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Teaching a Horse to Neck Rein: A Comprehensive Guide

This skill is an essential part of controlling a horse’s body and direction. We’ll explore the techniques for teaching neck rein, common challenges, and problems that must be overcome. So, buckle up and let’s get started!

What is Neck Reining?

Neck reining is a method of steering a horse using the reins without direct contact with the horse’s mouth. It involves laying the outside rein against the horse’s neck to signal a turn. In Western riding, it’s a fundamental skill that allows for more subtle communication between horse and rider.

Direct Rein vs. Neck Rein

Direct Rein: When you pick up the rein and point the horse’s nose in a specific direction, this is considered a direct rein.

Neck Rein: When you put the outside rein on the horse’s neck to tell it to go in a specific direction, this is called a neck rein.

Why Should a Horse Know How to Neck Rein?

Neck reining is more than just a fancy trick; it’s a vital skill that has practical applications in various equestrian disciplines. Here’s why teaching a horse to neck rein is essential:

1. Enhanced Communication

Subtlety: Neck reining allows for more subtle and refined communication between the rider and the horse. It enables the rider to guide the horse with minimal visible cues, creating a seamless connection. Using a neck rein to steer allows you to give direction to your horse while allowing your horse to hold his head in the position he needs to keep his vision and attention on a cow or other object like a hole or log on the ground.

Harmony: By reducing the reliance on direct rein, neck reining fosters a harmonious relationship where the horse responds to gentle touches rather than forceful pulls.

2. Versatility in Riding Styles

Western Riding: Neck reining is a fundamental skill in Western riding, where one-handed riding is common. It allows the rider to multitask, such as roping cattle or carrying objects.

English Riding: In English riding, the supporting rein is essentially a neck rein, but the aid is not used as widely as it is in western working horses.

3. Safety and Control

Emergency Situations: In unexpected situations, such as a spook or sudden distraction, neck reining can provide quick and effective control, ensuring the safety of both horse and rider.

Trail Riding: When riding on trails with obstacles and varying terrains, neck reining offers precise steering without disturbing the horse’s natural movement, sight line or attention.

4. Preparation for Advanced Training

Foundation for Complex Maneuvers: Neck reining lays the groundwork for more advanced training, such as spins, slides, and intricate patterns in competitive events.

What Will the Neck Rein Be Used For with a Finished Horse?

With a finished horse, neck reining becomes an integral part of the riding experience, serving various purposes:

1. Competitive Events

Reining Competitions: In reining, neck reining is used to guide the horse through complex patterns, including circles, spins, and stops.

Cutting and Roping: In cutting and roping events, neck reining allows the rider to guide the horse with one hand while managing cattle with the other.

2. Recreational Riding

Trail Riding: Neck reining offers the rider the ability to navigate trails with ease, steering the horse around obstacles and through narrow paths.

Pleasure Riding: For casual riding, neck reining enhances the enjoyment by allowing a more relaxed and natural connection with the horse.

3. Therapeutic Riding

Accessibility: For riders with physical limitations, neck reining can make riding more accessible, as it requires less strength to use.

4. Horsemanship

Aesthetic Appeal: In horsemanship events, neck reining adds to the aesthetic appeal by showcasing the horse’s responsiveness and the rider’s skill.

Teaching the Neck Rein: A Step-by-Step Guide

1. Understanding the Basics

Neck Rein as a Tool: It’s essential to understand that neck reining is just one tool for controlling the horse’s body. It’s part of a complete package of steering and control.

Controlling the Shoulders: Steering is about controlling the shoulders, not just the face. The shoulders are what actually steer the horse. With the neck rein contact, the horse learns to move his shoulders away from the contact.

2. Starting with Walks and Circles

Ask with the Finished Product in Mind: Start by asking the horse to steer off the neck rein, even if it doesn’t respond initially.

Use Direct Rein as Support: Ask your horse to move off of the neck rein contact, then reinforce the cue, using the direct rein to guide it.

