Here is the first of my how to essays, written in 2005:
How to Do A Rollback.. by Cutter123
When a horse does a good rollback maneuver, it should be smooth and finessy, all one motion, like an ocean wave coming in and going out again.He should stop square in an athletic manner, by loading his hocks and hindquarters, rounding out his back, and keeping his head "neutral" with a soft poll and jaw. (by neutral I mean not up in your lap and not down below his knees or with his chin to his chest).
He should then immediately suck back a bit so his weight is concentrated over his hind end.His ribs should be arced away from the direction he is going to turn, which will arc his nose and hip slightly into the direction he is going to turn. He should start with his nose, and his body should follow his nose through the turn nice and cleanly, picking up his front end neatly and balancing through the turn on his hind end.When he comes out the other side, he should push off with his outside hind leg and go off cleanly and smoothly the other direction, on the correct lead.
He should turn like a rope, or a string, not like a 2x4. Simulate this at your desk right now with a shoelace or peice of string and a pen or pencil. See the different way they turn? A string is fluid. A pen is straight and stiff and therefore will "swing like a gate." When the front end turns, the back end turns the other way. When this happens on a horse, it means the horse "swaps ends;" basically losing all athleticism and making a sloppy, stiff move. (think: Napoleon Dynamite equine version).
In order to help the horse execute this maneuver properly, a rider needs to be balanced, and have good enough timing to apply the aids right when they will help the horse, and in the right manner. Think in your mind about a horse doing a rollback in slow motion without a saddle or a rider. Think about it until you have it clear in your mind. Now add the saddle and rider and see if you can understand where the rider's weight/aids have to be.
First, the rider needs to ride the horse all the way to the stop, sitting up square in the center of her saddle with her legs right underneath her with a nice bend to her knee in an athletic position. A few strides before she stops, the rider comes in with inside leg applied at the cinch to create the slight bend in the horse needed to execute the rollback. The hands stay neutral and the outside leg still applies driving pressure a little further back so the hip doesn't kick out.Then the rider sits her stop.
She does not lean back and pull, stiffening her lower back and therefore stiffening the horse. She sinks down in her saddle, SOFTENING her lower back and absorbing the stop in her joints...hip, back, knees, ankles, all of which are soft and flexible. The rider's upper body is still neutral...not leaning back, not leaning forward, not twisting in the direction she is about to go.
(This is a big problem for a lot of riders. If you feel like you are getting a sloppy, out of control "swap endy" type rollback, make sure you are not twisting too early and "taking off before your horse." ) In the instant the horse stops, rider's inside leg comes out. If the rider keeps inside leg in during the turn, (and we are taking about a horse that is responsive and knows how to do a rollback...teaching a rollback to an unresponsive horse is another matter and I can get into that later if someone wants me to). Anyway, if the rider keeps inside leg on during the turn it screws up your rollback in several ways....one, a rider who is balanced but keeps the inside leg on during the turn will be sitting in such a way to drive her horse forward around the turn, so she will get a barrel type turn, or even bigger, depending on the timing and effectiveness of her other aids.
This is FINE if you want a turn with forward motion.
But if what you want is a rollback, which is a "hold your ground" motion, then it isn't correct.
Rollbacks that hold their ground are especially important for cutters and cowhorse people and cattle penners, because if you go forward in your turn you put pressure on the cow and cause it to run faster, and you also come out behind it, losing your advantageous position.(good rollbacks are also good for other disciplines too. My friend Stephanie, for example, is a barrel racer. When she goes around a barrel it is with forward motion. But when she is practicing and schooling her horses, she oftentimes does rollbacks, even backing up several steps in the process to teach her horse how to be on his hip).
Two (what happens if you keep your inside leg in during a rollback).... Often we are not talking about a rider that is completely balanced with good feel and timing. A lot of the times a rider wants to "turn for her horse," and she will inadvertently lean the direction she is going to turn. This weights her inside leg. If you think back to what I was saying about physicis, you will understand this puts the rider's body weight in the way, making it impossible for the horse to make a clean turn (unless you have one of those saint horses that will actually shrug you back on top and then turn, but even then you cause him to lose some of his athleticism).
