The Savvy Station

The Nine Step Backup

por Parelli Professionals en Jun 12, 2024

The Nine Step Backup

By Ryan Pfouts - 4-Star Senior Parelli Professional and Horse Development Specialist

In the world of horses, the emphasis is often on forward movement—galloping ahead, feeling the wind in your hair, and getting tasks accomplished.  Like many of the “Parelli-isms," you may not capture the meaning of it until months later. Then, you begin to understand just how profound it is. "The better your horse goes backwards and sideways, the better he does everything else.” Why would this be so profound? This concept starts to teach the horse that not all pressure means go forward, to have impulsion, respond versus react, and be ready to yield in any direction at any time. Have you considered your horse’s typical first thought when it feels pressure? Does your horse ask you a question, or does it drift forward without thinking, causing you to use the reins?

From Level 2 FreeStyle to Level 4 Finesse, the concept of the 9-Step Backup is an important maneuver because mastering it creates a high-level conversation between horse and rider. It is an intricate exercise with specific steps that teaches the horse to yield to steady pressure inside Zone 1 (an emotionally sensitive area). The horse begins to develop confidence and lightness by yielding to Zone 1 and shifting the weight to the hindquarters instead of pushing into the bit or noseband of the hackamore. The exercise also teaches the rider to have feel and not to pull on the reins while taking contact. Think about that concept briefly before continuing to read; how can you take a feel on the reins without pulling on the reins? 

Switching from a Casual Rein to a Concentrated Rein without pulling is a crucial skill for future endeavors. The rider also learns to have hands that close slowly and open quickly. An important element of this exercise is in its name; it is called The Nine Step Backup, not a Rein Back. It is essential to reframe our mindset by referring to it as a backup rather than a rein back, eliminating the subconscious tendency to rely solely on rein cues, which many of us have learned through traditional riding lessons. The next key element is that a 9-Step Backup does not mean you back up for nine steps; rather, there are nine distinct steps for an engaged backup.


The Steps to the 9-Step Backup

1. Lift the reins with one hand.

2. Slide your other hand down the rein, taking out the slack. 

3. Separate into two reins, fingers pointed outward, closing the thumbs on top of the reins between your index finger. Fingers are open. (Like a lobster claw.)

4. Close each finger at a time. Starting with the index finger. (Soft Touch)

5. Close the middle finger. 

6. Close the ring finger. 

7. Close your little fingers, slowly tightening your fingers with your thumbs on top. (Soft Feel)

8. Bend elbows and bring them slowly back towards your hips. 

9. Engage your seat and press the belly button back. 

The 9-Step Backup is laid out perfectly in the Learning Library. Dive into the videos and supporting documents to learn more about each step and for troubleshooting tips. 

Central to this technique is the understanding of 'Soft Touch' and 'Soft Feel.' 'Soft Touch' focuses on maintaining a consistent feel without striving for vertical flexion—a vital step akin to Step 3 in the 9-Step Back Up. 'Soft Feel' builds upon this, establishing a connection with the horse's mouth while incorporating vertical flexion, akin to Step 7. Both are important in refining communication between horse and rider, serving distinct purposes at different times, teaching your horse to be emotionally balanced and follow a feel rather than feeling suppressed, becoming emotional, and pushing into pressure or moving off too soon. 

What sets the 9-Step Backup apart is its profound impact on a horse's overall performance. Backing improves downward transitions, stops, and collection, while sideways movement enhances straightness, canter leads, and lead changes. By honing these often-neglected movements, riders can witness a transformative shift in their horse's agility, responsiveness, and overall demeanor.

By mastering these overlooked maneuvers, riders can unlock a new realm of connection, finesse, and harmony with their equine partners, elevating their horsemanship to new heights.

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