Riding exercise of the month: trot-halt-rein back-trot

Every winter when the clocks go back and it gets darker earlier and earlier, I always go through a few weeks of experiencing a persistent grumpy mood, a loss of interest in just about everything and constantly feeling lethargic and sleepy during the day - I wouldn't say that it's seasonal affective disorder since it only lasts for a few weeks but I do think it's the winter blues hitting me hard. But now that a few weeks have passed and I've started feeling better and more like myself again - it's time for one of my favourite riding exercises, the trot-halt-rein back-trot!
The trot-halt-rein back-trot is a fabulous exercise for creating a quick burst of engagement in your horse’s movement. I was taught this in one of my lessons with Andrew Fletcher years ago with Vallu and it's one of those exercises that I always go back to whenever I need a little bit more oomph from the horses. It's a great chance to practice getting sharp responses from your horse, especially for getting them to think more quickly. Obviously first do your normal warm up, and then once you're ready find a nice rhythmical trot. When you feel like your horse is ready, ask for a prompt halt. Make sure you are not pulling back on the reins to halt. When the horse stands still, ask for  3-4 steps rein back and then go forward into a trot from the rein back. And repeat again, again and again until it feels good. The repetitions that you do within this exercise allows the horse to naturally improve each time, because they can start to anticipate what comes next. 

The first few attempts of doing this exercise won't normally be that great. I never worry about the first 5 attempts, because the beauty of this exercise is repetition. Once you've done your first few, your horse will start to figure out what they're meant to do next, so that after the rein back they'll start to guess that they need to move properly forwards into the trot (or sometimes canter, like Melisse here ⬇️)
With this exercise there's a few little things that you need to focus on. First, get a good halt by using your body and not by pulling on the reins. Also, don’t pull back with your hands for the rein back, just keep your hands closed and slide your legs slightly back and lean slightly forward. I've taught my horses a voice command with their ground work so that I can always use my voice to encourage to take a few steps back. After a few attempts start to expect a prompt trot from your leg aids - if your horse doesn’t trot off immediately, you need to make them more responsive. The sharper your horse is, the better this exercise will work for you. If your horse doesn’t respond to a light leg aid, increase the pressure until you get a prompt transition. And always pat when they get it right!

Whilst there are many fabulous tools for improving hind end engagement, I love this exercise for it’s simplicity and because it gives you the chance to continuously praise your horse. Let me know how get along with this in the comments below!

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