Forward thinking: The perils of going backwards in horse training
My pet aversion is seeing people chase horses backwards on the ground. The last thing I want any horse to do is move backwards away from me to relieve pressure. Everything you ever want to do with your horse relies on moving forward, not backwards. You must have forward movement to control your horse.
I teach every horse I work with to step forward to me to relieve pressure.
Forcing horses to run backwards seems to be the “in” thing these days. Many trainers justify their approach by saying that they use natural techniques. Some claim to have camped out in the bush to observe wild horses and say this has given them an understanding of horse behaviour. They claim that their training techniques are just what horses do to each other in their natural state.
If you watch a mob of horses, some horses do chase others away from their feed. The chased horse turns and runs away because he’s scared of being bitten or kicked. He wants to move away as quickly as possible and does so by turning and moving forward.
When you watch any mob of horses, you rarely see horses taking many backward steps. Although they may back up for a step or two, a horse’s natural inclination is to turn and run forward as soon as he can. In the wild, a horse won’t try to escape danger by facing his foe and rushing backwards. Every horse will turn and run as soon as possible. The horse’s first means of defence is to run. Speed is his saviour. When a horse runs from an enemy, his second line of defence – his hind legs – are at the ready. He can kick out with his hind legs to ward off an attack. A horse’s best chance of survival is to turn and run and it’s natural for him to do this.
Yet the first thing that so-called ‘natural horse trainers’ do is chase horses backwards. They spend hours on the ground forcing horses to run backwards away from them. This is the most unnatural thing that you could ask any horse to do. Horses don’t naturally run backwards at any time.
If you teach a horse to run backwards on the ground, he may also run backwards to relieve pressure if he becomes worried when you’re on his back. This is the most dangerous thing that any horse can do. When a horse panics and runs backwards, he stops thinking altogether and you have absolutely no control. A horse running backwards like this can easily roll over backwards and it’s usually on top of the rider.
I teach every horse I work with to step forward to me to relieve pressure. Every horse must know that it’s always easy and pleasant to step forward and be with me. I want every horse to know that if he’s worried or confused, life is easy and pleasant when he steps forward to me.
When you ride, you must concentrate on teaching your horse to move forward. Even backing a horse under saddle is an extension of moving forward. You must have impulsion and forward movement before you ask any horse to move backwards. Backing up should be taught only after a horse has been ridden for a few months. There’s absolutely no reason to teach any horse to back up in his early training. It won’t help him to stop, give, turn or anything else.
You must have forward movement to control your horse. Forward movement forms the basis of everything you ever want to teach any horse. When you understand this, you’re beginning to understand horses.
Neil Davies began training horses full-time in 1977.
He is the author of Fear-free Horse Training – every step of the way.
Visit Neil’s website at www.fearfreehorsetraining.com.