3. Incorporating Legs and Spurs

Use Legs to Control Direction: Open the inside leg and push with the outside leg to control the horse’s stepping direction. Try to time your push as the outside leg is coming off of the ground. This will make your leg cue easier for your horse to understand and respond to.

Use Spurs to aid in desired movement: Spurs can be used to help the horse understand what the neck rein is asking for in the same way as the neck rein, but never bang or bump. Always use a gentle push. Use this to support the neck rein, just as I talked about using the direct rein.

4. Dealing with Distractions

Use Distractions as Teaching Opportunities: Whether it’s a barking dog or noise in the bush, use these distractions to teach the horse to pay attention to you.

5. Reinforcing and Building the Skill

Repetition and Consistency: Keep reinforcing the neck reining over time, and it will become second nature to the horse. In the end, when you apply the neck rein the horse should continue to turn until you release like described in the article, Teaching Your Horse to Stay in Maneuvers.

Build into a Complete Steering Package: The neck rein should be part of improving the horse’s overall steering ability along with direct rein, and leg aids.

6. Which Bit to use to Teach Neck Rein.

In the initial stages of teaching a horse to neck rein, I always start with a snaffle bit. I use that bit because it is simple for the horse to understand and soft in the horse’s mouth to help prevent resistance. This is the one I use.

After the horse starts to understand what I am asking him to do, then I switch to a bit that more encourages a more correct body position, which helps neck reining become easier for him to do. This is the bit I use for that.

Common Challenges and Problems

1. Stiffness in Direction

Solution: Work on steering and add a little bit of pressure to overcome stiffness.

2. Distractions and Lack of Focus

Solution: Use distractions as teaching moments and bring the horse’s attention back to you.

3. Overreliance on Neck Rein

Solution: Remember that neck reining is just one part of controlling the horse. It should be integrated into a complete picture of control.


Teaching a horse to neck rein is a rewarding process that enhances communication and control between horse and rider. By understanding the basics, starting with simple exercises, incorporating legs and spurs, dealing with distractions, and reinforcing the skill, you can successfully teach your horse to neck rein.
Remember, the neck rein is just one part of controlling your horse. It’s a brief picture of how to teach the neck rein as part of a complete picture of controlling your horse.

If you would like to watch the video of me working teaching a horse to neck rein then you will want to watch, How to teach a horse to neck rein, on YouTube. If your horse is resistant to your hands and legs when you are teaching neck rein, then you would want to read the blog, The Link Between Resistance in the Face and Shoulders. It will help you with how to work through that resistance.

All of the valuable information I have learned through 25+ years of horse training and showing, I share with you to help you to improve your equestrian knowledge. Thank You.

4 thoughts on “Teaching a Horse to Neck Rein: A Comprehensive Guide”

  1. Love your details about the bits. Introduction on to next and so on
    These details have helped me out a lot.

  2. I’m 69 years old. Have had horses for several years. Was led around on my grandpa’s old mare Daisy when I was a baby till I could ride on my own. I was told long ago you’re never so old or to smart to not learn something. I really enjoy your videos they are very informative and educational. I worked at a stable for several years. The owner bought and sold horses sometimes several a month at the local sale. Most had problems of one sort or another. Often boarders had problems with their horses and asked for help. I wish we could of had access to your teachings then. I’m pretty long winded. But again thanks for the information and videos.

  3. You did a great job of explaining the process. I’ve shown cutting horses for 30 years. Bought a 9 year old beautiful mare who had been beat on and only knew how to stiffen and run. She has been my long painful project. I am
    In my seventies and thought I could lounge her start from beginning. Boy that didn’t happen. She ran thu wooden round pens. Took to my cutting horse trainer, and off they went with his head shacking. I happy to say 4 years later, one day I tried lounging her again. With trust,, she set herself up in a perfect circle and said, leave me alone, I know what I am doing!

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