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Playing with backing
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AdamTill
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 Posted: Thu Nov 26th, 2009 06:54 pm
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Hi Dr Deb,

I've been rolling a few questions around in my head for a couple of weeks, and would appreciate your input if you get a moment. They concern a few things that I watched Buck Brannaman teach to a horsemanship class a few weekends ago, which I might not be quite understanding. Unfortunately the day ran so long that there wasn't an audience Q&A, so I wasn't able to ask him myself (though I hope to be able to ride in the class next year).

When Buck asked his students to back their horses, he required that they back with their horses in an outside bend (ie counterbent to the portion of a circle that they were tracking). I wasn't sure if that was because he was setting them up to be able to flow into an outside turn on the hind (which I learned is quite important in ranch work), or if there was some deeper reason for teaching backing that way. Any idea why Buck might have been emphasizing that bend? I'd never tried backing that way before, having always backed using the bend of the circle, and it's been interesting to experiement with.

The other part that Buck emphasized over a dozen times was that he wanted absolutely no active involvement of the rider's legs in any part of the backup, ever. He talked about using the inside leg to open the inside hindquarter and outside leg to open the outside forequarter, but didn't want the riders to bump their horses in the slightest way to call for a backup. This was obviously quite important, since even after fielding a number of questions on the issue, he was quite insistant that no leg was to be used.

Now granted, some of the folks there were spurring their horses quite frequently while backing up, so I could see wanting to stop that action. It was the "never" part that I was a bit surprised and intrigued by. Do you have any thoughts on that matter?

When I asked these question of my horse, he seemed to be telling me that I'm not being very clear on the matter at the moment. He's getting very good at softening to the rein, and if I ask a question with the rein, he'll actively try to figure out what I'm talking about. As a result, when I setup the bend that Buck had been requesting, my horse will happily adopt it at the halt. Since I'm not yet able to ask for a step backward using intention alone, I figured out that I could differentiate a request for backup from that of a collected halt by leaning a bit futher backwards then I typically would, and eventually my horse would offer to take a step back. Is that was Buck was asking folks to try?

I guess what I'm a little unclear about is why using the leg to bring up some life in the backup is different from doing so when moving forwards. It seems logical enough to use the rein to just close the door to forward movement, then calling up some life that ends up flowing backwards, but I'm missing something here.

Thanks much,
Adam

thegirlwholoveshorses
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 Posted: Thu Nov 26th, 2009 08:11 pm
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Hi Adam-- I had the great privilege, too, to audit Buck's clinic this summer and the same situation arose.  We were able to ask questions & the riders also had the same questions you and I had.  The following information is what I got from the discussion with Buck:

Why not use legs?  Buck pointed out that when we are going forward, what do we do?  We take a soft feel and use our legs-- why would we do the same thing when we want to back?  He had the riders use their seat (on their pockets) and take a soft feel.  And wait without pulling backwards.  For a horse who has always had the legs used, it can take a while-- if the horse just tucks his head, do not take up the slack, for that is cheating the horse and giving them a bad deal.  Just keep the soft feel (I have used my saddle pommel as my place-holder to prevent myself from taking back slack).  The horses think and think and then an "aha" comes when the horse starts thinking backwards and the reins are released.  When picked up again, w/ a soft feel, the seat on the pockets, it takes less and less time for the horse to back each repetition.   Release when the head is still w/ a soft feel, not nosing out.  It is step-release-step-release.

I had never been told this before; as soon as I got home and tried it, I waited and waited and we had success little by little.  It took about a week for my horse to become consistent and understand that, henceforth, this is how we would back. My horse now has a beautiful, soft back.  And I can tell on a day she is stiff because she won't do that for me--she freezes at the soft feel, so I know I need to help her work the kinks out those days. 

