By Jennifer Klitzke
Back in the days when I rode classical dressage on hard trotting horses, rein back was commonly not introduced until the horse reached second level. And even when it was introduced, I had never used it as a means of improving engagement until Bucky Sparks introduced its application at a B.L.E.S.S. your walking horse clinic. He encouraged riders with horses of all ages and training levels to use it.
I like to introduce the rein back to the horse from the ground to help the horse get the concept. Afterwards I teach the horse rein back while in the saddle.
There are numerous methods to get the horse to step backward. Among the most effective is the method which I learned at a B.L.E.S.S. clinic.
How to produce a soft and round rein back
At a halt, get the horse soft and round on the bit, then raise your front seatbone off the saddle and tap on the horse’s sides in front of the girth while saying “back.” As the horse offers a step back, stops cuing and let the horse think about it. Then try it again a few times before asking the horse for consecutive steps. Then alternate your leg cue with the corresponding hind leg of the horse.
After the horse is consistent with rein back, I ask for larger steps backward and tap my riding crop on the horse’s shoulder to encourage the backward movement. Soon, the larger steps can be accomplished without the encouragement of the riding crop.
In November 2008, I audited the Larry Whitesell clinic held in Minnesota which was hosted by the Rocky Mountain Horse Club. His application of rein back cues was unlike anything I had seen before. After he gets the horse on-the-bit at a halt, he sits up straight and applies the lower leg behind the girth, and then he taps the riding crop on the horse’s croup. At first, the horse wanted to move forward, but ran into the soft contact of the rider’s hands. After a few tries, the horse grasped the concept and produced a beautifully engaged rein back.
If you’re interested in showing Walking Horses, the rein back is a required movement in most classes. So get good at it and while you do, you’ll discover just how much the rein-back improves the roundness and engagement of the forward gaits.