Your horse may already take a few steps back when asked, but with the Western method of rein-back you can teach him how to move backwards with minimal rein contact, says Western rider and trainer David Deptford.
Start this exercise with a light rein pressure to ask your horse to go back. As you do this, rock your seatbone back and push your weight down to your heels. Your horse needs to learn these signals to prompt him to back up and eventually, you should be able to send him backwards just by rocking your pelvis back and using light rein contact.
Exercise: teach him how to step back
Halt him in the middle of the arena with his feet positioned in diagonal pairs, rather than square. If your horse has his right fore positioned forward, you’re going to ask him to step back with his right fore first, and vice versa.
Once positioned, hold your reins loosely over your horse’s wither, so that you can feel the weight of the reins rather than a contact with his mouth. Then:
- With your right hand, add pressure to the right rein.
- Gently lean back in the saddle while squeezing with your legs and pushing your weight down through your heels.
- Once your horse has taken his right leg back release the pressure on the right side.
- Establish your starting position again (this time his left fore will be positioned forward) and use your left rein to send him back.
- Ask him for one step, then stop.
- Release the pressure on the reins and walk your horse forward.
Praise him and repeat the process on both sides again. Once you’ve mastered this you can move onto the next exercise.
Exercise: ask him to back up
Position your horse as you did at the beginning of the first exercise. This time you’ll be asking your horse to take multiple steps back in a straight line and in a fluid motion. As your horse’s rein back improves, he’ll become more responsive to your aids and he’ll also become softer in his jaw and lower back.
- Adopt your starting position then shift your weight back in the saddle while squeezing with your legs. This is the prompt to step backward you taught your horse in the previous exercise.
- Maintain soft pressure on the reins before asking him to move his foot. Release that pressure when he does and coordinate your right rein with his right foot and your left rein with his left foot to keep him moving back evenly.
- Once he’s backed up several steps — or the length of three horses — release the pressure on the reins and walk him forward.
If your horse backs up in a crooked line, it can help to stand him alongside the fence of your arena so he’s more inclined to stay straight as he moves back.
Meet the expert: David Deptford is a Western rider and trainer based in Cambridgeshire. He is a level 3 UKCC level coach and he has represented Great Britain four times in reining.
Main photo = stock image