertical flexion in the backup. Do this by holding soft constant pressure while backing until the horse tucks his chin, then immediately loosen the reins and rub him. Continue this until your horse can keep vertical throughout the backup with light steady rein pressure.

Next we will talk about the second element, a turn on the forehand. A proper turn on the forehand is where the horse’s front feet stay in a relatively small space while the hind moves, the hind legs should cross over each other, meaning if moving the hip to the left, the right hind should cross in front of the left not behind and vise versa going the other way. To achieve moving the hip to the left you are going to put your right leg back to queue the hip. If your horse does not move his hip, softly bend his head to the right while keeping your leg on with steady pressure, not kicking. Once your horse moves his hip, let go of the rein and take your leg off, 1 step is enough in the beginning. If your horse still does not move with your leg on and your rein bent, get a little crop and softly tap the horse’s hip with rhythmic tap, tap, tap pressure, not one big smack, until your horse moves then stop and rub your horse with the crop. If moving horse’s hip to the left, it will be the right leg, right rein and right hip you tap, in that order. Once you can get one step consistently without crop, work on getting 2 & 3 steps. Do this turn on the forehand on both right and left sides. One of the pitfalls is our horse will leak their shoulder out to the left thinking we want a side pass, if this happens take your outside rein and pull softly to block the shoulder then release when the horse just moves his hip.

Now we are going to talk about moving the shoulders, like a turn on the haunches. A proper turn on the haunches is where the inside hind hoof pivots while the front feet cross around. The horses inside hind should not move, the horse’s front feet should cross over not under, meaning that while moving to the left the right front crosses over the left. So moving your horse’s shoulders to the right you will use your left leg forward of the horses cinch to talk to the shoulders, your right rein will direct the nose, your left rein will push the neck and shoulders. If your horse moves forward, pull soft steady contact equally in both reins. All you need to get a good back through an L is one good step from the shoulders. For more on ‘Turn on the Haunches’ you can look at articles in my ‘Ask Chelsie’ page on my website:

Now that we have our foundation skills to do the L backup we are ready to set up our L shape of poles. I like to start with a 4 foot distance between my poles, you can make that narrower the more advanced you and your horse gets. So to start, walk straight through the L and before the horse’s hind quarters gets completely out, stop the horse. Ask your horse to back up into the L, when their hind feet are about one and a half feet away from the back pole, ask your horse to stop by letting go of your reins and sitting up straight . If your horse does not stop squeeze lightly with your legs. When your horse is stopped, pet him on his neck and then ask him to move his hip 1 step like your turn on the forehand that you have practiced. Then ask him to take one step with his shoulder like your turn on the haunches that you practiced and now you will be straight to back the rest of the way out of your L. Now if your L is bent to the left you will ask the hip to move 1 step left and the shoulder to move 1 step right, vise versa going the other way. It is important at this stage in your horses training that you ask them to stop between each segment. So it is: back in – stop – move hip – stop – move shoulders – stop – back on out. Sometimes our horses will think they know what we are going to ask and will anticipate and then when you start backing into the L and your ask them to stop by letting go of the reins and sitting up straight, they just keep backing into the back pole. If this starts happening, back your horse into the L and then instead of asking him to move the hip and shoulder and continue through the L, stop and ask him to walk straight out forward. This will keep your horse guessing as to your next queue instead of anticipating a learned pattern and taking over.

I hope this helps. I will be holding Obstacle Clinics, if interested email:

Thank you,
Chelsie Kallestad
Chelsie Natural Horsemanship

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