Regarding backing with the outside curve, there is some video on youtube of Buck doing that and explaining cattle-working wise how it helps.  On a physiological level, he said that for some reason, it just gets things working right for the horse and makes a lot of other things better.  Again, I have seen this with my horse.  I can tell when she is tight because it will be hard for her to step the outside hing leg under her.  But when we work on it and wait on it, that process gently works out tight spots in her body and then our forward work flows.  I do not know the mechanism by which it works, I just know it has worked extremely well for me.

I hope this information is helpful; I have represented it as I heard it to the best of my ability & I know Dr. Deb can correct/expand on it.  Buck also shows it and discusses it on his snaffle bit DVD.

 

 

 

 

Tammy 2
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 Posted: Fri Nov 27th, 2009 12:58 am
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Hi Adam,

I got my notes out as I was at the same clinic with you.  I believe what he was trying to get the horse to do backing counter bent as then you can prepare to transition the shoulders over and come through.  As you suggested, this would be very helpful when working cattle.  He also had said to open your legs when backing to not block the pathway ie: backing right: right leg back to open path for shoulder, left leg front to open path for haunches.  Perhaps this is why he does not want us to use our legs as we are wanting the pathway open for them to bend their body.

At the last Josh clinic, he was getting someone to back up twirling the head as this helps to free up the shoulders if the horse is stuck and more "dragging" it's front legs back.  Although this was not being done counter bent, it still comes back to the "freeing up of the shoulders" as in Buck's clinic.  He also essentially wanted the shoulders freed up so they could come across.

I hope this makes sense as I have been at home the last couple of days with a horrible cold.  My head is a bit fuzzy.

Tammy

 

 

 

 

Tammy 2
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 Posted: Fri Nov 27th, 2009 03:46 pm
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I have been mulling this over and thought I would add this for Dr. Deb to explain as I feel it may tie into what you are asking of your horse Adam (legs vs. no leg).

Adam remember at the clinic when Buck told us about what Ray had taught him? He said this is really hard for people to wrap their brain around but it is so important and will help in so many ways he could not even put into words. (When Buck says something like that you take note).

Using a soft feel, bend your horses neck over and ask ONE STEP over with haunches keeping your horse centered and use your leg to ask for the step. The other exercise was to (using a soft feel) bend your horses neck over and ask ONE STEP over with haunches but DO NOT use your leg. It took Buck's horse a while to understand what he wanted. However I think this is what the point to this was. To get your horse to TRY. To know he can calmly search for an answer. (Buck said at this point that everything in you will want to help your horse to find it and use your leg but DO NOT, just wait) Once our horse finds the answer, you can go back to just asking for his head to come softly over and that be the answer. Meaning to break it up and let him find it. If all you want is his head around, release. If you want a different answer, wait and let him find it. I think what is hard to understand is that you are asking in a different way for the same movement. But from what I took away from it is that it is more getting your horse to mentally try rather than just getting the hind to take a step over. That is a by-product.

Dr. Deb am I on the right track with this ? Furthermore, can we be asking for backing with and without legs for our horses to keep mentally trying ?? 

Obviously Buck was right, I am having trouble wrapping my brain around this !!

Tammy

DrDeb
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 Posted: Fri Nov 27th, 2009 07:35 pm
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Tammy, yes, you are on the right track, and so in part is everybody else in this thread.

It is SO hard for people to get comfortable with the idea that the right method is no method, there is no one way to do anything. Most people are looking, all the time, for a pat formula, something that is always true, a protocol they can just brainlessly follow.

So it is not just to get the horse to think and try, good coaching is also to get the rider to think and try -- Ray said over and over, "if people would just THINK!" -- "thinking" to be contrasted with what our elderly teacher called "just performing an action."

There is a certain third-rate individual who currently has a horse TV show that I think of particularly in this context. Our teacher would set out something for a group of us riders to try, and every rider would try to do what they thought he had meant. The best riders in the group -- like Buck -- took in what had been said, integrated it through thinking, then applied it to their horse in a way that was appropriate to the particular horse in the particular circumstances. You could look at the better riders the next day, the next month, and the next year, and they would still be doing that. These are the people who can train a horse and not drive the horse nuts.

