One of the moves Zelda and I have been practicing is the rein back. It seems pretty simple, right? Just take a few steps back instead of forward. But it can look pretty sticky if you don’t practice it and if you do it right, the benefits are significant. It helps to raise the horse’s back and lower his croup, encouraging him to place more weight on his hind legs and it helps make your horse stronger. As a training aid, it helps test how well your horse understands and accepts leg, seat and haind aids.
Backing creates engagement by bringing the horse’s hind legs underneath him and it shows his hindquarters how to carry more weight. With the added engagement in the rein-back, the frame shortens and the back comes up. The horse uses his hind legs to move forward out of the movement, teaching him the concept of thrust. Rein-back helps the horse understand the principle of the half halt because he accepts the whoa aids by adding weight to the hind legs and he accepts the go aids by developing pushing power or thrust. With the added obedience, sense of forwardness, engagement and thrust, throughness improves. The rider learns to direct each step of the horse with the tact and finesse necessary to achieve correct steps.Lendon Gray
Start from the Ground
Rein back is one of the few skills we teach our horses that can be started from the ground. The added benefit is that once you’ve taught your horse how to back up it makes it easier to work with her in the barn or when you’re trailering. Your horse should always back up easily on command.
While standing in front of your horse, give them a verbal cue and then press on your horse’s chest with your hand or a whip. Try not to use the halter or bridle when asking your horse to back up so the focus is on his body rather than on his face.
Use Ground Help while Mounted
When you start to teach the rein-back from the saddle, it can be helpful to have a person on the ground to reinforce the command by pressing on your horse’s chest.
Starting from a square halt, slide your legs back slightly, lighten your seat so your horse’s back can come up. Say “back” as you did when working on the ground. Squeeze your leg to ask your horse to lift her foot and at the same time, close your fingers, but don’t pull back. Rinse and repeat for each step.
Start with just a couple of steps. When performed correctly, the rein-back is a two-beat movement in a straight line, with your horse’s legs moving in diagonal pairs. The poll should remain at the highest point.
When your horse is comfortable with the rein back you can increase the number of steps and even back a few steps up a slight incline. I do several rein backs every time I ride. It’s part of our routine and given that she’s a long, long horse, anything I can do to help her reduce the weight on her forehand and carry more weight on her haunches will help her become more balanced and stronger in everything we do.
Is this something you incorporate into your daily rides? How has it helped your horse?