Don’t throw away a great run down and stop with a ‘mud ugly’ roll back, warns experienced reining judge Bob Mayhew. In nearly 30 years of training reining horses, and 23 years of judging them, the roll back seems to be one of the areas that people fail to grasp the most. Countless good stops have been followed by poor roll backs, U turns, or even turns on the forehand, thereby reducing the manoeuvre evaluation unnecessarily.
First off, what is a roll back? It is a 180 degree turn over the hocks executed over a stationary weighted inside leg. The horse should lead with his inside front leg and, on achieving the 180 degrees, should lope out on the correct lead for the next manoeuvre. On the whole I don't think that people practise this manoeuvre correctly or enough and leave it in the realms of hope when they get to the show pen.
The horse’s body alignment should be straight during the roll back, with just his nose tipped to the inside of the turn. If you bend the horse too much, and their body gets banana shaped, their inside shoulder will be out of position and the inside front leg won't lead into the roll back. Furthermore the weight will not be over the inside hind leg and will transfer to the outside hind leg, so losing the drive during the turn. More importantly, in the departure, the horse will have to work harder to get the weight forward again. This gives the horse a greater chance to take the dreaded trot steps, which will incur a penalty of ½ or possibly 2. Even worse, the horse may have to 'buck' its way out of the roll back which, if really bad, can incur a 5 point penalty for disobeying the cue to leave smoothly. Like the turnaround, the roll back has to have forward motion and drive. The other point I see is that riders start looking for the departure line too early. What happens next is that they see the line before their core and the horse’s body have reached the line, so they 'leave' thinking that they have done 180 degrees. The result is that the horse leaves at 90 degrees and, in frustration, the riders move their rein hand like an express train. The horse throws its head around, opens its mouth and a mud ugly roll back ensues. So, we have seen two cases of human error! How can we help our horse achieve a good roll back?
Let's go back to basics (where have I heard that expression before?) The inside front leg has to be the one to move first. In order to do this, walk your horse forward, stop him, and back him up a few steps (the back up has to be willing and free from resistance so you must get this first before attempting roll backs). As you back up, tip the horse’s nose to the inside of the intended roll back then lay the neck rein on and move your core to the inside seat bone and drive with your outside leg in the horse’s ribcage area - all at the same time. When the horse (and your core) get through the 180 degrees, leave. It will pay dividends if you train yourself to look over the horse’s head and neck until you see the 180 degree line come up - don't start searching for the line with your eyes only. A horse responds to the projection of your body, not your eyes. If you really want to get spot on with your timing, ask for the turn say to the left as the horse’s right front foot comes back when you are practising in the back up, and obviously vice versa in the turn to the right. When all this gets together, you can move up to lope circles and stop at 45 degrees to a wall or hedge, make your turn and lope out. Progress from that to stopping parallel to the wall or hedge and loping out. Get the basics right and the roll backs will improve.
Remember though, don't leave the roll back until the core of your body and the horse’s body gets to the line you want to depart on. One further point to remember is that each roll back is one third of a manoeuvre, which includes the approach to the stop, the stop itself and the roll back. So, if you want to zero or plus, all three parts have to be correct or good. Judges assess all those three parts before giving a score so don't expect a plus if you have had a fantastic stop but a poor run around at the end of the pen, a blurt out approaching the stop or a U turn for the roll back – they all come together for the evaluation.