Neck reining is one of the most useful skills in horse riding. Not only does it tell the horse where to go but also frees up one hand so you can open gates, swish away flies, get something from your saddlebag, pat your horse, etc.
While it is not a complicated technique, neck reining does require some training for the ride to be successful. To effectively learn how to teach a horse to neck rein, let’s first answer one important question…
What Is Neck Reining?
Neck reining, is simply the signal that tells the horse where and when to turn. Think of it like steering a car, only that instead of using a steering wheel, you will be using loose, indirect straps running across your horse’s neck.
The method was invented by riders who needed one hand free to do other things. Today, it is one of the most popular techniques among western horse riders.
Still, neck reining is not the first skill a horse should learn. Even before you get here, your horse should already be familiar with basic riding skills like how to walk straight and stop, how to move their shoulders, and how to disengage their hips and hindquarters.
6 Tips to Teach Your Horse to Neck Rein
1. Understand How Neck Reining Works
Even before you start training your horse to neck rein, make sure you know how the technique works and what you need as a rider to effectively communicate with the horse.
How you use the reins will determine how the horse reacts and responds. One thing to keep in mind is that you will not be applying pressure to your equine’s mouth by pulling the reins on one side or the other. Rather, you will be operating the reins solely on the horse’s neck.
Simply lay the strap on the side of the neck you want the horse to move away from. For instance, if you want the horse to move to the left, you will gently lay the right rein on the neck of the horse. The opposite is true if you wish the horse to move to the right.
If the horse doesn’t respond correctly or just walks off, avoid the temptation to pull the rein in the direction you want them to turn. Instead, turn your horse in a tight circle, stop, then direct them again by lightly placing the rein on their neck.
Since the tight circle exerts continued pressure, the horse will eventually understand that you don’t want them to simply walk off and will try turning in the right direction.
Another important aspect to pay attention to is your leg pressure. You should squeeze your leg opposite to where you want your horse to go. It will help the horse move in the right direction.
If you want the horse to go right, for example, squeeze with your left leg, and with your right if you want them to go left. Both your leg and rein will form some kind of a boundary that will compel the animal to move in the opposite direction.
Knowing how to use these two cues together will help you communicate more clearly and effectively with your horse, which will ensure a safe, enjoyable ride. Here is a short video that tells you all about neck reining and how to do it right.
2. Work In a Safe Area
Horses are flight animals, hence, they will tend to be jumpy and restless whenever they are in an environment that makes them feel nervous or uncomfortable. For best results, consider working in a space where your horse feels safe.
Most horses will likely be more attentive in an arena or a fenced ring. Some, however, will not like the idea of being in a ring at all. Find out where your horse feels the safest and train there. They will be most attentive.
3. Pay Attention
If you are not taking the ride seriously, your horse will quickly notice your inconsistency and inattentiveness and will likely not take your instructions seriously either.
You will be forced to make rather sharp corners instead of slow, circular turns so the horse can understand that you are actually making a turn rather than just hazily roaming about.
4. Train Your Horse How to Respond to Rein Cues
Horses will differentiate a right response from a wrong one by the pressure and release of the rein. Usually, horses perceive the release of pressure as a reward and that is how they know that they have responded the right way.
To teach your horse how to correctly respond to your signals, start at a standstill and signal the horse the direction you will be turning, then ask them to step forward. If you have given your cues correctly, the animal should walk in the direction you asked them to.
It is worth mentioning that whenever you are training your horse a new trick, it is advisable to have the animal at standstill or on a slow walk. It will be much easier for them to think about the exercise and respond effectively than when on a faster gait.
To keep your horse motivated to learn, make sure to offer a reward every time they respond properly. You can give them a fresh carrot whenever they turn in the right direction or simply pat them and tell them how good they are.
5. Make Neck Reining Part of Your Regular Riding Routine
Just because your horse can turn in the right direction when you lay a rein on their neck doesn’t mean they have completely gotten the hang of the concept. Neck reining, like most horse riding techniques, can take weeks if not months to grasp.
To help your equine fully grip neck reining, make the concept a part of your normal riding. You can use it even when you are steering the horse with both hands. You could also incorporate the concept in other areas like when taking your dressage course or jumping lessons.
Continued practice will not only help the horse learn faster but also make you more confident in your rides. Even if the animal doesn’t seem to be getting things right immediately, keep helping them practice. It may take a little longer to get there but they will eventually do.
6. Don’t Rush the Horse
Work with your horse’s pace. Even if they are taking longer than expected to master something, don’t rush them. And this does not apply only to neck reining, but also to other riding techniques.
Rushing your horse can get both of you frustrated when the horse fails to respond as desired. To prevent this, only move to the next level when the animal is able to accomplish the current level comfortably and effectively.
Taking things slow will help you catch any mistakes in training as soon as they happen and address them as you go rather than dealing with them all when everything explodes because of rushed training.
Eventually, you will be able to neck rein effectively, and there is no better feeling than watching you and your beloved equine make progress in learning something new together.
For more insights on how to teach a horse to neck rein and how to properly transition from riding with two hands to riding with one, watch this video.
Common Errors to Avoid When Teaching A Horse to Neck Rein
Do not exert too much pressure on the rein
If you are neck reining and your horse won’t turn, do not exert excess pressure on the horse’s neck to turn their head where you want them to go. Because you are holding the rein with one hand, this will only force the horse to turn the wrong way. Instead, switch to two hands (direct reining) and pull the interior rein to turn the horse.
Avoid making unnecessary hand movements
Try to keep your hands as steady as possible, especially when neck reining, as the horse can interpret some of these minor movements as a signal to turn.
Address Any Mistakes In Your Technique Early
We cannot emphasize enough the importance of correcting errors early in the technique. If you do something wrong in your neck reining routine and continue doing it, your horse will start expecting this error, thinking that it is a part of the learning process. You will want to correct any blunders as soon as you identify them.
Neck reining is a great skill for riders who like to have a free hand when steering their horses. While it may seem almost second-nature for expert riders, for beginners, this concept can be deceptively difficult.
Start by understanding how the technique works, then find a safe area to train your horse. Take things slow, keeping in mind that some horses learn quicker than others. So, even if yours doesn’t grasp things faster than you expected, keep training them; they will eventually get there. After all, practice makes perfect.