Back-Around: A Horse Flexion Exercise

Back-Around: A Horse Flexion Exercise

This drill improves your horse’s athleticism in rein work and while working a cow.

AQHA Professional Horseman Al Dunning conducts a cow work clinic at the Arizona Sun Circuit (Credit: Journal)

text size

The circle-back-around drill is a multiple-part drill that really works on one thing – a horse’s flexibility, one side at a time. It can help a horse in the turnarounds in reining or working cow horse. It helps teach a cutting horse to stay in form while bending his neck and looking at the cow and then be able to load up on his hocks. From the branding pen to the show ring, this softening exercise for horses from AQHA Professional Horseman Al Dunning promotes movement with strength and integrity. 

The Basic Drill

Before you can start this drill, you and your horse have to be able to walk and trot a perfect circle, and your horse needs to want to back up.

  • Start walking or trotting a perfect circle to the left, 12 to 14 feet in diameter. The horse’s head, shoulders, ribs and hips should be in line and on the line of the circle.
  • Stop on that circle and maintain a left arc as you stop. Keep the horse’s body on the arc of the circle.
  • Half-turn left to the inside of the circle. When you finish the half-turn, the horse will be counter-arced to the circle. Keep his hips on the circle with his head to the outside.
  • Back around the circle the same direction you were going, maintaining the left arc in the horse’s body.
  • Rotate the horse another half turn left and continue going forward to finish the drill, always maintaining the left arc in the horse’s body.

When the drill is complete, your horse should give in and be soft. Take a short transition period and then work the opposite direction in the same training session. 

Tip: If you’re working with a reining horse, rotate him with a slight bit of forward movement, turning around on his inside hind foot. If he’s a cutting horse, rotate him with more weight on his hocks, using either both hind feet or the outside hind foot to turn around on.

Build up your horse’s ability to do this. On a green or less flexible horse, you might make that half turn and only be able to take three or four steps back. Work this drill into your program as your horse needs it, and he will progress. 

Fence Help

If your horse is tempted to leave the circle in this drill, practice it in the corner of your arena. As the horse comes off the fence, drive him back to a point that’s 4 to 6 feet from the corner. He’ll learn that arc and not want to leave the corner.


  • Turn the horse around two or three times at the end, instead of just doing a half turnaround to end up back on the circle.
  • Make a figure eight with your back-around. When you establish your perfect circle going forward, back the horse into an additional same-size circle right next to the one you just made, making a figure eight while maintaining the same arc in the body. 

Riding Perfect Circles

  • Be consistent in your circle size. For this drill, make your circles 12 to 14 feet.
  • Use a focal point to keep your circles even. This will help you avoid one side being bigger than the other, or coming out oval or egg-shaped.