You will hear some English Riding Instructors’  say that you should never reverse an English trained competition horse because it will stop the horse halting square or even worse STEP BACK. Heaven forbid.

The funny thing is though, that as soon as you get to the  Elementary or third level dressage, you have to reverse up to five steps and most do it very badly.

All Western competition horses have to reverse. It is part of their every day training and a movement in every event. With your general pleasure horse…it matters not.

So which way should we go? What are the pros and cons?


The reasons why we should reverse our horses far outweigh the reasons why we shouldn’t. Here are the reasons why we should.

    •   If the young horse learns to reverse on command, it always does it well  Trying to teach ‘old dogs new tricks’ never gets the perfect result.
    •  If the young horse can reverse, it will always have a better mouth.   WHY? Because horses with reverse gear included in  their mind will always have better mouths. That’s because they have a balanced expectation of where they may be going next or what gear they may be put into rather than only thinking the forward and faster to overdrive gears. It puts balance into a horses mind. I call it ‘speed rating’
    • The horse that reverses almost always has better brakes.
    • If you are a Trail Rider, you may want to reverse back rather than hurt your horse in the rabbit burrows or the from the brown snake just in front of you. You may want to open a gate even.

Most riders do not back their horses correctly and as a result, most horses do not back correctly. Even some Australian Olympic riders, so don’t feel bad.


With the Breaker or ‘Green Breaker’, you will NOT be using leg!!!!!

The greener the young horse is the more hand and less leg you will be able to use. As the horse progressively understands leg better, you can start to introduce a little as you ask for the back up and increase it over time until the hand is totally eliminated as with the trained horse. For the mature horse however, do this:


    • Bring your horse to the halt.
    • Stand for five seconds at least.
    • Pick up your contact to the point where you have “Shut the front gate” In other words, if the horse attempts to move forward it cannot.
    •  Fix your hands in concrete at that precise position.
    •  Go from your proper upright riding position to breaking at your hips and promoting your weight down and slightly back .
    •  Move your legs slightly backwards and put “Leg On” If it is already on (English horse) increase it.

The horse then has a number of choices.

    • If the horse doesn’t react, just tap your legs to increase the hints.
    • Keep the horse straight.


    • Rear
    • Walk sideways
    • Reverse

Should the horse go to rear (see rearers) go easy and slowly until the horse understands, and above all, throw the reins away and lean forward.

When it has stepped, even half a step, release your legs and your hands totally and it will stop. Forget about the correctness of the rules of your chosen Discipline here. We are just trying to get the message across to the horse as to what we want and how it is supposed to react.

Remember that the first message that the horse identifies as correct is the most important one of all. The foundation basis is lodged into the brain of the horse from that day on.


Very few riders’ that I watch, can have enough trust in the horse and training systems to be actually able to leave their hands still and to not ‘haul’ on the mouth. This is the key to this training system. You must not sneak your hands backwards, even if the horse is not reversing yet.


    •   It reversed because it answered leg and went somewhere.
    •   Because it couldn’t go forward it elected to go backwards.
    • Hopefully, when it did, the rider released and gave the ‘reward and relief’ to signify to the horse that it had done well.


    •         Because riders pull them backwards with brute force by using their hands.
    •         This causes resistance and horses that throw their head up or above the bit.
    •         This causes the horse to think upwardly, not about breaking at the pole and down.

All well trained horses do things because they answer leg.


    •  When the horse backs your hands must not move one millimeter from where you ‘shut the gate.’
    • This causes the horse to get reward and relief for reversing softly on the bit and for not resisting.
    •  The horse breaks at the poll instead of putting it’s head up and resisting.
    •  If you move your hands backwards and steal from the horse the loop in the rein that it gave, you have penalized the trust that the horse gave your hands. You are penalizing the horse   for being good. That does not make a ‘Trainer’

As time goes on, the horse will understand the system more and more and will move backwards off your leg with more co-operation.


    •  Simply increase leg just the same as you do to go forward. This is why you must use leg and nothing but, to reverse your horse.
  • At the start, you will most probably get confusion and you will have trouble in resisting the temptation to pull with your hands but you must not. Just increase your leg or even kick.

Remember, sophistication comes later.


If you are a Western Competitor…..are you allowed to pull on the reins whilst reversing?  No, you are not. If you are an English Competitor….are you marked down for a thing called ‘Resistance’? The answer is, yes.


Yes, I am listening too



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