Rein Back

I was teaching rein back to a client a couple of weeks ago. It`s one of those movements all hackers utilise, opening gates for example, but how many people do it correctly?

The footfalls of a correctly ridden rein back mirror the footfalls of trot – each diagonal pair moves in turn.

Now, think about this the next time you rein back, and I`m sure you`ll find it is more of a shuffle. One leg creeps back, then another, and another, and the other. The horse is usually short in the neck and hollow.

This was how my rider and horse reined back the first couple of times. It was all a rush and veered to the right.

Firstly we ran through the aids; both legs behind the girth, rein pressure and the verbal command “back”. Often the legs swing too far back, which unbalances the rider. The rider should also try to lighten their seat so the horse is encouraged to lift their back as they reverse.

The problem with practising rein back is that the horse soon learns to anticipate the aids, so I always interspace rein backs with halts and the odd trots to keep the horse interested.

Back to improving the rein back. As the horse veered to the right, we used the  fence on his right to support him and encourage him to stay straight. I also asked my rider to adjust her leg pressure. In the same way that you push the horse away from the leg when riding forwards (such as to adjust your centre line) she should adjust the pressure of her leg aids in the rein back. Soon, they were going backwards in a straight line with no support.

Next we had a look at the speed of the rein back. It was very rushed and quite tense. After having a trot and little break I asked my rider to halt. Then, I told her to breathe out slowly as she asked for the rein back. Like magic, the movement was slower. However, after three strides the horse shot forwards into a walk. He was now anticipating the end of the rein back.

My rider also adjusted her rein aids. Instead of thinking of bringing her hands back to her tummy she squeezed them as if squeezing a sponge, which creates a milder aid, and more of a half halt, so the horse was less likely to run away from the pressure in his mouth. This, combined with breathing out slowly created two correct strides of rein back, before the horse shuffled again. I told my rider to keep asking for the rein back, so her horse didn`t know how many steps to do before walking forwards. The shuffling was caused by him losing balance and wanting to move forwards. Asking for more strides improved his balance, and when he stopped anticipating the rein back the diagonal pairs moved in time. Once the horse found all of this easier he started dropping his head and lifting his back a bit.

Rein back is the highest form of collection, after all, you are going backwards! So my rider used this with some direct transitions to help improve her trot and the hind leg engagement of her trot. With the engine working more powerfully, I think their medium trot will grow too!

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2 thoughts on “Rein Back

  1. firnhyde April 27, 2015 / 4:27 am

    This is where a spot of reining training comes in handy – the 4-5 steps of rein back in dressage look like child’s play when you’ve had to gallop full-speed down the long side, slide to a halt (literally), and then run backwards in a straight line. The Western rein-back is performed rather faster than the dressage one, but is otherwise identical in terms of the footfalls of the horse. And of course you have to do a minimum of 15 steps back!

  2. therubbercurrycomb January 17, 2017 / 8:01 pm

    Reblogged this on The Rubber Curry Comb and commented:

    Rein back is the order of the week for me at the moment. I`ve been using it with horses who are apt to hollow in the halt, and be reluctant to engage their abdominals and lift their tummy. It`s not that they are particularly disengaged with their hindquarters, it`s more that they need to step up and raise the bar with how much their muscles are working!

    The key to rein back is to keep it steady, one step at a time, and to keep the aids mild. You should feel that as your horse lifts his legs to take them backwards his back comes up slightly, his neck stays relaxed and out, and nose drops marginally. If they come against the hand you need less of a rein aid, more of the seat and leg. When a horse comes against the hand and stays hollow in the back during the rein back they also cannot lift their foot up to step backwards, and tend to do more of a Michael Jackson moonwalk.

    A couple of mares I`ve ridden this week did the moonwalk, scraping their feet back whilst they locked their back to resist my aids. In hand, I`m going to work both of them at stepping backwards over poles because in order to rein back over a pole they have to lift a leg up! Hopefully this will trigger the correct muscles to work so that when I ask for rein back from the saddle they will keep using their tummy muscles.

    Another horse I`m riding this week is on a long, slow rehab, and is doing plenty of rein back to build his tummy muscles. It made a change to feel that he totally understood and was balanced through the movement, keeping his feet moving back in diagonal pairs.

    So yes, clients, expect to be doing some rein back over the next couple of weeks!

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