How to Train a Horse to Neck Rein

If you want to be able to ride a horse with full control, then you must have that horse trained with a neck rein. Without this training, a horse will struggle to perform well in many riding disciplines. It is especially important for Western-style riding activities.

Yet many horses are initially resistant to this training process. Some can be downright stubborn about it. Knowing how to train a horse to neck rein can be a simple process if you are able to follow these steps.

#1. Introduce neck reining right away. 

You’ll receive the best results if you introduce the neck rein during your first mounted riding session. You’ve got to teach a green horse how to steer anyway, so the neck rein can be incorporated into that effort. This doesn’t mean the horse will respond to any commands taught during this initial session, but it does start the teaching process.

Older horses can be more resistant to neck reining if they’ve been trained on the mount already without it. The process is similar to that of a green horse. Introduce it on your next session and then be patient. It’s going to be a process.

#2. Use long-term progression to encourage positive results.

It’s usually a good idea to start a horse off in a sidepull when first getting started. It may be several months before the horse is ready to move up to a D-ring or an O-ring snaffle. When the horse is ready, you may also wish to train the horse with a specific bit, like a broken-mouth bit, while working the neck rein.

Expect each training session over these months to last for at least 30 minutes. You’ll likely need to be working with your horse 5 days per week in order to start seeing results.

#3. Start by having the horse walk forward.

When you want the horse to turn slightly to the left or right, then put the opposite rein against the neck of the horse. Once you’ve done this, you’ll want to shorten the inside rein. This will actually pull the head of the horse in the direction that you’re wanting them to go. When the horse responds to the movement by changing direction, then immediately release the pressure and reward the horse with verbal praise.

Don’t expect your turns to be large at first. Renowned horse trained Clark Bradley told Horse Channel that he recommends using 10 degree turns at the beginning of training a horse to neck rein. 

Then repeat the lesson a few more times in the same manner so the behavior is reinforced. A turn doesn’t have to be perfect for it to be rewarded. As long as the horse makes some effort to respond to the neck rein command, it should receive some sort of release.

#4. Keep encouraging forward motion.

As you are working the neck rein, you will also want to keep encouraging the horse to move forward. The best way to do this is to keep your legs into the side of the horse. You may also need to use the outside elbow with a leg or the stirrup to keep moving the outside shoulder of the horse over from time to time.

This process will encourage the horse to turn the entire body instead of just trying to shift their weight a little bit so you’ll release the pressure of the neck rein. Some horses may try to only move their head when given the neck rein command without the reminder at the elbow. Keep the pressure on the reins and use the outside leg to make sure you receive a whole body turn.

#5. Build up to different speeds.

Once the horse is able to respond consistently to your neck rein commands and is comfortable walking in a circle, then it’s time to begin picking up some speed. Start moving up to the trot. Many horses can begin training on the neck rein at the trot within 2-3 weeks – even if it’s a green horse.

How you incorporate the trot depends a lot on your personal preferences. Using a figure-eight pattern with large circles often promotes the training process.

Try to be patient with the neck reining at the trot. Although the horse may have responded well at a walk, neck reining at a trot is a brand new skill. You’ll likely need to repeat the entire process at the new speed. Every increase in pace will require new skills to be developed for that gait.

Don’t get trapped into the idea that you’ve got to neck rein a horse at the lope in the first week of training. Not only will this reduce the amount of steering that you have, but it can get you and the horse into a lot of unexpected trouble.

#6. Avoid putting extra pressure on the inside.

When the horse doesn’t respond to the neck rein command, a natural reaction for many riders is to pull one hand further to the inside. This action actually places more pressure on the outside rein, so it actually teaches the horse to turn to the outside instead of the inside. A better solution is to shorten the inside rein and make a correction with two hands. Put their nose to the inside just a bit and then move the shoulder over.

#7. Stop the busy hands.

Many people have busy hands when they are riding a horse. They’re moving them all the time. It’s something that even professional riders get into a bad habit of doing. Although this may be fine for a horse that is already trained, neck reining with busy hands can create a confusion environment for a horse.

If you send enough conflicting signals to a horse, it will eventually become immune to the commands you’re attempting to introduce. You would need to correct those habits before starting over from scratch with the neck reining process once again.

The worst mistake any rider can make is to be inconsistent. Always follow through with each command given to the horse. Insist that you receive some sort of turn when you ask, even at the very beginning. The turns may be slight, but must be rewarded. Otherwise the horse is going to ignore your busy hands because it gets used to your slight pulls.

Every time you have the neck rein touch the side of their neck, you must complete at least a slight turn.

To have a horse become ready to show, it may take 6-8 months to train a horse to neck rein. If you plan to compete with the horse, many national associations require up to 18-months of training in order to complete. It may be a lengthy process, but with these steps, it can also be one of the easiest commands you’re able to teach your horse.