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My horse keeps backing up and won’t stop, what can I do?

Original Question

Hey Angie,

I need some help please. My horse has just started to back up when he wants to go someplace like the gate out of the arena. I’ve tried to be very clear in my seat, legs and reins with the forward and back up cues – following the exercise John taught at a clinic I attended recently.

Now if I apply leg to go forward he backs up quicker even with an over exaggerated forward body position and loose rein.

What can I do to stop the back up? Disengage the hindquarters?



John and Angie’s Answer

If you have a horse that is not responding to your forward cues and wants to continue backing up, there are two things that you can do;

1. Lead his nose off to either side so he steps off to the side a step or two.  Just imagine you are asking him to step off to the side, then as soon as he steps in that direction then ask him to go forward.  This will break the back-up pattern as you draw him out of the backup off to the side and then you’ll get your forward back.

However, if this isn’t fixing the problem you can try this;

2. Make sure you have enough room to back your horse up a lot and then when he wants to back up and not go forward, turn it into his idea and ask him to keep backing until he thinks of stopping. Don’t worry if he backs crocked, just keep asking him to back up, make his idea a little uncomfortable.  But make sure you don’t get upset or frustrated or make him feel wrong, just smile and think, ‘hey what a great idea, lets back up all around the arena’.   Then when you feel him start to think, hey do you think we could stop, then stop him, wait a few seconds and then ask him to walk forward.  If he wants to back up again, then continue backing him all over the place until he realises maybe it’s not such a good idea.   So the backup is a discomfort for not responding well to your forward aid. Keep in mind you are not making him feel wrong, just backing him a lot until he thinks maybe it’s not such a good idea after all. 

I tried this on a horse that came in for re-education a long time ago that was jacking up and not wanting to go forward, they kept wanting to race backwards. So I backed him around the arena quietly until HE decided it wasn’t such a great idea.  Every time he didn’t want to go forward I just calmly back him all around the arena, then I would offer forward again.  It didn’t take him long to realise that forward was a much easier idea.  I never had the problem again.  

TIP: Make sure you are VERY clear and exaggerate your forward cues with a change in your body and leg position and then when you back up make sure your legs are forward and you are hunkering down in your seat, so you horse really understands the two different cues. 
When he’s not wanting to back anymore then practise backing up, hesitate, go forward, stop, back up, hesitate, go forward until your horse has a positive response to both your forward and back up aids.

Hope this helps,

John and Angie


Angie Wicks

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