How to Teach a Horse to Neck Rein


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From John Lyons Trainer Keith Hosman


Your Foal: Essential Training [Downloadable PDF version]
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A sample from Day 1:

Round penning a foal differs greatly from round penning older horses in a few ways. First, we move slower and we can't push the horse to "figure it out." Comparatively speaking, working with colts is done in slow motion. Second, we only teach the weanling a small percentage of the material we teach the more mature horse. On the other hand, training babies is very similar to training older horses in one very big way: Earning respect. We begin earning that respect by causing the horse's feet to move in a manner that we prescribe. We do so simply, consistently and without undue stress.

Note: Even though we're building calm into our horse here, if at any time he flips you the metaphorical bird by only half participating, instantly correct the sour attitude with a shout, clap of the hands or crack of the whip (on the rump if need be). A bad attitude is not to be tolerated. You won't destroy the respect you've built when you're consistent with your discipline. Rather, you'll preserve or even improve it.

Begin by asking your foal to move around the pen at a walk or trot, (not a lope, "pressure and release" with your body language as described above to control their speed). Your horse is naturally adept at reading body language so you can say "go forward" by applying pressure "behind the withers." That means that you stare at his rump and gesture with your hand or walk toward that area or throw your lariat at it, etc. Conversely, pressuring him from in front of his withers will send him back or initiate a turn. Get him moving around the pen, let's say to your left. Next, ask him to turn in toward you by stepping backwards while sidestepping to your left, left arm outstretched as if to "peel" the horse off the wall as it approaches. If he looks like he's going to turn outside, be quick to jump directly to your right and toward that hip of his, putting pressure to say "get going forward right away." Be quick on your fixes and this will be easy.

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Neck Reining How-To

By Keith Hosman, John Lyons Certified Trainer

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Neck Reining How-To

Teaching your horse to neck rein is simple - and here's how.

Prerequisites: This is more of a "finished-horse maneuver" so much work must be put in before attempting this material. You must have the ability to disengage the horse's hips (see "Steer the Tail" and "Hip-Shoulder-Shoulder"), excellent shoulder control (see "The Clockwork Exercise"), and mastery over the material covered in "How to Teach a Horse to Pivot on Its Hindquarters," "Train Your Horse to Travel Straight," and "Simple Steps to Power Steering." (All can be found and printed out at

The day you begin working to teach your horse to neck rein should be at least one day AFTER you have really nailed the exercises listed in the "Prerequisites" above. Neck reining is really just the culmination of having learned shoulder and hip control so you'll need the tools (read: abilities) found in that material to teach it.

In the horse world, the word "cue" means something that signals the horse to do something. It doesn't "make" the horse do something, it asks. Kissing to the horse says "move" - but doesn't make it move, see? We cue the horse to do something (kiss, shift our weight, move our hands, etc.), then apply "motivation" should that cue be ignored. Example: If I kiss and the horse just stands there, I squeeze (or kick) with my legs. The legs say "Don't ignore the kiss or you get the boot."

Basic stuff, I know - but it's surprising how often folks tend to get the two concepts ("asking for something" versus "making something happen") mixed up. There is a very real difference between "requesting" and "enforcing" and it's critical that we understand this going forward - especially when teaching our horses to neck rein. This is because neck reining is simply teaching your horse an "associative cue," "When I move my hand, you move your shoulders and feet." It's not: "I move my hand and pull you through a turn." To illustrate: How many times have you seen cowboys in a John Wayne movie take their hands far across the horse's mane to turn the horse? Do their horses turn? Sure they do - but due to the use of shank bits and tie-downs and pain and not because they've been trained to associate a movement of the rider's hands with a turn of direction. See the difference between asking and forcing? Were the Black Hats to remove the hardware from their horse's mouths (replacing shank with snaffle) and try riding off, they'd find the horse choosing the direction. (Those after-robbery bank getaways would look like a billiard table seconds after first break.)

A note about equipment: You can outfit your horse with a big-honkin' shank bit and get him to "neck rein" (notice the quotes) in about five seconds. This is because the very nature of a shank (or leverage) bit causes the horse to line himself up laterally stem-to-stern, that is, his tail lines up directly behind his rear, mid-section, shoulders, head and neck. The leveraged pressure caused by the bit makes this happen - and allows you to "force the horse" to turn left or right. In equestrian parlance this is called "cheating." This does not mean the horse is trained to neck rein anymore than completing a paint-by-numbers Mona Lisa makes you Leonardo da Vinci. When riding, the real artistry comes with the fluidity brought about through consistent communication, practice and partnering. To put a finer point on this: You want to take the time to really teach your horse, rather than forcing him because his movement will be more natural and thus more fluid, energetic and precise. You should also be aware that "pain" is a poor motivator. After some time, it'll take more and more of it to get the same movement. In the end, you'll save the headaches by taking the time to teach your horse properly. Bottom line: Teach this material with a snaffle bit.

And so... how do we get to a point where we can just move our hands a few inches and get a great and fluid turn? We get this by...

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Read previous article: When Buying a Horse: 5 First-Timer Tips

Read next article: Lungeing a Horse: How, When & Why

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   Meet the author:  

Keith Hosman
John & Josh Lyons Certified
Clinician and Trainer

Utopia, TX (Hill Country of San Antonio)

Keith Hosman is based in San Antonio, TX and is available for clinics, lessons and training. He frequently travels to Los Angeles, CA and Kansas City, MO where he partners with fellow clinician Patrick Benson for clinics and demonstrations. You can find him on Google+ and Reddit



Related Products and Articles

To see articles and training products related to the article you just read, see the following topics:

Conditioned Response
Connect Rein to Feet
Connect Rein to Shoulders
Cues Lesson Plans Goals
Directional Control
Lateral Work - also see Diagonals
Motivate and Motivator
Neck Reining
Plow Reining
Rein to Feet Connection
Shoulder Control

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Lyons Training 101: Issue Thirty-five, Part 1
"How to Teach a Horse to Neck Rein: Neck Reining How To"
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