Rein-Back – In The End It’s Not About Reversing Its About Going Forwards! How Do I Teach My Horse To Rein-Back?


Is Horse Scout Blogger all back to front today? No, I promise I am not.  Every movement you ever do on a horse that you are training whether it’s a racehorse, an eventer or a star show pony needs to be moving with forwards in mind…..even in reverse!

Teaching a horse to rein-back starts with good stable manners, and rein-back begins as something learned from the ground.  In the wild a horse would very rarely rein-back, however in a trained horse it has huge benefits. n.b. this is not, necessarily, a movement I would try from the back of a horse that I am buying, but it is always quite useful to watch a horse reversing from the ground before making any decisions.

Here I have six of one and half a dozen of the other – so you don’t half bake your rein back.

What is rein back for?

  1. On a practical level being able to rein-back is very useful when you are riding a horse: opening gates becomes much easier if your horse assists you rather than stands against the gate! Removing yourself from a crowd out hunting or in a warm up arena makes it easy to extricate yourself from potentially explosive situations, and so on.
  2. For the horse it can have several benefits.
  3. It is one of the movements you can use to check you have his full attention.
  4. It also has a benefit in stretching the horse over his back.
  5. In advanced training it shows obedience to the aids
  6. Also when collection is established and combined with transitions it can lend elevation and spring to the onward pace

How do I do it?

  1. Start from the ground.
  2. Start by standing beside your horse just at the front of his shoulder facing backwards. Take hold of his bridle but do not pull back. You are merely stopping him moving forwards.
  3. Make a closed cup with you free hand and place it either side of the point of his shoulder and press with the thumb on the inside of the point, as you feel him react and move away say “back” in a firm but light way.
  4. Do not be tempted to push him back, wait for him to move away from the pressure of your hand and immediately take the pressure off and praise him when he does. Soon you will find he responds to the merest touch to this point. He will also learn to respond to the word or hand as he anticipates the contact.
  5. Continue to use the word back until you are ready to ride the movement.
  6. Be clear in your intention and always use the same voice tone, the same hold on the bridle or headcollar and point and style of contact; otherwise you may find he wrongly cues and starts backing up on incorrect cues.

Move on to riding the movement

  1. As soon It’s a good idea to have someone on the ground to help you when teaching this movement. Hal squarely: establish the halt but do not wait for the energy to dissipate. Make use of the side of the arena fence or wall and have your helper stand beside and just slightly in front of your horse’s outside shoulder.
  2. Next, apply the aids for rein-back: incline your body slightly forward to lighten your seat, take both your legs back behind the girth and squeeze gently while resisting any forward movement with the reins. Do not pull on the reins as this will make your horse stiffen.
  3. While you apply the aids, ask your helper to put a hand on the horse’s chest in the way he has leaned and push him back gently, saying the word “back”. This mirrors the commands taught for handling a horse from the ground and if he has been taught this correctly he will go backwards for your helper. In time he will learn also to associate your ridden aids with stepping calmly back and you can gradually remove the ground actions. Ask your helper to repeat the same command, but without actually touching your horse, then to stand further away, dropping the voice aid and eventually moving away altogether. By this stage you should be able to rein-back solo.
  4. It is important to monitor the quality of your rein-back.  Do not perform them too often or the horse may begin to use this option as a form of evasion.  Always make sure that the movement is measured and has a calm purposeful cadence to it with a definite one two beat and movement behind the saddle.
  5. If your horse begins to scoot or stiffen begin again from the ground but also check that there are no physical problems which may be causing this evasion.
  6. As I said it is best to have a helper on hand.  If you are looking for a trainer near you then check out the Horse Scout Professional Trainers list and find someone to help with your rein back progress.