But this third-rate individual you did not see do that. This individual would take the words literally, then grind away at the horse in the same exact way, without variation. And oh! how he tried, how obviously he tried, to "do it perfectly." And you can look at this individual today, years after our teacher died, and find that same thing still going on with them: no thought, no flexibility, no adaptability, no applicability: just mechanically going through a certain set of motions. Our elderly teacher called such people 'surface workers' and he would say when he observed this particular person, "they're just performing an action."

Great coaching is like what the better riders do, too. You don't tell every person the same thing. Sometimes you tell certain people extreme things because that's what it looks like it's going to take to get their butt or their brain kicked out of the rut it is in. Or to wake up their grit and guts and spine, to give them some boldness. Or, on the other hand, to get somebody to back off a little without backing down, to teach them the difference between rough and firm, aggressiveness vs. assertiveness.

So all these threads that start out with, "well why did Harry say that" or "what did Buck mean," when you write them in here, are asking me to second-guess their coaching on particular people when I wasn't there. The implication is "why don't Dr. Deb and Harry and Buck all say the same thing," as if there were some requirement that we say the same thing. But there is absolutely no such requirement where it regards the type of thing you are asking about. It is a propensity of students to get hung up on particulars; this is the basic reason why you ask.

If you were to have a seminar where Harry, Buck, Tom Curtin, Joe Wolter, Mike Schaffer, Marie Zdunic, Alan Pogue, and Pauline Moore -- all of whom I would tell you to go ride with -- were all on the podium together, and ask any question regarding specifically "how do you teach a horse to do such-and-so," you would be guaranteed to get a variety of answers, some that even sounded like exact opposites. And you would also, if time allowed, get into further questions that revealed all kinds of "exceptions" to whatever procedure any given person suggested. The older and more experienced the person would be, the more "exceptions" they would probably need to talk about. Where total agreement IS required (to get my recommendation), and where it is indeed present in this group, is on the larger issues, such as who horses are, how they are to be treated (in other words "attitude" toward the horse) and on the primacy of feel (in other words, "approach").

So now I am going to say why I think Buck said what you heard him say:

-- Because it is wonderful to set up situations where the horse becomes inclined to hunt something up, and finds it; it is the same as setting up situations that you know ahead of time are likely going to give you a reason to praise him and reward him, which gives him confidence and increases his eagerness.

-- Because there are three great skills in riding, and these are learning how to position the horse correctly for the thing you want him to do; learning how to WAIT AT THE SAME PRESSURE for him to hunt it up and find it, without you prodding or nagging him into it; and finally learning how, and especially when, to release. Position -- wait -- release.

-- Because people very typically over-use their spurs, their whips, their hands, and their legs. Drubbing the horse all the time they are, when he's really a very sensitive animal. They are not looking for the small spot. They don't even know there IS a small spot. So you take away their bigger tools for drubbing and see if they can find that. Remember the saying of Beaudant: "no greater blessing ever fell upon me as a rider than when a shrapnel wound to the small of my back deprived me of most of the strength in my legs."

-- Because people are very typically in a rush. They are this way anyway, in their daily lives and their jobs, but they are especially this way when around horses because of all the stupid riding lessons they've previously had, that praise them for PERFORMING rather than for obtaining 100% OKness on the inside of the horse FIRST and THEN performing. They are just trying to get something done right away to show the teacher that they can do it, and thus take the pressure they brought in there with them off of themselves. So they spur the horse back or they kick him, or pull on him, or bang on his head with the bit, not because this produces superior performance but because THEY are in a hurry.

-- Because people do not understand what "to lighten the horse to the leg" (or the seat, or the hands, or any other aid) means, and it would be good if they found out.

