Backing is the closest thing to a “silver bullet” that exists in horse training. It helps from the ground and it helps from the saddle. It helps in dealing with problems and in preventing them in the first place.
Why, you may ask? Best as I can figure, backing puts a horse in a unique frame of mind. It’s not as natural for him as going forward so he must think about placement of his feet. It’s a submissive act that reminds him of his standing. Most important, it puts him out of position to take flight. That makes him feel vulnerable. Whatever was on his mind before you asked him to back up is suddenly not so important.
When you get a horse to back on your command, you are demonstrating that you know what matters in his world and that you just might be qualified to be leader for the day.
Teaching a horse to back is surprisingly easy if you don’t get greedy. When you first request it, you must be satisfied with him just shifting his weight back and instantly reward him with relief of pressure, a reassuring stroke, and a kind word. Then, give him a moment to think about it and ask again. This time you will expect him to do more, but only a little more, perhaps shifting his weight and lifting one foot. Again, relief, reward and rest. In this fashion, where clear, consistent cueing is coupled with instant positive consequences, a horse learns incrementally to back from the ground or the saddle.
Helpful hint: Always back any horse a few steps before you mount him and, at the first sign of trouble, stop him and put him in reverse. Request, relief, reward, rest. Then it’s on to the business of the day.