I was on a forum the other day when I came across an English rider amazed and curious about how Western riders use one hand to ride. Reading the article made me realize how much I forget to appreciate the direct rein. I posted my answer to her question since I have taught several horses this very important skill and then it occurred to me that this would be a great subject for a new article.
First, let’s talk about why we teach our horses neck reining, and then we will get into the how-to. Neck reining is a great skill for a horse because it frees up a hand when you need it. One of your arms could be unusable, you may need to open a gate, you may be leading a horse to another area and can’t tie it to your saddle horn, or whatever other tasks you may have. I feel it is essential for all horses (yes even English trained) to know how to neck rein, even if it is not the primary riding style. You never know when it could make your life easier.
Now that you know about the usefulness of neck reining, let’s talk a little about how you teach it to your horse. In order to teach your horse to neck rein, they have to first completely understand the direct (two-handed) rein. Assuming your horse has those basic skills, we will move on.
It takes some time and practice, just like with anything, to teach your horse neck reining skills. My way of teaching neck reining is simple because you just apply it to your everyday riding and the horse naturally becomes accustomed to the new skill. When I am training a horse, I always use leg pressure too so that when I move to neck reining lessons I can use the leg pressure to enforce the neck reining cues while decreasing my direct rein cues. The best part is that I have never seen a horse forget how to direct rein, so it isn’t going to ruin your riding, even if you ride English.
Make sure your horse FULLY understands direct rein and possibly also leg pressure cues.
Every time you pull on your left rein to go to the left, then lay the right rein against the right side of the neck (and squeeze your right leg) and vise versa when you turn to the right. You must do these simultaneously. Keep doing this each time you ride and for every turn, you make (which if you are doing pattern work like I suggest you do then it will not take long for your horse to master this skill). It is important that you lay the rein against your horse’s neck and not pull back with it. If you do the horse could get confused.
Once you have worked on step 2 for three to eight rides, then you can move to the next step. Now, you will first lay the rein on the horse’s neck and then immediately follow with the direct rein and leg pressure. Again, do this on every turn in every ride. For each ride, slightly increase the amount of time between the neck rein to the direct rein to half a second, then one second, then two seconds. When you get to the two-second mark, then cue your horse in this order: neck rein, leg pressure, direct rein (do all three cues within two seconds, longer than that and the horse won’t be able to make the proper connection).
You should already see your horse’s understanding more and you did not even have to change your training routine (other than how you cue your horse). You can still practice for that upcoming horse show and teach your horse to neck rein at the same time!
Keep practicing the above steps and your horse will figure it out. The more you work on it, the better and quicker your horse will understand what you want. Your timing is also very important. You must release your pressure (whether it is from your foot or rein or both) as soon as your horse does what you want them to do so that they can learn what you are asking. One more tip, don’t try to get your horse to neck rein a full circle right away. Teach your horse with first one step, then three steps, then five steps, and so on. There you go, your horse can now neck rein!
Have you taught your horse this great skill yet? Are you having any troubles? How do you feel about English riders at least teaching their horses how to neck rein? Have you ever experienced a time where neck reining really came in handy?