"Use your outside rein!"
"You need a better neck rein so you can balance the horse better."
"Half-halt/check with the outside rein."
In any of these three scenarios, your instructor is letting you know that your outside rein is either not being used correctly, or it isn't active enough to be helping your horse. However, a neck rein isn't an outside rein that is simply pulled backward.
We often rely so much on our inside reins that we tend to forget the purpose and use of the outside rein. We can apply the outside rein as a direct rein, or a neck rein. Although both work to achieve better balance and communication with the horse, there are significant differences to each. Today, we will talk about why and how to create an effective neck rein.
We use the neck rein in all disciplines. Regardless of the style of riding, the neck rein can and should be used for basic communication. Using a snaffle bit, the outside rein is generally shorter and used with contact. Using a curb bit, the rein is longer and ideally used with less contact. However, in general, the neck rein is used in the same manner in all disciplines and for the same purposes.
What Is A Neck Rein?
This specific type of rein aid is identified by the way that it "wraps around" the outside of the horse's neck. In general, it sits gently along the horse's neck and is always available to act within the right moment in the horse's stride.
Why Use A Neck Rein?
The neck rein acts as a powerful communicator. Used with contact, it can help the horse maintain balance by half-halting the energy as it comes to the forehand. Too much energy left unchecked will cause the horse to fall forward onto the front legs. The neck rein can prevent the fall before it happens and help the horse maintain more weight on the hind legs. In this manner, when used at the end of a sequence of aids, the outside neck rein is a main actor in creating and maintaining collection.
Once you become more adept in using your body aids, the neck rein also can become the initiator of a turn. Rather than pulling on the inside rein, the horse learns to move away from the neck rein. So if you want to turn left, you apply the right neck rein and use your seat/leg/torso aids to indicate the direction. The horse feels the "wrapped around the neck" rein pressure and steps away from it. This way, you can limit the use of the inside rein to just maintaining flexion (so that you can see the corner of the horse's inside eye). The by-product of less inside rein is that you will not restrict the inside hind leg from reaching as far as it should to balance around the turn.
"Filling Up" the Neck Rein
I use the term filling up because the neck rein isn't about just pulling backward. In fact, the ideal situation is to hold the rein at the desired length you need for the moment, and then to "push" the horse into the rein. The horse steps toward the rein, feels the pressure and then responds.
- Use your inside aids to bend the horse.
Starting with your weight on your inside seat bone, then leg, then upper body, push the horse to the outside of the circle. As your horse gets better, and your timing gets better, your push will become lighter. But at the beginning, you may need a fair amount of pressure to be clear in what you want.
- Inside rein is for flexion.
The only thing your inside rein should do is to maintain the flexion in the horse's head - that is, to keep the horse looking to the inside of the turn. Otherwise, it should be softly fluttering in and out of contact as needed. What it shouldn't be doing is maintaining a rigid pressure on the horse's mouth.
- Maintain a steady outside rein
If you can keep your outside rein at a consistently "good" length (depending on your discipline), you will begin to feel the horse as he steps to the outside, thereby filling up the outside rein.
At this point, you will have the neck rein positioned and the horse stepping into it. Now, it is up to you to use it to your advantage. As mentioned above you can use it to rebalance the horse, or use it to initiate a turn. As your horse begins the turn, you can keep the neck rein in light contact, being fairly inactive, unless you need to as again.
Once you discover the power of the neck rein, you'll wonder how you ever rode without it. Using an effective neck rein is one more step in the direction of becoming more subtle and harmonious with your horse. Not only that, but it will also allow him to move with a straighter body and spine.
How and why do you use a neck rein? Comment below.
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