Other riders, when they use direct rein to tip their horse's nose, they don't know how to use their aids independently of each other, so they brace against their pull with their inside leg. (Imagine starting a lawnmower, you know how you put your leg on the lawnmower so you can pull against your leg, for levearge...good for starting a lawnmower, bad for getting a good rollback). This will cause your horse to kick his hip out and lose all power/impulsion.
Okay, so we've established our rider sits her stop and takes her inside leg OUT. She is still sitting square. Since she is sitting square, her horse stops square, and his hips don't kick out to the outside. (If they do, you are leaning the direction you want to go, or twisting, or throwing your hip the direction...you are thinking about turning too much. Forget about thinking about turning, and think about stopping, backing up, and letting your horse come through himself).
Now our rider sets her hands and softens her back so she encourages her horse to take a step or two back. (this is for practice and for green horses. When your horse is schooled, he should suck back on his own, slightly, enough to execute a good rollback)Now our rider uses inside rein to tip her horse's nose the direction she is going to go. Her inside hand back and up slightly, towards the outside beltloop/hip seam of her jeans/pants. This motion originates from the shoulder. Elbow stays bent, wrist stays straight. (I caught you, huh! How many of you cock your wrist like Will from Will and Grace when you pull????) As inside rein comes up and back, outside rein has to release so horse can tip his nose. Outside rein comes forward and slightly down. This will also have the added effect of helping the rider twist her body correctly, looking the direction she is going to turn, and weighting her outside seat bone. The horse will start to follow his nose.
DO NOT lean back. This will push your horse forward and make it hard for him to stay on his hip. Stay right over the horse's center of balance, (right behind his withers), which puts you in the front of your saddle, up over your feet. Keep your lower back SOFT (this could be the most important part), so your horse is invited to come through your back and round his back out, using himself athletically.Your outside leg should be slightly back, but still passive at this time. If you take your outside leg forward to help your horse make the turn at first, it will work, but it is also a stiff, hoppy type turn because you are forcing the horse's shoulders through the turn at the same time as his nose.
The rider will start feeling the thrust of the horse's turn sliding her to the outside of her saddle. She allows this to happen, staying balanced by putting her weight on her outside leg. As the horse is in his swing, coming out the other side, the rider then cues with outside leg to add impulsion and help the horse push himself out of the turn. The leg cue comes in anyhwere after 90 degrees, preferably at about 135 degrees. If the outside leg comes in before or at 90 degress, the rider then forces the horse's ribs through the turn too early, which will stiffen him up.When the horse is out the other side, hands come back to neutral, rider comes back to neutral, and applies both legs to ride out of the rollback. She does not lean forward; she sits right on top and squeezes with both legs to create impulsion.
If you are having trouble feeling the rollback, do this exercise at a walk and close your eyes (after you practice a few times with your eyes open).Walk forward, then use inside leg to leg away until you really feel a bend. Stop and back up. Make the stop and back up one smooth motion.
Do not stop and then release your hands and then gather him back up for the back up.
Stop, and keep your hands set until your horse comes off that bridle by backing up. Your hands should be set even.
When you feel your horse backing up really nicely and not sticky (and if he is sticky, make sure you aren't leaning back and your back isn't stiff), then simply release outside hand, just let go of the reins with your outside hand while keeping your inside hand set how it is.
At the same time, lean forward and to the outside, like you are going to reach down and kiss your horse's outside ear. (This means your weight is in your outside stirrup) You shouldn't be doing anything with either leg at this point. This is just an exercise to help you gain feel. Do you feel how when you release the outside rein and "kiss your horse's ear" he swings underneath you? His front end swings away from where your weight is, and he crosses over in front and pivots around. Practice this a bit until you can really feel it. This is an exaggeration of the cue but it will help your body reprogram itself to do it properly, especially if you have been having problems getting to the inside of your rollback.