Sunday, December 11, 2011

Neck Reining 101

As everyone knows, reining horses must perform all the difficult and demanding maneuvers of a reining pattern with only one of his rider’s hands on the reins. Ideally, that rein should be loose so that a mere touch of the rein on the horse’s neck (combined with body and leg aids) guides him to – and through – each maneuver. This means the horse must respond to the outside rein or indirect rein (as opposed to the inside/direct rein) - no small thing to ask but definitely trainable over time.

There’s no mystery or magic formula to teach a horse to neck rein, but there are a few principles to understand it:
  1. Neck reining doesn’t mean forcing the horse to turn with a lot of pressure on the outside rein.
  2. Neck reining means asking the horse to turn with a touch of the outside rein.
  3. Neck reining isn’t learned overnight. It’s learned with consistent signals from the rider.
Much of the schooling of a reining horse is two-handed. Certainly I use two hands to teach my horse. However, I never lose sight of the ultimate goal – one hand on the reins – so from the very beginning I think about the outside rein. I ask with it first, then back up with the direct rein and/or legs. And I never pull it across his neck. This applies to circles, spins and roll-backs. If I pick up my outside rein first to ask him to perform the maneuver, then back it up with my inside rein (and leg if necessary), he will learn to respond to the first signal – the neck rein. Here are two photos of my stallion, Running With Wolves. In both photos I am asking him to spin. In the first photo, as a immature, two-year-old in training, I am riding with two hands but asking with the right rein first to spin left; in the second, I am showing one-handed and he is responding to the touch of the left  rein to spin right.
Pick up outside (right) rein to ask, back up request with inside rein.
Pick up left hand toward right shoulder so rein touches neck to ask to spin right.
 For example, when I lope a circle to the right and am riding two-handed, I might pick up my left rein first on my horse’s neck and follow it with a direct pull with my right hand. It’s so important to not “baby-sit” with the inside rein. If there is always pressure on the inside rein, not only will the horse “lean” on it – he will rely on it to turn. And that is counter-productive. If he is relying on the inside rein all the time, he’s going to wonder what happened when he’s asked to perform off of the outside rein in a one-handed reining class when his rider cannot have contact with the inside rein!

The other thing I keep in mind is how close my hands are together. In the beginning of training or if I have a problem, I will widen the distance between my hands but to keep on track for “Neck Reining 101” I ride much of the time with my hands close together in front of the horn – just where one hand on the reins would be! This is especially true for the inside rein. If he can see my inside hand (even if I don’t move it), I will be baby-sitting my horse. If I have to use the inside rein to correct, it is truly a correction because my horse has not seen my inside hand when the outside hand (neck rein) asks.

A third consideration is the level of my hands. If I am thinking ahead to showing one-handed, it’s not much good to apply pressure to either rein with my hands below my horse’s neck. (Just try to do that with one hand on the reins!) So I try to keep both hands above the neck (just like one hand has to be).

Walking With Wolves running circles in his first year showing one-handed
To re-cap:
  • Ask with the outside rein first.
  • Hide the inside (correction) rein hand until you need it.
  • Don’t let hands drop on each side of the horse’s neck when riding with two hands.
So – two hands on the reins are good (and should be used for much of the training) if the rider always keeps the ultimate goal in mind throughout training – one hand on the reins or "neck reining".

1 comment:

  1. I found this post very helpful. I have been looking for different ways of explaining the neck rein when I teach.