How To Teach A Horse To Neck Rein?

You may think of indirect reining or neck reining as specific to western riding, but this really is not true. Even horses who are typically ridden under English saddle should know how to neck rein. Being able to guide your horse one-handed is an important skill that gives you freedom and versatility while riding in any discipline.

What can you do if your horse is only trained to direct-rein (aka: plow-rein)? Transitioning is easier than you think. In this article, we present a simple, no stress approach to teaching your horse how to neck rein. Read on to learn more.

What’s The Difference Between Direct And Indirect Reining?

What's The Difference Between Direct And Indirect Reining

In direct reining, you guide your horse by pulling one rein in the direction you wish to go. If you want to go left, you pull the left rein to the left. If you want to go right, you pull the right rein to the right.

With a bitted bridle, this action pulls the horse’s mouth. With a side-pull bitless bridle, it pulls the nose. The end result, either way, is that the horse’s nose is pointed in the direction you choose.

With indirect reining, the horse is stimulated to move away from the light weight of the rein on his neck. If you want to go to the left, you lightly shift your hand to the left causing the right rein to make contact with the right side of the horse’s neck.

This causes him to move away from the rein and turn left. To go right, you apply light weight with the left rein on the left side of the horse’s neck.

Simply put, with direct reining, you are pulling your horse’s mouth or head. With indirect reining, you are applying guidance with a light touch of the rein. Direct reining is a physical command that anticipates resistance. Neck reining is signal that invites cooperation.

Direct Reining Vs Indirect Reining

How Can Your Horse Learn To Recognize Rein Guidance As Opposed To Bit “Steering”?

Remember that guiding your horse involves using your whole body. You are not steering an inanimate object. You are moving forward in partnership with another living being. You should be using your calves, thighs, seat, body weight and your voice to signal your horse.

Even if your horse has only been trained to direct rein, your hands should be the smallest element of your “guidance system”.

For this reason, transitioning from direct reining to indirect reining is more a matter of fading your two-fisted habit and gradually replacing it with light use of one hand (traditionally, your left hand).

Even after your horse becomes accustomed to neck reining, there may be times when you’ll need to switch to direct reining in challenging or frightening situations. As with all matters involving horses, always be aware of your surroundings and be prepared to respond quickly and adjust appropriately to surprises.

How To Naturally Transition From Plow Reining To Neck Reining

Don’t begin teaching your horse to neck rein until you have a solid relationship with him and are able to communicate well when riding.

When your horse responds to your voice cues and body language consistently, shift toward relying more and more on these and less and less on reining when guiding your horse. As your horse becomes used to the reduction or absence of direct reining, gently introduce neck reining.

Loosen your reins slightly, maintaining very light contact with the bit. You may see “experts” demonstrating neck reining with long, floppy reins, and this is fine for exhibitions in controlled settings. In real life, you want to be able to signal “whoa!” quickly without having to reel in several feet of loose reins.

Hold the reins in your left hand. You can hold your hand facing forward with the thumb up and the reins “spilling” out the top of your hand. This works well with long, separate western reins.

Alternately, you can ride with the back of the hand facing up and the reins crossed in your closed hand. This works well with shorter, connected reins.

Light hands are always important, but in neck reining, if you rein harshly you will get just the opposite of the result you want. Your reins should be relaxed and even, and your hand should stay in the space just above the pommel or saddle horn, or (if riding bareback) your horse’s withers.

Your hand movements should be light and small and should correspond with physical and verbal cues. If you already have this kind of good communication with your horse, transitioning from two-handed riding to one-handed riding is a breeze.

It helps to visualize your hands guiding your horse’s head as your body guides your horse’s body. When you are ready to turn, lift your rein hand slightly and tilt it in the direction you wish to go.

Simultaneously, look in the direction you wish to go, shift your weight in that direction and squeeze gently with the opposite leg. There is never any reason to kick your horse. Work on developing good communication with him so that all of your guidance can be subtle and gentle.

