The Rein-Back

It is a simple movement, the rein-back, which is not only beneficial to your horse’s training, but also a required dressage movement. As common as it might be, riders should be aware of what the correct rein-back looks like, and how to avoid mistakes that lead to tension in the horse.

The Correct Rein-Back

A four-beat rein-back is the result of faulty riding. The correct rein-back is a two-beat, diagonal-stepping, backward movement, with no moment of suspension. The sequence of foot falls are shown the in the diagram below.

Sequence of steps in the rein-back. The left hind takes the first step, followed by the front right, then right hind, then front left.

If you are performing the rein-back in a dressage test, you will loose marks for the following:

if your horse shows stiffness in his legs,

if he is overbent,

if he drags his feet instead of picking them up

if he is stiff in the neck and back, or

if he shows a general tense, unyielding attitude.

Shy horses may come behind the bit, while a young horse will more likely hollow his back and raise his head. The only solution to these common problems is to be a subtle as you can with your aids, correcting any evasions with empathy and patience. Horses adopt these resistant attitudes as a result of harsh aids; the rein-back is a movement where riders often find themselves trapped in a cycle of strong aids in order to get a response from the horse. This article will hopefully give you a clearer idea of how to ask for a rein-back with minimal tension and kinder aids

Eric Herbermann riding rein-back. Notice the stiffness in the horse's legs and neck. Photo from 'Dressage Formula'

A better rein back with Eric Herbermann. The horse is more relaxed and his steps are elastic. Photo from 'Dressage Formula'

The Aids for the Rein-Back

Lighten your seat by bringing your upper body by a small degree forwards from the waist. Your seat bones should not be lifted away from the saddle, but only lightened. This position frees the rear end of the horse and allows him to take backward steps.

Close both legs to ask the horse to begin stepping. Application of the leg aid should be behind the girth and should be gentle and encouraging. Many riders apply their legs alternately with every step. This is not necessary and may even cause the horse to swing the haunches to the side.

The hands serve only to prevent the activity from going forward. While the legs generate the steps, the hands say ‘backward’. Close your fingers around the rein in time with the stepping of the corresponding hind foot. The result is an alternating, subtle feel on each rein to remind the horse to direct his energy backwards.

Take only 4 or 5 steps at a time. To tell the horse to stop the backward steps, sit upright, erecting the upper body, and yield with the hands.

The rein back is a collecting movement which can be useful when combined with a schooling program. It helps the horse lighten his forehand and keeps him focused. It can help a distracted horse concentrate, but should not be used on a nervous horse as it will only make him more tense. The rein-back should never be used as a punishment! School movements should not be used as punishment as it can cause permanent damage to the horse’s attitude towards it.

With horses that tend to swing their haunches to one side, follow this example: If your horse evades his haunches to the right, bring your right leg further back in conjunction with the left rein. The right leg will prevent the haunches from swinging out while the left rein will stabilize the horse. The left rein is also the support that the horse leans on while he corrects himself.

It should not take long before your horse understands the basics of the rein-back. Always aim for a more relaxed movement with elastic steps and invisible aids.



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