If you are a recreational rider just starting to learn the hows and whys of horsemanship, you may be wondering about the necessity of neck reining. You may have even told yourself that neck reining is only important if you're going to show your horse. Otherwise, it's not something you and your horse really need to know.
Not so, says trainer Al Dunning of Scottsdale, Arizona. In fact, Dunning encourages riders to think of neck reining as a fundamental skill that every well-trained western horse should have.
"In its finished state, neck reining is a one-handed maneuver versus riding the horse with two hands," Dunning explains. "Riding with two hands on the reins is basically a colt maneuver. If a horse doesn't neck rein properly, it is hard to control him with one hand for everyday tasks such as roping a cow, opening a gate, or reaching down for your water bottle."
And the horse that responds with a feather-like touch of the reins is the hallmark of a well-broke western horse. It's what accomplished horsemen like Dunning strive for.
"If you want to have a lot of fun on your horse in a variety of environments, you need to have control, and that means your horse needs to know how to neck-rein," the trainer insists.
"It is going to be a lot more fun, not to mention safer. You can have one hand free to straighten your hat or, if need be, to grab the saddle horn," he adds.
A Cue Not a Command
Neck reining is pretty much like it sounds. It is a basic rider control used to ask your horse to go right or left. You apply, or lay, a rein against your horse's neck to cue and direct his motion. It's what allows you to guide your horse with just a single hand on the reins.
Neck reining is the counterpart to "direct reining," in which you guide the horse by pulling on one rein to physically point the horse's nose in the direction you want to go. In other words, when using a direct rein, when you want your horse to turn to the left, you pull on your left rein, and vice versa.
The neck rein is often referred to as an "indirect rein." To neck rein your horse to the left, you actually lay your right rein (the indirect rein) against the right side of your horse's neck. After your horse has been taught the cue, he knows then to move away from the pressure, so he turns to the left.