How To Teach Your Horse or Pony To Neck Rein

content woman sitting on horse in highland
picturegarden / Getty Images

Being able to neck rein—or steer your horse with one hand is a useful skill. Neck reining makes things like opening gates without dismounting, carrying something, or swishing away flies while trail riding easier. Neck reining is also a fun, safe, and easy thing you can teach your horse even if you are not an advanced rider.

What You Need

  • Your horse, saddle and bridled—the type of bit does not matter.
  • A ring, arena, or place where you feel safe, and your horse is attentive.
  • Time: Several days depending on your skill and how quickly your horse learns.

Mount Up and Guide Your Horse Consistently

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

Walk in a straight line, then turn a sharp corner of about a 90-degree angle. As you turn the corner cue with the inside rein, your seat and legs aids, as usual, but lay the outside rein against the horse’s neck. Lift your hand, so the rein makes clear and positive contact against the mid-section of the neck.

As you come out of the turn return your hands to their normal direct reining position. Be careful not to pull on the outside rein that you are laying against the horse's neck as you may confuse him.

Keep Sessions Short and Vary Cues

Make many turns, frequently changing directions. Visualize how and where you want to make your turns each time you are on a straightway. Try doing this for about 15 minutes over several days. Several short sessions will be more effective than one long session. Don’t follow the same pattern each time you ride as you might find your horse learns the pattern and ignores the rein aids against his neck.

After a few sessions, try making the neck-rein cue first, before putting contact on the bit. Release any contact with the bit as soon as the horse starts into the turn, but leave the rein on the neck until you wish to discontinue the turn. If the horse wanders out of the turn, squeeze the inside rein slightly to remind him of the direction. Continue doing this for several more sessions.

Hold the Reins in One Hand

When your horse consistently responds to the neck rein cue, you will no longer need to cue with the inside rein. Hold the reins in one hand. It is traditional to neck-rein with your non-dominant hand. This leaves the dominant hand free to work a lasso or open a gate. However, if you won’t be roping cattle, and encounter few gates, you can choose to use whichever hand you please

Practice Patience

Be patient with your horse, some are fast learners, and some take extra time to learn their lessons. Likewise, you are teaching yourself at the same time. Go slow and take things one step at a time. Once the neck rein cue has been learned, and you can turn smoothly you need only practice occasionally.

Don't Forget Your Body Cues

The inside rein guides the horse in the direction you want to go and is called the leading rein. The inside or leading rein on a left turn is the left rein, and on a right turn, the inside or leading rein is the right rein. Whether you are reining with one hand or two, your legs and body are an important part of the cue. Don’t concentrate so hard on your hands, that you forget everything else.

Work in an Area Where the Horse Feels Safe

Your horse will likely be more attentive if you work in a fenced ring or an arena. Some horses hate being in a ring though. Work where ever you feel safe, and your horse will be most attentive.

Ride With Intention

If you are inclined to be vague or daydreamy, your horse will quickly pick up your inattentiveness and inconsistency and not take your commands seriously. You will want to work in rather sharp corners, rather than gradual or circular turns so that your horse knows you are making a definite turn rather than just vaguely wandering around.