Once you’ve ridden a horse that turns, stops, backs, and handles without moving your hands more than a few inches in any direction, you never want to go back. It’s like driving a luxury automobile with all the goodies, then having to go back to the old beat up clunker that rattles and shakes. It just isn’t the same. A well-trained horse will neck rein, i.e., do what the rider wants using the reins in one hand and with almost no movement. The only exception is forward motion that still usually comes from squeezing your legs or a verbal que. Although we have owned horses that would go forward by moving the reins.
Folks ask, how did you teach that horse to neck rein? Our solution is really fairly simple and uncomplicated. It does take time and practice. First, ride the horse for a while and let him settle into the morning. Let the horse wake up and get his mind in gear. Like a lot of us, we need our morning coffee before we dig into the task at hand. Give the horse a chance to start thinking about the day and what you are doing.
Second, find a way to make it a job. Horses need to have a purpose. It may sound strange to some people, but most horses don’t like to perform rote exercises. It’s boring and doesn’t make sense. If you can give the horse a job while training, he doesn’t know he is being trained. Ever see a young mother potty train a small boy by putting Cheerios in the toilet and telling him to aim at them. Is she teaching to hit the Cheerios or training him to go in the potty instead of his pants.
We use goats a lot. Letting the horse follow a herd of goats give him focus, a goal so to speak. He makes the goats go and as the goats meander, he turns. We apply reins to his neck shortly before we see the need to make the next turn. Young horses never know they are learning while working.
Another tool we use are trees. We have lots of trails through the woods. Like most trails, they aren’t very straight and you have to go around the trees if you don’t want to bang your head. We ride the horse towards the tree in the way. At the last-minute when the horse is starting to think that dummy up there is about to ride me right into that tree, we lightly apply the reins to the direction we expect him to turn. You can usually feel the shift in his body and using the reins immediately before becomes a que to what you both want. He doesn’t want you to run him into the tree and learns a sense of relief every time he feels the rein.
What if he doesn’t turn? Good question and occasionally it does happen that the horse does not turn. He hits the tree. No! It’s not mean, it’s part of learning. As a child, did you fall off anything or run into anything. Sure you did. And guess what, you learned from it. Bear in mind we aren’t suggesting you use this method in a dead run or even a slow lope. But we have used it a lot and found it is very effective.
We’ll try to give you some more neck reining tips in future posts.