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ReinBack with Horses. Why this exercise?

You’re back! Awesome, I really appreciate you taking the time to read this information with the goal of enhancing your knowledge. 

In this blog, I am going to talk to you about how you can improve your horse’s rein back. In part 1, I took a deep dive into the anatomy of the horse and how rein back works. Before we can improve this exercise, we need to understand what the exercise does and why it is important. If you missed part 1 click on the link below to read the full article. 

Rein back has several advantages to transforming our horse’s posture and performance ability.  In summary, the mechanics of the rein back limits biomechanical stress, which is a huge bonus is comparison to all other gaits! As we learnt from the previous blog, the diagonal, non swing phase of the fore and hind limbs, allows us to assess the separately. Protraction and retraction of the fore and hindlimbs has many benefits, including stability and strengthening of specific muscles which promotes better hindlimb engagement and balance. THE VERY FEEL AND LOOK WE SEEK AS ALL RIDERS AND TRAINERS. 

To understand about the specific benefits of rein back and a break down of which muscles are strengthened, join the Empowered Equestrian today. (Join here today)

Like everything in life, nothing is perfect and there is always a reason why and when you should not perform a specific exercise. In the case of the rein back, if your horse is suffering from TL inflammation, I do not recommend doing rein back (for a short period). Consult your therapist and vet if you are unsure. Our horse’s rely on us being their advocate! Never ignore your horse’s behaviour. If there is no pain, or underlying pathology with your horse, let’s talk about how to improve your horse’s rein back. 

How to improve your rein back: 

How to teach from the ground: 

  • No bit 

  • No rider 

  • Start against the fence for support 

  • Neutral head and neck positioning - if your horse adopts a high head carriage - step 1 is to teach the to lower their neck and head to a neutral position before asking them to do any rein back. 

  • Progress to gentle weight shifts back (no stepping back yet) 

  • Ideally the pressure and question should come from your body intension. If your relationship isn’t there yet, now is a good day to start! Apply a little pressure to the cavesson area (see image below) and with your body and intension using subtle half halts through the cavesson, ask your horse to shift their weight backwards.

  • Start with controlled and slow steps back, even if it’s just 1 or 2 steps. 

Always remember to take plenty of breaks where you don’t ask your horse any questions and let them process what you have just worked on. These reward breaks will also improve the relationship with your horse. 

  • Progress daily depending on your horse’s improvements.

Common mistakes: 

Being honest, mistakes seen when performing this movement is normally due to incorrect aids from the handler, trainer and or rider. Here are a list of some of the common mistakes I see with the rein back: 

  • Forced 

  • Rushed 

  • High head and neck position - with a disengaged core putting pressure through the back.

  • Riders leaning back and pulling on the horse’s mouth. PLEASE DO NOT DO THIS! 

  • Horse’s swinging their quarters right or left 

  • Horse’s stepping backwards with a wide stance. This often coupled with the head and neck position shortening 

To read more about the influence of head and neck positioning on hindlimb engagement, I would recommend reading this study: 


“The effect of different head and neck positions on the caudal back and hindlimb kinematics in the elite dressage horse at trot” by Rhodin et al (2009). Yes an older study, with only 7 horses assessed, however I resonate with the findings.  

To better understand your horse’s behaviours, I would also highly recommend reading Sue Dyson’s work on the pain ethogram in horses. Below are a list of studies: 

Dyson, S., Pollard, D. (2021a) Application of the Ridden Horse Pain Ethogram to elite dressage horses competing in World Cup Grand Prix Competitions. Animals 11, 1187.

Dyson, S., Pollard, D. (2021b) Application of the Ridden Horse Pain Ethogram to horses competing at the Hickstead-Rotterdam Grand Prix Challenge and the British Dressage Grand Prix National Championship 2020 and comparison with World Cup Grand Prix competitions. Animals 11, 1820

Dyson, S., Pollard, D. (2022) Application of the Ridden Horse Pain Ethogram to horses competing in British Eventing 90, 100 and Novice one-day events and comparison with performance. Animals 12, 590.

Signs of discomfort during the rein back: 

  • Swinging quarters right or left 

  • Wide hindleg stance behind stepping backwards 

  • Bracing through the back 

  • Reluctant to Engage the core, usually followed up high head and neck carriage

  • Toe dragging 

  • Swaying back (due to no flexion through the stifles during retraction phase of the hindlimbs). 

Improve your riding with rein back:

Yes, you read that correctly. If you want to improve your riding, work on reinback.

Let me explain.

Have you heard of the saying “develop more feel for your horse?”

The key reason rein back is great for developing feel, is because it is a slow movement, therefore allowing you time to assess and understand. Being patient and consistent with your rein back will allow your horse time to relax and release tension. This ability to relax will transmute into other movements like speed, control and transitions. 

If you want more information on this, email me on

I look forward to hearing from you.

Nika x

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