Why don’t you use your legs when asking a horse to back up? What are your cues?

“Stacy- Just curious why you don’t use your legs when asking Jac to back up? I’ve always been taught to use my legs (whether it be just one leg or both legs) if I’m looking for them to move in any direction including backing up! 🙂 – Krysti M.

Krysti- When I was growing up-I was taught the same thing!

Over the years I have added to my knowledge and now I have several cues for backing up. One of them is backing up while using my legs. I have others though.

In all of my training I find it useful to have more than one way to ask a horse to do something, several ways to back up; several ways to turn left, several ways to stop, etc.

The first method of backing up that I teach is using the reins only. To keep things simple I make ‘legs mean go forward’ and ‘rein pressure without legs means back up’.

Next I will use my reins and my legs both to ask for the back up…but I will use my legs in front of the cinch- tapping the shoulders- to ask them to back up. By using my legs in front of the cinch I am again trying to keep things clear. Legs behind the cinch mean forward…legs in front of the cinch means back up.

Eventually the legs in front of the cinch with rein pressure will lead to another cue which is legs only (no rein pressure) in front of the cinch means back up.

Next, on my very highly trained horses I will also teach them to ‘shift gears’ into reverse when I ‘release’ my legs and then apply pressure just behind the girth. I do this because I need a backup cue that I can use in the show pen…and I am not allowed to use my legs in front of the cinch when showing. I can also ‘steer’ the horse by using this method. This is the main cue I use in my bridleless riding; leg release with the idea that I can ask for the backup.

I believe that if a horse is taught to do something, for example back up, several different ways…that the training is that many times stronger. As I have at least three separate ways to back up, my back is likely three times stronger than someone who only has one way.

Two of my DVD’s cover this subject…Whoa: Teaching Your Horse to Stop and Bridleless Riding: How Does She Do That?

Check out Can Can Lena’s back up at the end of our 2003 Championship ride: Drag it to 3:20 if you just want to watch the back-up.


  1. Lisa Abel-Alton on April 13, 2014 at 12:58 am

    First time I have watched you on Can Can Lena… what an amazing ride!!! and like Vanessa, who would forward and miss a second of it… WTG Stacy

  2. Roseanne Coggan on April 13, 2014 at 12:28 am

    I love watching your rides without bridle and without saddle and bridle,watching you ride this way brings total awe and teary eyes,I’d love to see you ride one day in person.I’m adding seeing you do this to my Bucket List.

  3. Gary on April 12, 2014 at 8:08 am

    I have also used different ques for backing, turning, etc. and I can relate. Myself I think it makes them sharper on their ques. More responsive, but that is just my thoughts.

  4. Renee on April 11, 2014 at 1:12 pm

    Interesting. I have a TB mare who really doesn’t back up well, so we’ve been working on it. I think it’s important that she does for many reasons. I ride English (but don’t show), so maybe this is a possibility to help her “get it.” She can be a bit of a handful, so anything that reinforces communication is a big help!

  5. Jody Brittain on April 11, 2014 at 11:05 am

    Stacy your performances always leaves a big lump in my throat. So beautiful to watch! You are so amazing, as well as the horses you ride.

  6. Laura Hicks on April 11, 2014 at 11:00 am

    Always enjoy watching you ride. One of the things I observe that may not be taken into account that helps especially when riding without equipment (bridleless and in some cases, saddleless) is that in addition to the leg cues (speed, direction), you use a lot of body language to tell the horse what you want, either through weight shift (sitting down by shifting hips, rounding your back when stopping, sliding, backing), shoulder and seat. I would guess that you could probably do a lot of the movements without your legs and still get most of what you are asking for as you are very consistent in your movement. Would be interesting to hear your thoughts on it…Still consider myself a novice after 40+ years with them lol

  7. Vanessa Register on April 11, 2014 at 10:03 am

    wow, who would forward and miss this ride. thanks for sharing, I have dreams at 53 and 7 years in to it , my little mare and I will be doing this someday. this, is working as one, excited for the next move, trusting, and loving it all!

  8. Nataly on April 11, 2014 at 8:12 am

    I am never tired up to watch and learn out from your wonderfull videos! Wish I can come and spend some time with you in USA. Nataly from Québec.

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