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Make Rollback Practice A Forethought

Rollbacks that are performed in the finals of big reining classes can excite us! Everyone wants that spectacular, deep, super physical, snappy 180. Rollbacks seem easy enough, but there are some intricacies to understand that will make practicing rollbacks worthwhile.


I feel like rollbacks are kind of an afterthought. After seeing a big stop and slide, the details of why a rollback was good or bad can be overlooked. I use an approach to teaching and practicing rollbacks that break down the pieces to help translate the steps to a horse or a rider working their horse.


Two of the biggest reasons where I see rollbacks go wrong are 1. Anticipation 2. A Freeze Up Let me go through the process. With anticipation in a rollback, basically, the horse is turning before the rider does. There is a gap in communication between the horse and rider. Many riders will practice rollbacks after running to a stop. That’s how we do them in the show pen. But this is bad for developing a fine-tuned rollback.


  • Do not work on rollbacks any where near a stop. Especially, a big rundown, sliding stop.

  • This creates anticipation.

  • Anticipation will ALWAYS create problems.


Then, what’s the “How To”?


Back up. Backing can be used as an extension of a stop. Back up in different lengths or steps before asking your horse to start the turn – key word being “start”. Work on this maneuver in pieces. I’ve heard coaches tell their students to “1. Stop; 2. Release; 3. Look; 4. Turn; 5. Lope.” But, that’s not the way trainers teach or work horses to rollback or how to refresh a rollback. Trainers break it into parts.


  • Don’t ask for the entire 180 all at once.

  • Start turning but keep backing. This can be more difficult than it sounds for some riders. Back an entire circle or two, if needed.

  • Be smooth.


If your backup isn’t smooth, get it smooth, first. You don’t want to be pulling and kicking a lot to make that backup happen. I’ve been a part of, and witnessed, these actions leading to big wrecks when you try to go and turn. None of us wants a horse that rears up and falls over onto a rider.

  • You are after a nice, long, sweeping turn.

  • Keep backing; keep turning.

There will be a point where you will will feel your horse "commit" to the backup and free up his shoulders; that's when you can complete the turn and let him exit.

  • Walk or Lope out of the turn. You don’t have to lope out every time, but surely don’t let him trot.

All of this should be done "in-hand" or "with contact". Slack creates gaps. Most "training" is done with contact, usually two hands. Rewards are given with a release or exiting a maneuver and going back to one hand with slack.


The backing and turning also solves any Freeze Up issue. When a horse begins a rollback and stands up, off their hocks, it creates a hesitation, puts them in a forward roll, and out of position - more like spin. This can be a fine style, but the "stand up" part is where you can get into trouble. If the rider isn't aware of how their horse is attempting the turn, it can snowball real quick.


Here's an example from a lesson I gave a few weeks ago. The horse was doing this exact stand-up hesitation in his rollback turn. The rider would release for the upcoming 180, and her horse would stand up (off his hocks) and try to spin. Not only would this force him forward, but as he turned, he would release his hip to the outside and take the wrong lead.


This is not a penalty in the show pen (yet), but it says that the horse is leaning, and depending on the rider's abilities to overcome the issue on the fly, could snowball out of the rider's control. As the rider, you have a lot to be thinking about and getting your horse back on lead without penalties is dangerous.


What's the "How To"? Remember, 1. Turning without the rider (you) is bad. 2. Standing up, off the hocks, is bad.


The solution:

  • Start from a walk or trot, say "whoa", draw back to begin backing. (You want the back up to be attached to the word "whoa", not a rundown.)

  • Back your horse until he is willing to back on his own.

  • You’re waiting for your horse to take back up steps on his own.

  • When it FEELS smooth, let your horse complete the turn.

  • Exit by walking or loping. (Trotting is bad, as it can lead to trot-outs in the show pen.)

When your horse is backing, easily, begin the turn for the rollback. Don't give in. Take one step at a time and keep it soft and sweeping. You can back an entire circle if you need to, and maybe even two circles. When your horse is backing, he is learning (or remembering) what his footwork should be for a rollback.


You're solving TWO issues at once -

1. your horse will begin to wait for you to make the turn 2. by keeping it smooth and slow, the stand up off the hocks, or freeze, won't happen


As a trainer, I am feeling and thinking about these things all thoughout a ride and the rollback exercises. Each horse will have their own way of "trying" the rollback before receiving instruction. Your horse may have his own way of "trying" or "doing" a rollback.


Older, broker, reining horses with experience may not need as much "help". They will know their job and do it. However, younger reining horses, who haven't the years of experience or consistent training to develop good habits within the rollback, can require more assistance from the rider.


For the rider (you), it's important to work and learn to sense and feel when your horse has either of these irregularities, because you will want to begin addressing them immediately. This will keep your horse waiting on your cues and requests. Waiting to address an issue will add poor mechanics and habits to a maneuver.

We will work on putting a video together and getting it up on our YouTube channel to show some examples. In the meantime, read the noted points within this post, again, and learn how to use backing in your practice rides.

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