Back it up!

Many Working Equitation obstacles require rein back. There is straight rein back, L , T, and slalom. A horse and rider that can back straight or on a designated pattern display lightness, balance, and control.  The rein back should be treated as any gymnastic exercise. The horse needs to be properly coordinated in order to perform the task correctly. The rider needs to take the time to train the horse to respond to quiet communication.

Turn on the forehand, haunches turn right.

A great way to start is with the turn on the forehand. This helps the horse to respond to leg pressure. When you bring your left or right leg slightly back and apply pressure, the hindquarter should move over. Do not rush the movement, ask one step over and stop the movement with the opposite leg at the girth (cinch).  You can use slight flexion of the rein on the same side as the leg aid asking the horse to step over. Do not teach your horse to respond to a strong flexion of rein, this is only pushing the horse off balance, not making them think about the correct use of their body. It is a good idea to also teach your horse correct bend and flexion while doing a turn on the forehand. For instance: Haunches stepping over to the left while the nose is pointing left, and vice versa. This can be a difficult exercise, so be patient. You should be able to maintain the same bend in a turn going backward as you would going forward.

Turn on the forehand out of walk

Once your horse responds well to the above exercise, begin to ask for a turn on the forehand out of the walk. Walk, half turn on the forehand to change direction; walk, half turn on the forehand in the other direction. Once your horse responds well to this exercise, we are ready for the rein back. I find it works best to bring both legs slightly back at the thigh, not knee. This will lighten your seat, and your legs will work as a corridor to help align the horse’s body. Use slight pressure on the rein: We want the horse responding to body dialogue, not focusing on bit pressure alone. Once the horse is backing straight, you can add moving the haunches over while backing.

 Exercises to practice maneuvering your rein back:

L corridor with ground rails– place your rails in an L shape, practice backing straight then moving haunches over right and then left. Do not depend on any obstacle as a wall or “guide” for your horse. This can create chaos if the horse knocking the obstacle down. Always aim for a display of quiet dialogue between horse and rider.

Haunches right in L corridor. This horse is bracing against right flexion causing a counter bend. He should display a slight flexion right to properly accomplish this maneuver.

Rein back at each corner– Place a cone at each corner of arena (on inside track to leave room for horse to pass through) First walk through corner with correct bend around cone, then halt and rein back through corner with the same bend you created going forward.

Rein back figure 8 between two cones

Figure 8 – Place two cones at a comfortable distance and practice circling each cone backwards, then straighten the horse to change direction around the other cone. This is where the teaching of the correct bend while moving the haunches over comes in handy. At the highest levels in the sport, this maneuver may be required as part of the EOH course. 

  • The rein back can be a beneficial exercise for all horses, but as with any exercise, precautions should be taken.
  • Encourage the horse to use its muscles correctly in order to strengthen them, but do not overdo it as this can cause pain and injury as well as resistance in the horse. Riders who ride using strong rein aids will encounter major problems. Patience and creativity are key to displaying the partnership and harmony necessary for this exciting sport!

Leave a Reply