Horseproblems Australia
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John O'Leary


This article is for the amateur:

You can train your horse to just be a western pleasure style of trail horse for general riding in which case a lesser degree of sophistication is required or a full on competition ready unit with all the buttons. Should it be that you just want to ride in the western style a little, then you will want to teach your horse to neck rein but you should still add a little sophistication as in leg aids. First a couple of major mistakes that people make when training.


So many people think that in order to neck rein their horse, that their rein hand should cross way over the centre of mane line of the neck. This is not true and the reason is this. If you are turning to the right and you lay your left rein on the neck of the horse but insist upon doing it like they do in the movies by continuing the rein hand way past the centre line of the neck, you will be shortening the left rein more and more, tightening it to a more 'English' aid and actually pulling the horse to the left. Even if the horse does go right, it is going to be way flexed off and look terrible. The conflict is even more established if you do take a contact with the left rein as the bit on the right hand side of the face of the horse actually pulls left, telling the horse to go the opposite way to the demand of the original neck rein. Remember, if a horse can flinch at a fly landing on it, you can bet that it can feel a complete rein against it's neck and doesn't need us to be pushing like hell.


The next main problem that arises is that riders' believe that they must ride, literally with a big loop in the rein all of the time. This is the main problem that most 'English' riders' experience and it is the one thing that holds them back the most. This is ok if you are just wandering along the trail, in fact it is fine, but if you are in training mode, you do ride a lot near 'English' a lot of the time. There is no substitute for 'Dressage'


Thirdly, there is the ridiculous habit of 'jiggling' the reins to achieve a head set. The Show horse should have a head set like the Dressage horse but in the Western arena, a contact is not allowed. It is therefore far more difficult to achieve such a thing on a Western Horse. It is surprising how many Western teachers promote 'jiggling' of the reins to make the horse tip it's nose in. There are two very big problems with this. The first being that 'jiggling' just teaches horses to be 'head bobbers' and if you train a horse this way, what in the hell do you do when you upgrade your horse from a 'snaffle mouth' horse to a 'bitted up' horse where you have to ride with one hand and cannot be seen to ever touch the mouth of your horse.

Now don't get me wrong, you do not ride "On the Bit' as does the 'English rider but you do ride your horse from behind, up into the bit a lot, in order to achieve that the horse gives to the bit, softens in the pole and the jaw, releasing the rein to the western rein as the 'Reward & Relief' So, how long should your reins be?

Again, that depends upon how serious you are. It doesn't matter for the pleasure rider and the competition rider can choose their length as long as they are not touching the mouth of the horse for which they are penalized by a Western Show Judge. Difficult indeed. Anyhow, here are the steps that I use to train a horse to 'neck rein'. First, let me give the various reins their names so that you will understand what I mean as we go through.



This the right rein if you are turning that way.



This is the left rein if you are turning to the right. It can also be called the 'neck rein' or the 'supporting rein'



The rein on the outside of what ever circle you are turning.



This is your left leg if you are turning to the right.



This is the right leg if you are turning to the right.

When we first start teaching the horse to neck rein, we assume it is basically trained 'English' and so we navigate it around the place with the direct rein most of the time but we do so in a 'check and release' or tug and give manner' Just guiding the horse around the imaginary circle and reminding it to get back on course. The whole time you will have the indirect rein just touching the outside of the neck with your outside (neck rein hand) not passing the centre of the mane line/neck.


As a general rule, leg aids are used a lot on the Western Horse but generally they are not kept on like the riders of the 'English' trained horses. You tell them to do something, they do it and you release your leg. Those riders' pretty always have both legs on the horse all of the time but the Western rider normally only has one leg or the other on, depending on the move.

When teaching the neck reining however, every time that you are doing anything other than a straight line, any change of direction or circle, you must put your outside leg on the horse, that leg being the same side as the neck rein and you just push consistently to support your direct rein.


  • Neck reining is the last thing the horse normally learns. It is the last thing the horse should learn.

  • The horse learns to neck rein through association of ideas and the 'penny dropping' that "Hey, every time I turn right via a tug on the direct rein, there is a left rein lying on my neck.

  • Get used to putting an outside, supporting leg on automatically, every time you change direction and every time you neck rein.

  • Changing directions, circles, shapes and in and around obstacles teaches neck reining far quicker.

The best place to teach neck reining is in the bush so that the horse has got focus points all of the time. Dodge the rabbit burrow or you will break a leg, dodge the prickle bush or you will be pricked and so on. Focus teaches faster. The horse sees the reason for the move, takes into account why there is a rein on the neck.

Over time, use the direct rein less and less as you find the horse answering the neck rein more and more. Be looking for it and test often or you may miss the signs and lose the speed in training that the Pro achieves.

In order to get sophistication into your reining, you must teach your horse many exercises off your leg and then neck reining can change where the inside rein becomes the neck rein, rather than the outside one. Therefore, teaching the young Western Horse to 'leg yield' well, is essential and the Western Horses are much better off the leg than the English ones.

My 'Training the Leg Yield in 2 Days' DVD can be found here.

For now, that will do and we will continue on in another article.

Ride with your heart in your hands.