The Basics On How To Use Your Legs While Riding

Keep your guidance small. Your hand and leg cues should be imperceptible to observers and (in normal circumstances) should consist of slight tilts of the hand and gentle leg squeezes. You and your horse should be the only ones who know what you are saying.

How Can You Practice Neck Reining?

If you have good communication with your horse, and he responds well to all your signals, you may not need to practice. Simply fading plow reining and gradually replacing it with neck reining may just come naturally.

If your horse is confused at first, you may wish to transition by gently using direct rein guidance first, followed by slightly exaggerated (not rough) pressure of the rein against the opposite side of the horse’s neck.

Keep practicing this and gradually switch from initiating with direct reining to initiating with indirect reining. When your horse begins responding to the neck reining cues, fade and eliminate the plow reining.

You may find it valuable to work with your horse in a round pen (or other enclosed area) by practicing pattern repetitions. At a walk, try navigating squares, circles and figure eights in repetitions of ten at a time, daily for a week or so.

When your horse becomes comfortable and skilled at changing directions at a walk, add challenge by moving into a trot. When this becomes easy, move into a lope or canter.

Regular practice and consistency will soon pay off in flawless neck reining.

What Kind Of Bridle Works Best?

why is neck reining desirable

Leveraged or shanked bits (including mechanical hackamores) are designed for neck reining. A bosal, which has the reins attached at a single point below the horse’s chin, also works well for neck reining.

D-ring snaffles and side-pull bitless bridles are designed for direct reining. Although it is possible to neck rein with this type of bridle, or with a riding halter, it may not work as well because it simply does not hold the reins at the right angle and in the right position against the horse’s neck.

If your horse is accustomed to a shankless snaffle or a side-pull bitless bridle, begin with that. There’s no sense in confusing your horse with new equipment while also trying to teach something new.

As your horse gets the hang of neck reining, you will probably wish to transition to a bridle that is better designed to convey your intent.

Why Is Neck Reining Desirable?

Western riders have always ridden one-handed because you need a free hand to rope calves, straighten your Stetson or take a swig from your canteen.

You may properly ride English two-handed, but even so there may be times when you’ll need to have a free hand to open and close a gate, pony another horse or adjust your spectacles. If you ride bareback, it’s good to have a free hand to hold the mane as you gallop along.

All that aside, these days tack and practices from one discipline flow easily into another in casual pleasure riding. In the past, posting the trot was only seen in English riding. Nowadays, if your horse has a rough trot, you can properly post no matter what style you choose to ride.

The same applies to reining when you are riding for pleasure. When you have good communication with your horse and you are both comfortable with neck reining, there is no reason why you cannot use this valuable skill when riding western, English or bareback.

It is a more relaxed and intuitive way of riding, and it is easier on you and your horse.

Basic Neck Rein Explained

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Do you just use your hands to neck rein?

No, you also use foot, leg and seat signals. For example, if you want to move left, you move your reining hand gently to the left and press your horse’s right side with your right foot and inner thigh. You will also shift your seat very slightly to the left. You should also look in the direction you want to go. A well trained horse will feel this through your seat, and when you are in perfect sync, this may be all the signaling you’ll need.

2. Does your posture matter with neck reining?

Your posture matters with every aspect of riding. Sit tall in the saddle with your shoulders square. Keep your weight evenly balanced unless you want to signal your horse to move left or right, slow, stop or move out. Use your shift of weight to signal your horse. When you ride, you should be constantly reading your horse with your eyes, ears and seat, and your horse will be constantly reading you.

3. Where should the turning rein contact the horse?

The rein that signals the horse to turn should make light contact with his neck just ahead of the withers. Keep your reining hand low and your movements subtle.

4. Does the bit signal the horse when neck reining?

No, signaling comes entirely through your subtle hand cues and movements. Your reins should be loose, and your hands should be light. The bit (if used) should just be resting in the horse’s mouth.

5. What are “busy hands”?

A rider with busy hands is one who does not know how to be still and confident. If you are constantly moving your hands and making small, unnecessary corrections, you will confuse your horse. Aim to have still, light hands and deliver only necessary, consistent cues.

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