And I chuckle to perceive also in this set of questions that you guys have asked, this thread and the other one, the re-arising, the perpetual re-arising, of the old argument over whether it is really, as Baucher said, "hands without legs, legs without hands." In other words -- when are you clashing your aids? How do you coordinate the driving and the restraining aids? Very few people realize how this question may be answered through the practice of untracking. It is what untracking is primarily for: to get the horse to where he understands it right and can then move, when mounted and bitted, "in the envelope of release", i.e. with a soft feel, at all times whatsoever.

Better find out who yourself is, and who your horse is, and that will be the largest part of the answer on all this.

If there's too little life in the body, you will have to use your legs, and that is part of "lightening the horse to the leg." Once he is light to the leg, you hardly need your legs; that would be the whole purpose of lightening him.

So what is it to back a horse up, or better said, to be carried in a backward direction by your horse? You get him stepped up there to where your hand is waiting, so he's ready for you to ask something. The motor is running, and he feels your hands in his mouth. You have to have this first. Then you tell him -- using as much or as little leg as he needs -- 'you need to move SOMEplace, but you absolutely cannot move to the front'. He wiggles some. He takes a step forward, or tries to, and he finds your hand as firm as the barn wall; it is telling his knees that they can bend but they cannot go to the front. He takes another step, but his poll and his back are still braced, so his butt goes off to one side; you ignore that.

If his poll is locked, maybe it will occur to you to twirl the head. If he is leaning on your hand or 'boring into the bit' this will also help. Or you can tell him to back 'crooked', i.e. as Buck was teaching, with a counterbend. Or you can combine it with untracking. He will have a much harder time maintaining a brace if the feel he is receiving is not square. Never offer a horse a square feel. One of the very few "nevers"!

Suddenly, he releases his poll, and at the same instant, the lumbar part of his back, and the feel is just as if he were getting ready to lie down. This is the crucial moment for you to NEITHER use leg nor to move your hand back, but just quietly and softly wait and PERMIT HIM TO DO IT. When he unlocks himself, assuming you are still telling him that he can't move to the front, and assuming there is still enough life up in his body for him to pick up his feet, the backup becomes inevitable. The release in poll/loins allows him to bend his hind joints. Only with them unlocked and bent can he step back. Immediately you feel him do that, you push the reins forward and pet his neck.

Then you walk forward on the buckle (he will be chewing). Then you set it up a little while later and do it again in some other place in the arena. This is my description of what it is like when a horse backs correctly. -- Dr. Deb

 

 

Tammy 2
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 Posted: Fri Nov 27th, 2009 09:06 pm
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Reminds me of the many times I have read that someone would ask the elderly teacher a question....he would pause....and then say...."it depends".

Change to fit the situation and ride your horse where he is at, always setting him up to be successful.

Human nature can take something simple and turn it around to make it seem so difficult.  When we just need to slow down, think & experiment.

Since I have been at home sick, I have been watching my Ray Hunt DVD's and realizing that he repeated his words so much because therein lies the answers.  It just takes awhile, sometimes a long while, for the true meaning in those words to really start sinking in.  Dr. Deb is doing this same thing for us. 

Thanks Dr. Deb !!

 

 

 

thegirlwholoveshorses
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 Posted: Sat Nov 28th, 2009 04:40 am
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Very true, Tammy2!  I spent my day reading the new Inner Horseman issues that I had ordered (couldn't wait for Christmas!) and it is just so remarkable how relevent and repeated some of our conversations are.  I really appreciate and can clearly see how Dr. Deb is here to answer questions for students, new and old-- as we all cycle through learning and often ask the same questions.  So much of what I read today (2001 & 2007 issues) could have been extensions from so many recent threads.  It soaks in the brain and makes more and more sense.  And, most importantly for me-- I can just go "do" and have fun with my horse and see what offerings and play we can have for the day. 

AdamTill
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 Posted: Tue Dec 1st, 2009 03:52 am
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thegirlwholoveshorses - thanks for the elaboration, that was very helpful. I had heard the hows of his teaching on backing, but not the whys, and that would have been the more important bit to catch :) That DVD is on my Xmas list too, so thanks of the mention of it. I'd thought I saw something of an explanation on the Youtube clip you mention too, but couldn't remember where the clip was (I found it again).

