Posted by Irina Yastrebova on Wednesday, April 29, 2009 09:07 PM
The definition of reinback from the FEI Rules Book. The FEI rules for Dressage can be found on the FEI website
  1. The reinback is a rearward diagonal movement with a two beat rhythm but without a moment of suspension. Each diagonal pair of legs is raised and returned to the ground alternately, with the forelegs aligned on the same track as the hind legs.
  2. During the entire exercise, the horse should remain "on the bit", maintaining its desire to move forward.
  3. Anticipation or precipitation of the movement, resistance to or evasion of the contact, deviation of the hindquarters from the straight line, spreading or inactive hind legs and dragging forefeet are serious faults.
  4. After completing the required number of steps backward, the horse shows:
    a) a square halt or
    b) moves forward immediately in the required pace...

The reinback has always been valued by old masters as a great exercise to develop collection and obedience. It flexes horses haunches and makes a horse sit. To move smoothly forward from a reinback requires a horse to change momentum with precise control of the body balance. Backward movement is not natural for a horse. Willingness and calmness of execution shows a great degree of training and obedience developed by the horse.
When a horse steps backwards he has to transfer his weight to the haunches. However, the transfer has nothing to do with horse's body sliding backwards until the horse loses his balance and must catch himself from falling. This kind of reinback is incorrect and happens mostly from too much rein action and from rider's leaning backwards to initiate the movement.
If you take a dressage book and read on how to execute the reinback you will find the leg aids are very important for the exercise. Some masters point out that both legs must move behind the girth for the reinback. This way the horse can distinguish between leg aids of other movements. I found that just lower leg backwards is not enough for a smooth well executed reinback. One of the very important pieces of the reinback puzzle is light backwards pressing of the thighs. For me, this initiates the reinback, lower legs come after. This aid is so clear and definite for the horse he does not need anything else to know we are in reinback. My lower legs can increase energy of the steps or regulate the tempo, but my thighs tell my horse what we are doing. For me the sequence of aids for a reinback is:
  • After a square halt I do not soften the rein. But I do not pull backwards neither.
  • I keep my core engaged and my body vertical. No leaning backwards or loading of my seatbones.
  • I lightly press my thighs backwards. This action do not squeeze the horse because my thighs are rotated in and flat on the saddle.
  • Immediately I touch my horse with my lower legs which are behind the girth. Action of my thighs put lower legs in such position. I touch with the rhythm of the walk.
  • A soon as my horse initiates the first step I soften my wrists.
  • To start moving forward I stop my thighs pressing backwards, my legs come back to the girth and ask the horse to go forward. I soften my reins without losing contact.
When I teach this sequence to my students they are always surprised by how quickly their horses understand what is asked of them. And how little is needed to do a reinback. They often say:" But I almost doing nothing!" which is the whole point of dressage training.
To execute a reinback as described in FEI rule book requires a lot of practice and many things can go not as planned initially. However, by minimizing rein aids and shifts in your balance and by making legs primary aids you will avoid many typical problems and show your horse from the start that reinback requires active and engaged hindquarters.
Happy riding...
Comment by Debbie Kimble on Sunday, May 31, 2009 04:03 PM
Thanks for helpful info. Can you offer advise for horse who throws head up when asked for reinback? He will promptly move backwards with minimal request, but does not stay on the bit.
Comment by Irina Yastrebova on Thursday, June 4, 2009 10:40 AM
I apologies it took me so long to get to you, Debbie. I was extremely busy a few days. First of all a few questions to you:
- Does he stay on a bit for downward transitions, especially halt? If he is not start there and work with him on halting from your seat with minimum rein aid and staying on the bit.
- Does he stay on bit from halt to trot? If not you need to fix that first.
If he is good in transitions and only does it in reinback make sure you are not leaning backwards when asking him for reinback, even slightly. Do not shift more weight into your seatbones. He may be objecting that and throwing his head up.
After halt keep contact on the reins but do not stiffen your wrists or elbow joints. You can even play with your fingers a little bit, slowly moving them like sifting sand through the closed fingers.
When you use your legs pay attention that you do not grab and hold or squeeze, that you only touch with your calf muscles toned and heels slightly lower than toes.
Ask for a reinback right after turn on the forehand.
Good luck!
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