Patterns for the Weekend: Getting Better Hind End Engagement

Getting great movement from your horse requires the combination of a number of elements, but hind end engagement is one of the key factors. Without it, impulsion is nearly impossible. Read on for a great exercise to get your horse to engage his hind end:

Adobe Stock/skumer

Engaging your horse’s hind end is sort of like activating the rear wheel drive in your horse — you need your horse to push from behind rather than pull from the front. Pushing from behind makes the front end lighter and true uphill movement can be achieved.

Here’s one exercise to get your horse’s legs more underneath his body so that his weight can rick back. The great thing about this exercise is that any rider at any level can do it.

Trot to Halt to Rein Back to Trot

Before you move into any drill, be sure to get your horse fairly warmed up. As you move into this exercise, get your horse moving forward in a rhythmic trot. When ready, ask for a prompt halt. Do not pull back on the reins for your halt — use your body and tighten your fingers around the reins.

Once your horse has stopped and is still, ask for a rein back. Only go about three to four steps. From there, promptly move forward into a trot. Repeat this until you get the hind end engagement you’re looking for.

Your first round of this probably won’t be great, but don’t worry. The key to this exercise is repetition. Once you get through a few cycles, your horse will start to figure out what he is supposed to do and should start to propel himself into the trot.

Tips For Success: 

  1. This exercise is best for horses that have already mastered the trot-to-halt and the halt-to-trot. However, if you’re still working on that, this will help you get there faster. Your horse won’t get as much hind end engagement, but it will help.
  2. For this exercise to really work, you need a quality trot, a quality halt, and a quality rein back. If these aren’t crisp, you won’t get good results. Repeating the exercise allows the horse to improve each time, so improvement will come. But don’t leave all the work to the horse. Focus on quality as you go so that the horse can get better results.
  3. Get a good halt by using your body and not by pulling on the reins. Think about transitioning “up” into the halt, and add some leg as you squeeze your hands closed to halt.
  4. Don’t pull back with your hands to rein back. Keep your hands closed and slide your legs slightly back and lean slightly forward.
  5. Expect a prompt trot by the lightest pressure from you legs. If the horse doesn’t trot off immediately, you need to make him 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 the next time, you should get a sharper response. If you don’t, you need to give an aid that will get your point across.
  6. Expect quickness
  7. For Dressage riders, don’t do this exercise when you have a show in the near future or your horse might start backing up when you halt at X and salute.

This exercise has been adapted from The Refined Rider. You can follow them here.