How To Teach Your Horse To Neck Rein

What is neck rein and is it hard to learn?  Why is it important? 

 Neck reining is a type of indirect aid and is very helpful if you need to keep your hands free.  Read on to find out what neck reining is and how to do it.

What Does It Mean

When a horse is neck reined, this means that your horse has learned that a light pressure of the right rein against their neck on that side means that the horse is to turn left and vice versa.  It can be used in both Western and English riding, although the style is different.

Why Should You Teach Your Horse To Neck Rein?

It is a useful skill to be able to guide your horse with one hand.  It makes things like carrying something, opening gates without dismounting, and swishing away flies on a trail ride much easier.  Even if you are not an advanced rider, it is still a safe, fun, and easy thing to teach your horse.  Depending on how quickly your horse learns and your skill, it can take several days for your horse to learn this skill.

How To Neck Rein Your Horse

1. Mount Up

When you mount your horse, hold a rein in each hand, and start at a walk.  You will need to slacken the grip on the reins slightly if you are accustomed to riding on contact-always feeling tension on the reins.  Doing it this way, when you cue with the rein against the neck, you are not pulling on the bit accidentally as well.  You do not want your horse to tip his head to the outside but lead into the turn with his nose.

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2. Start Guiding Your Horse

Start walking in a straight line and then turn a sharp corner of about a 90-degree angle.  As you start to turn the corner, cue with the inside rein, your legs, and seat aid as usual.  Lay the outside rein against the neck of your horse.  Lift your hand so that the rein makes positive, clear contact against the mid-section of their neck.

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3. Give Consistent Cues

As you come out of each turn, return your hands to the normal direct reining position.  Make sure that you are being careful not to pull on the outside rein that you are laying against your horse’s neck as you could confuse them.

4. Keep The Session Short

When you teach your horse to neck rein, make many turns, changing directions frequently.  You need to be able to visualize where and how you want to make your turns every time you are on a straightway.  Do this for 15 minutes over several days.  It is more effective to have several short sessions than one long one.  Do not follow the same pattern each time you ride.  The horse may learn the pattern and will ignore the rein aid against their neck.  

5. Change the Order Of Cue

After doing a few sessions, try to make the neck rein cue first before putting any contact on the bit.  As soon as the horse starts into the turn, release any contact with the bit, but leave the rein on the neck until you want to stop the turn.  If your horse wanders out of the turn, squeeze the inside rein slightly.  This will remind the horse of the direction.  

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6. Hold Reins In One Hand

You will no longer need to cue with the inside rein when your horse consistently responds to the neck rein cue.  Hold the reins in one hand.  Traditionally when you neck rein your horse you use your non-dominant hand.  This will leave your dominant hand free to open a gate or work a lasso.  You can choose to use whichever hand you want if you are going to encounter a few gates or will not be roping any cattle.

7. Be Patient

When you are teaching your horse to neck rein, you have to be patient.  Some horses need extra time to learn while others are fast learners.  You need to remember that at the same time you are teaching your horse, you are also teaching yourself.  Once the horse has learned the neck rein cue, you will only need to occasionally practice.

black horse in a forest

Tips To Help Neck Rein Your Horse

  • The inside rein is what guides the horse in the direction that you want to go.  This is called the leading rein. The leading rein on a left turn is the left rein and on a right turn, the leading rein is the right rein.
  • No matter if you are reining with one or both hands, your body and legs are an important part of the clue.  Do not concentrate so hard on your hands that you forget everything else.
  • If you work in an area or fenced area, your horse will likely be more attentive.  Some horses do not like being in a ring so work wherever you feel safe and your horse will be attentive.
  • Make sure that you are riding with intention.  If you are day dreaming or vague, your horse will quickly pick up on your inconsistency and inattentiveness and will not take your commands seriously.
  • Be sure to work in rather sharp corners than in circular or gradual turns so your horse knows that you are making a definite turn and not just wandering around.
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Conclusion

  • When you have taught your horse to neck rein, it makes you feel surer in your horse’s control level.
  • It gives you a free hand if you want to pat your horse, point out a trail hazard, open gates, etc.
  • Neck reining is a good skill for any horse to learn.
  • If you are using split reins, each one should be 7 ½ feet and one-half to three-quarters inches wide.
  • You do not always have to walk your horse when teaching neck rein.  You can also trot or lope as you will not always be walking your horse when riding or working.
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