Anyone who aspires to neckrein his horse – be he a Western rider or a polo player – and who starts the horse’s training using the plow-rein, has never asked himself “Why”?
Plow-reining – or “direct reining”, as it is called by clinicians – is the method of pulling on the left rein when you want the horse to go left – just as you do with a plow-horse. Neck-reining is the pushing of the neck toward the direction you wish to go - guiding him with one hand just as handling the joy-stick of a video game.
Imagine your partner standing behind you, and she wants you to look to the left. Would you wish her to hook her finger in your cheek and pull to the left? Or would you prefer that she gently touch you on the right cheek to turn you head?
Like most people, I once started my young horses in a snaffle bit, using a plow rein, and slowly transitioned them to a neckrein. It is the same principle as teaching a kid to steer a bulldozer before introducing him to a car.
But one day, my 10-year-old daughter said “Why, Daddy”? I’ve never plow-reined a horse since.
After that I was able to guarantee a green horse to ‘neckrein in a halter bareback’ in 30 days of training. Since then I have started countless horses, and have a 35-year string of especially light-mouthed and responsive ranch horses. Every time I see someone using two hands on the reins, I ask “Why”?
Many of the horses I was starting at the time of my daughter’s question were range horses straight off the reservation. Some had to be roped for a day or two until I could gain their trust. All of them left with a light mouth and an easy neckrein – as I had started them neck-reining on the first ride, and eliminated the confusion of a long transition period.
The first time I am on top of a horse I ask him to back. Then I lay a rein across his neck and ask him to flex. If he fails to flex his neck, I “check” him with the reins, and ask again. In seconds, he is responding.
From that time on, he is neck-reining. Any time he fails to flex I check him, then ask again.
My horses ride for miles on a slack rein, and turn at any speed with only the most subtle change in the position of my wrist. I prefer the feel of a pair of reins in my hand, and I need room for the coils of my rope in one hand and the loop in the other. But my horses will cut cattle just as well with only a halter and lead-rope.
If you’re ever in Montana and want to ride a real “reining” horse, stop by!