Tammy - thanks also for your thoughts. Buck also mentioned that the excercize you mentioned about stepping the hind end over with the rein was also to let the horse know that we were happy to let him try things without being punished for it. Since the answer wasn't always going to be the same each time, we set them up to offer different responses. I've found other such efforts very useful things to do, especially with new horses that may have had their creative side and "try centers" shut down, so it was nice to have another one to play with.

Dr Deb - thanks much for the in-depth response. I wouldn't normally ask about why a particular person asked for something to be done a particular way, but this instance seemed to be put across as a "never"...which always catches my attention.

You answered the bit I had been mulling over most about life in the horse, so thanks especially for that. Lots of links being formed between ideas, so that's been encouraging.

Cheers everyone - most appreciated!
Adam

Ola
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 Posted: Fri Aug 20th, 2010 06:10 pm
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thegirlwholoveshorses wrote:

Regarding backing with the outside curve, there is some video on youtube of Buck doing that and explaining cattle-working wise how it helps.  On a physiological level, he said that for some reason, it just gets things working right for the horse and makes a lot of other things better.
 

I am reading a book by Bill Dorrance now and hit on the similar question. I went through the chapter about backing one step at a time several times. He explained how to back a horse in an arc, and by observing photos I noticed that although the horse was bent to the right, he circled to the left! I've been  experimenting on all fours (love that, it clears up a lot of things) and found out that it is much easier this way (I mean physiological level).

Let me explain it a little: backing one step at a time means shifting the weight depending on the leading diagonal. If I want to back with my right diagonal, first I need to shift the weight to the right (try it, that's why it helps for the horse to bring his head to the right a little). While backing left pair of legs it's opposite. Let's say I'm going to back my right diagonal now, and in an arc: I need to bring my head to the right more (it naturally helps with this diagonal), which moves my right front leg laterally to the right and in a result left hind leg to the left. I am bent to the right, but my haunches move to the left.

Does that make sense? Am I on the right track, or am I missing something here on trying to understand this movement?

DrDeb
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 Posted: Sat Aug 21st, 2010 05:20 am
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Yes, Ola. To back a horse on a curve, you have the horse bent to the direction opposite to the direction of the curve you are planning to ride backwards. In short, backing in a curve is leg-yielding backwards.

And indeed, it is a very valuable exercise. Be careful to not get suckered into any temptation to use a lot of pressure with your hands. You want the horse to back himself up, not have you pull him back -- exactly the same standards we would want to maintain if we were having the horse back on a straight line. The "motivation" always must come from you touching him with the calves of your legs, that stimulates him to raise the life in his own body. It is the life in his body that then comes up underneath you, so that as it helps him to carry himself backwards, you will simply get to go along for the ride.

The key benefit of backing the horse on curves is that it teaches the horse to curve through the loinspan. He not only must yield through the ribcage to do it, he must also yield through the loinspan; the loinspan plus the ribcage equal the entire freespan of the back. In other words, this exercise pinpoints a body area that many horses would tend to hold stiff.

Backing on curves is preparatory to all forms of lateral work, and all work that involves or calls for lateral movement, such as for example opening a gate from horseback without letting the cows out. Another place it comes in is for developing accurate, prompt, and easy canter departs onto the lead you have previously specified (no trained horse ever just "runs up into" a canter). Later in the training process, it will help with half-passes, counterchange of hand, and flying changes of lead.

So take care with this, Ola; there's a lot at stake. The higher your standards are on taking care of each single step in the beginning, the better all the rest of the results down the pike will be. There is no other way. Cheers -- Dr. Deb

rifruffian
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 Posted: Sat Aug 21st, 2010 08:55 pm
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This has been a thread very helpful to me......thank you to everyone.

lighthorse
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 Posted: Sun Aug 22nd, 2010 01:13 pm
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Oh yes, very helpful indeed.  Another point that crystallized in my brain.


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