Can Horses Walk Backwards? Everything You Need To Know

Horses are known to be fast and strong; thus, they can specialize in various activities such as pulling ploughs for agriculture, pulling carriages for transport, and of course, racing for sports.

They are usually seen moving forward – walking, trotting, cantering, or galloping.

But would you raise your eyebrows seeing a horse walking backwards?

Some might be fascinated seeing horses do such as it is definitely a great skill showing the competency of both the trainer and the horse. However, others might not support it as it can be perceived as an illogical movement for horses.

Can A Horse Walk Backwards?

Definitely, a horse can walk backwards. When walking backwards, horses are moving their legs crossways in pairs. This is like a trot for them – stepping faster than the usual walking activity. With this, they need to do weight shifting from side to side.

This is not an unusual activity for horses as it is commonly required to pass riding tests.

Have you seen a horse do a rein back?

Rein back movement is a two-beat exercise where striding backwards in a straight track is required. Horses should not show any opposition or urgency, rather must make their steps composed and smooth with their heads up.


Why Do Horses Walk Backwards?

Through effective training, horses can walk backwards. Accurate execution is important and very helpful in order to properly handle them.

Horses are walking backwards because of the following reasons:

  • Generally, horses will start to back up if their riders or trainers command them to do so.
  • When they are frightened or startled, they may possibly walk backwards unintentionally.
  • A horse may also tend to walk backwards if it has some medical conditions causing pain such as colic.
  • When they do not want to follow the orders or do not want to be controlled by their trainers or riders
  • Horses need to walk backwards if they need to escape small spaces where they couldn’t turn around such as getting off on a straight-load trailer.

What Are The Impacts of Walking Backwards To Horses?

Training your horse to walk backwards both as positive and negative impact to them.

The positive effects of walking backwards to horses are:

  • The skill of walking backwards is essential for teaching your horses how to respect your own, private space; likewise, recognize your position as the head of the herd.
  • Developing responsiveness and engagement.
  • A great exercise for muscle and power development.
  • An effective strategy to assess the horse’s understanding of hand, seat and leg support.
  • Learning the backing shall be the groundwork for stop and learn further skills.  

On the other side, backing is not recommended by some as it is perceived to be an irrational movement for horses. It is actually not a horse’s common defense or training maneuver

One of adverse impacts of walking backwards to horses is the possibility of getting injuries. If not properly trained, horses can definitely hurt themselves as they must know the proper backing steps without any pressure through effective training.

How To Get A Horse To Walk Backwards?

Teaching your horse the proper way of walking backwards is quite challenging as it is to move forward instinctively.

So, how can you effectively teach it to do some backing without putting too much pressure and stress to the both of you?

Well, you have three options to get a horse walk backwards based on your goals and convenience.

You can train your horse out of your personal space, in close quarters and in the saddle.

Your Personal Space: From A Distance

Since backing is new to horses, it is important to start with groundwork or going to the basics.

You will need a 4.3 meter lead rope and should stand a few feet away from your horse. Allotting some space for yourself is important as your horse may possibly rear or kick as it might show little resistance at the start of the teaching.

The next thing to do is get its attention like clapping. If your horse is looking at you with both of its eyes, it means that its full attention is on you.

Put a little pressure to the rope and shake it side to side which should be the cue for your horse to back up.

When you feel and see even the slightest backward motion to your horse, immediately lighten your grip to the rope and give rewards. This will help to communicate with your horse that it is doing the right thing.

To see better results, it is recommended to practice for 10 to 20 minutes daily until your horse knows exactly that through shaking the lead rope, it should back up.

In Close Distance, Towards Pressure

As soon as your horse mastered backing from a distance, you can now teach it to walk backwards in a close quarter.

While holding the lead rope in your right hand, you should position next to the shoulder of your horse. Do not stand in front of it as it might not see you better.

Slightly pull the rope back towards the hindquarters of your horse. If it did not respond, pull harder and as soon as your horse takes some steps back, release the tension and give rewards.

In The Saddle

If you think your horse already knows how to attentively respond to your backing commands, then it is time to train it walk backwards in the saddle.

The training for this is quite similar with that in a close quarter. Once you are riding on it, you must put on light pressure to both the reins and your legs.

Once your horse step backward, give rewards.

If your horse is showing stubbornness and does not want to follow, you can pull one of your hands to your hip which will make your horse’s face move to your knee. This will make your horse move its feet behind.

You can do this side to side until your horse get the concept that it should step backwards; otherwise, more work will be included if it will not follow you.

How To Stop A Horse Walking Backwards?

You should not only be able to teach your horse to walk backwards; definitely, you must also be able to command it to stop if you want or needed to.

If you could not, problems will definitely arise where the horse could either cause troubles to others or even to itself.

To stop your horse from walking backwards in a saddle as part of training, you must first understand rein pressure and leg pressure.

Remember that you must pull light pressure to the rein and your legs as a cue to your horse to walk backwards. In reverse then, you must release both the tensions in the rein and your legs if you want to tell your horse to stop backing.

It is important to make sure that you and your horse understand each other perfectly. Basically, there will be differences with the understanding of the rider and the horse about rein and leg pressure.

For instance, rein pressure for a rider means moving to the direction of the pulling such as stopping or going backward for a backward pull. On the other hand, the horse might perceive a shorter rein as a cue to perform flexion.

On a different note, if you are attempting to stop a horse which just suddenly walks backwards, perhaps because it got scared, one thing you can do is to make a distraction and move to other directions. This shall also help you regain control over your horse and make it focus attention again. You must always stay calm and reassure your horse that everything is fine.

Can You Ride A Horse Backwards?

If your horse can walk backwards, there is no doubt that you can ride on it while it is backing.

Just remember that before doing so, you and your horse received proper training already as riding a horse backwards is more dangerous, given the fact that both of you cannot see what’s behind you.

The trust and communication with you and your horse is very important to make sure that unexpected response from your horse will not happen which can cause dangers to both of you.

What Does Riding A Horse Backwards Mean?

Horses are usually a representation of our instinctive side. They symbolize human’s power and capability to change or manage our decisions in life.

When you dream of riding a horse backwards, it means that you are currently or might not be able to effectively handle your life circumstances. This means you do not actually know where to go.

Have you heard of the word “heyoka”?

This is a Native American word for sacred clowns. In traditional ceremonies, heyoka means not doing orderly or common things so people will perceive things differently. Doing things backwards is a sign that an individual is a heyoka. With this, riding a horse backwards shows that a person wants to show others something different and wants to help with the healing of others.


Baker, S. (2019, October 1). Why and How You Should Teach the Rein Back. Fédération Équestre Internationale.

Bercier, D. (2017, November 21). Symptoms of horse colic. Equine Medical Services.

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