Another common mistake is when a rider tries to pull the horse in the desired direction. Remember, neck reining takes finesse, not force.
"You'll see a rider use his reins hard and low, and use a lot of outside leg cue to try to turn the horse. This causes the horse to throw his shoulder into the turn before his nose-teaching the horse to resist rather than move away from the rein pressure applied to the neck," says Dunning.
To prevent these common errors, think of keeping your rein hand straight, with your thumb on top of your reins. And remember that the neck rein is applied lightly, signaling the horse to move away from it. Ask your horse to move in the direction you want to go with the neck rein, instead of attempting to drag him there. And as Dunning advises, if your horse doesn't respond as well to the neck rein as he should, resist the urge to use more neck rein. Instead, use your outside leg as a back up to your neck rein.
"Even on an older horse that has been neck reined a lot, if he is reined too hard, he will not respond correctly," says Dunning.
Although Dunning starts all of his horses in the snaffle, the ultimate goal is to eventually transition them to a shanked bit. Neck reining is normally associated with a shanked bit and western style riding.
"I train my horses to neck rein using the snaffle bit and then the hackamore. Then I go to a shanked snaffle, then finally to more of a fixed bit," he explains.
"It is important to mention that the only bits that are really made for neck reining are leveraged bits. A leveraged bit is a curb bit, with a chinstrap and the reins attached on the bottom rings. That is really the only bit that is made to neck rein. But you should start teaching the foundation and the concept of neck reining in the snaffle."
Consistency and Focus
Dunning cautions that the hardest horse to teach to neck rein is an older horse that has never been taught to move off of the outside leg and outside rein. If you have a horse that fits that description, the trainer strongly suggests going back to the basics.
"That is the tip of the day: When in doubt, go back to the basics. Teach the horse to move off of your leg by doing a lot of side-passing and two-tracking. Then teach the horse to turn off the outside rein by tipping his nose to the inside with the direct rein as I explained," he says.
Ultimately, no matter how old your horse is or what you do with him, he likely will appreciate being ridden via a slack neck rein rather than direct rein. Through consistent cues, you can teach him to willingly guide off of your one-handed cues.
"One thing I can tell you," says Dunning, "is that things will progress smoother and faster if you put the neck rein on, and always make sure the nose is leading. After a while, depending on the sensitivity of the horse, the horse will take over and automatically guide off of your neck rein. It might be six months, it might be a year. But if you are consistent, calm, and repetitive with your cues, it will happen."
And chances are, if you can easily guide your horse using a neck rein, your next trip down the trail will be much more enjoyable.