The Indirect Rein of Opposition Behind the Withers


The fifth and final rein aid, the Indirect Rein of Opposition Behind the Wither, is perhaps the most important in executing more advanced movements as well as helping balance a horse on circles and in turns, whether in dressage or hunt seat schooling.

Again, because the technical name of this rein aid is a mouthful, I will refer to it in future as “the Indirect Behind.”

The Indirect Behind, like it’s cousin the Indirect in Front, is a rein of opposition, which means that it creates its effect by opposing forward impulsion and therefore has a blocking and somewhat collecting effect on the horse.


To use this rein, the rider simply brings the hand slightly behind the wither and in line with the horse’s opposite hip, as always being careful not to cross the mane. In this position, the rider simply closes the fingers and offers resistance. This temporary resistance blocks the horse’s impulsion on that side causing the horse to bend evenly throughout his body. In addition, the horse will load both the outside hind and outside shoulder, and will have a tendency to move forward and out through both. While the hind is the predominant point of balance here, exactly how much each quarter is loaded can be influenced by the use of an opening outside Direct Rein (to place more balance on the shoulder) or Direct Rein of Opposition (to increase loading of the hind). Leg and weight aids also influence this rein aid greatly.


Imagine drawing a line from the corner of the horse’s mouth, through his body to his opposite hip, and you will have a good approximation of the angle this rein should take. The key to this rein is, as its name suggests, taking the hand behind the wither. While a few inches might not seem like it would make much difference, here inches make all the difference in the world. Taking the hand behind the wither bends the horse behind the wither. Keeping the hand in front of the wither, as in the Indirect in Front, bends the horse in front of the wither. As with all reins of opposition, this rein is not pulled toward the outside hip, but simply positioned in line with it while the fingers are closed and the hand resists. In fact, because this rein is such a powerful aid, sometimes just the positioning of the hand with light contact is enough to get an effect from the horse, without ever having to offer resistance. And, though it is probably obvious by now, it bears repeating that the hand never crosses the mane when giving this aid. It may be necessary to lengthen the rein a little before applying this aid to make sure the horse is not over-bent to the inside.


While the Indirect in Front pushes the shoulder out and toward the rear, the Indirect Behind bends the horse “evenly” from nose-to-tail while impelling both the hindquarter and the shoulder outward from the middle, making it an indispensable rein for lateral work of all kinds.

It has an obvious role as an inside rein in sideward movements (if not true lateral movements) like leg-yielding and shoulder-in, as well as holding a horse out on a circle or into a turn, spiraling out (and in, when the horse needs re-balancing,) setting up a roll-back or volte, etc.. But it is also critical in positioning and balancing the horse for more advanced lateral movements such as in travers and renvers, half pass, etc. in which a driving outside leg can move the horse into the direction of bend.

Compatible Reins:

Because this rein can influence the loading of both the outside hind and shoulder, it can be safely paired with either an outside Direct Rein of Opposition or an ordinary Direct Rein respectively, depending on the desired effect. For example, to encourage the horse to move more sideways than forward or to lead more with the shoulder, an opening Direct Rein would work. To set up a canter transition or collect the horse in preparation for, say, a pirouette, an outside Direct Rein of Opposition might be called for, and so on.


As always with reins of opposition, there is a lot of potential for abuse of this rein, but by now readers should understand the pitfalls of pulling a rein of opposition or crossing the mane. What I find more worrisome is that few trainers even make a mention of the different reins, or confuse them, and when they are actually mentioned, they are seriously misunderstood. For example, modern manuals on hunt seat riding claim that the Indirect Behind is a corrective rein only, and should never be used in turning or lateral work, etc.. While I would agree that the primary turning rein for all horses and riders is and always should be the simple Direct “leading” Rein, a rider would not get very far without the Indirect Behind at the more advanced levels.

It is a powerful rein, and must be used judiciously and with tact, but I think it is a mistake to dispense with it entirely. George Morris has often claimed that advanced riders should use ONLY a Direct Rein of Opposition for turning (my arguments against this can be found here,) and that the greatest degree of bend a horse should ever have is just enough to see the outside corner of his eye (so it’s no wonder he also claims all horses should go in a slow twist snaffle or stronger, among other preposterous notions.) That is all well and good when one is hacking in the field on loose reins, but how, exactly, does one ride a volte, etc, without a greater degree of bend than that? Whatever happened to relating bend to the curvature of the line being ridden? And, if we can agree that the Direct rein of Opposition is inappropriate for turning and bending, that leaves only the Direct “leading” Rein; how, exactly, does one keep the horse balanced on a small circle or short turn with a “leading” rein, since this rein loads the inside shoulder? One doesn’t make a short turn at speed entirely on the inside shoulder, especially if there is a jump at the other side of it – unless we’d like our hunters and dressage horses to go like barrel-racers.

So I suppose what I am saying is that, while this rein should be reserved for more advanced riders and more technical movements, it should not be shunned in favor of more restrictive aids or bigger bits and spurs either. There is a reason we have five distinctly functional rein aids at our disposal as riders – I would not be so quick to throw any of them away simply out of fashion.