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Back it Up - How To Master The Rein Back
 By Polo the Weirdo   •   25th May 2013   •   4,295 views   •   2 comments
This article serves to handle that one part of every dressage test that I – and most riders I know – dread with all our hearts. I’m sure you know the feeling. The stunning rhythmic trot, the perfect square halt (And here you start thinking ‘Yeah! Show me those eights!), and then suddenly, it all falls apart - with a giraffe neck and heinously swinging quarters – as you try to convince your horse that the world he lives in holds some logical reason for moving backwards. Maybe it makes sense to do it when you’re chasing him out of the feed room with a pitchfork, but to rein back at A? Well, what on earth would be the point of that?

The point, of course, is this:

A correctly performed rein back serves to keep a horse working through its back, engaging its quarters, and improving its collection. For this reason, rein backs are used not only in dressage, but in many other disciplines too, even showjumping. Oftentimes if you go to watch a big show, you’ll see the top riders rein their horses back before they start their course. This quickly gets the horse’s quarters engaged, and allows for a better quality of jump throughout. There is no horse that will not benefit from a correct rein back.

How To Master The Rein Back

That being said, just what is a ‘correct’ rein back? You just want the horse to move backwards, right? Wrong. The rein back should be a forward, two-beat movement where the horse steps backwards, moving its legs in diagonal pairs. He should remain soft through the back and neck, not resisting the contact and leaning against the bit, and he must be straight. You must make sure that the horse is using his back as opposed to simply shuffling backwards, and that he is not avoiding the work by swinging his quarters to the side and going crooked. These are problems often encountered in horses who – like mine – are stiff through the back and hindquarters. To make the rein back easier on your horse, make sure that he is properly warmed up first, and do lots of loosening and suppling exercises, particularly leg yields and transitions to get him engaging his quarters. Remember that a horse must have perfected a forward, square halt before he will be able to learn to rein back. A rein back from a bad halt is a bad rein back.

So now we know what not to do, but really that’s just moving backwards, isn't it? Instead, let’s look at what we are supposed to do.

To teach the rein back, it is often a good idea to have somebody on the ground to back up your aids with a schooling whip, or even applying the ground aid for a rein back by pushing on the horse’s chest. This is only to help the horse to understand. When it comes to actually asking for the rein back, that is your job alone.

What is important to remember is that the rein back is a forward movement, driven by the seat and legs. Sitting there and hauling your poor horse’s teeth out until he runs backwards to avoid the contact simply serves no purpose. What you want to do is this:

Establish a good halt. Square, soft and obedient. Keep your horse alert and attentive so he doesn’t plant himself there.

Lighten your seat. Taking the weight off the horse’s back allows him to use it more easily and move more freely through it.

Shift your legs slightly back behind the girth to keep the horse straight.

With your seat and legs, apply the aids to go forward, whilst blocking the forward movement by keeping a steady contact. Note that you should never pull the horse back with your hands, but they should remain firm and steady. Think of your hands as a wall that your horse can’t walk through, and thus must back away from, rather than a bulldozer pushing him backwards. The hands serve only to contain the movement, so when the horse realizes that he cannot release the energy that your legs have generated in a forward direction, he must do so backwards instead.

At first, the horse may struggle to understand, which is why it is important to have somebody on the ground at first. The rein back is not a natural movement, so most horses will resist at first, but you must make sure that you use a lot of praise and encouragement when he gets it right so that he learns to want to do it. Don’t be greedy. Only ask for two or three steps at first until your horse understands completely what is being asked of him. Rather do fewer steps of a better rein back, than more of a bad one.

Follow these steps, and with a bit of luck and a lot of hard work, you should soon be backing your way to the top.
Emmurr  
Yet another excellent article!
One way I've learned to teach the rein back (Credit all goes to Mark Rashid and his book "horses never lie") Simply shift your weight back, putting pressure on the rein. As soon as you feel a simple 'wave' of energy shifting backwards, even the slightest shift in his weight (Note: Don't even think about the feet moving, just feel his weight shift back), as soon as you feel this, release the pressure and return your seat to normal again. ( Usually say "back" while I'm doing it, this way if I'm opening a gate I don't need the seat so much- not easy when you're leaning forward holding a gate to open!) Keep doing this exercise until eventually he'll get the idea and move a foot, then another foot, and so on. It really does make your horse softer to the idea of going back. It's great!
Although this isn't exactly textbook dressage rein back... xD
  May 26, 2013  •  4,533 views
 
Copper711  
Love this!!! Very informative and it will help me with Copper when I am reining backXD
  Jun 4, 2013  •  4,476 views
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