with a Liberty Neck Ring
By Linda Tellington-Jones and Robyn Hood
Here's how to reawaken the joy of riding and put a new "handle"
on your equine partner. (Note! This is Part 1 in a two-part series. Please
refer to "Reap the Dividends of Going Bridleless" for Part 2.)
As a child, you may have taken pleasure in riding bareback with just a
rope around your horse's neck. It was part
of the fun and sense of freedom of riding. For more than three decades,
riding with a neck ring or just a rope around the neck-often with nothing
on the horse's head-has been one of the foundation exercises of the TTEAM
method. Riding without a bridle gives the rider a feeling of riding Pegasus,
the winged horse. More specifically, it
* gives both horse and rider a new sense of trust and partnership
* develops a rider's confidence in his or her seat
* develops a rider's balance without depending on the reins
* improves balance and general performance with a bridle.
Riding without a bridle isn't new, nor is it a gimmick. Nearly 30 years
ago at our Pacific Coast School of Horsemanship, we toured the United
States giving demonstrations of bridleless drill team jumping with two
stallions, a mare and a gelding. This display of riding inspired people
with a sense of wonder at the ability to ride a horse with seemingly so
In 1975, I introduced the concept of bridleless riding to Europe at Equitana
in Germany Three of us jumped a course bareback and bridleless. Europeans
were incredulous, and the major German horse magazine wrote an article
stating how impossible and dangerous this was, and adding that there must
be a special secret. However, in the ensuing two decades, thousands of
riders in Europe and North America have discovered the joy and advantages
in deepening their relationship with their horse with this Pegasus-like
You may be wondering:
* How do I safely begin?
* What if my stable does not allow bridleless riding because of insurance?
* Is it advisable to ride bridleless with a spooky horse?
* How soon in the course of training can I ride a green horse bridleless?
There are many instances in which you may not want to take off the bridle.
Perhaps you are starting a young horse; insurance at your stable will
not allow it; or you simply do not feel that it would be a safe thing
to do. Can using the neck ring with a bridle still have benefit? Absolutely!
You needn't ever take off the bridle completely to get the benefits of
riding with a neck lariat.
This first of two articles about riding with the lariat neck ring will
lay the groundwork, no matter what your choice. In this article, we will
focus on the basics of using the neck ring with a bridle and showing you
some of the ways in which it can help you and your horse.
How to Hold the Neck Ring
Start with whatever bridle you are already using. We normally use a stiff,
adjustable ring made of lariat rope that the horse can feel readily (these
rings are available from our office-see p.24 for how to order). The stiffness
also makes it easy for the rider to reach the top of the neck for turning.
We occasionally use a wooden neck ring, as shown in photo 5 on page 7,
especially for horses who are particularly unwilling to bend.
Don't be afraid to experiment with different ways of holding the reins
and neck ring. You can hold the neck ring in both hands, much like a second
rein. You can hold the reins in one hand and the neck ring in the other.
Or you may find it easier in the beginning to pick up the reins with a
signal from the neck ring to turn or stop. You should quickly find that
using the neck ring will reduce your dependency on the reins, giving you
an improved sense of balance over your feet.
Now let's look at some of the basic movements, stop and circling with
the neck lariat.
How to Use the Neck Ring
If you ride Western, it may be easier for stopping and turning to hold
the reins in one hand and the neck ring in the other. If you ride English,
give a light signal on the turning rein at the same time
To give the signal to stop, pick up the neck ring to make a light signal
and release contact two-thirds of the way up the horse's neck while using
a long, toned, verbal 'whoaaa'. Follow the angle of the shoulder rather
than pull straight back. You may have to use your rein along with the
neck ring to reinforce the signal as you and your horse learn these new
dance steps. Signal and release two or three times to accomplish a complete
halt while closing your inner thigh and exhaling deeply. Remember, the
horse will actually respond on the "release" rather than the
pull-if you constantly pull on the ring, many horses will simply lean
into it. Be aware, too, that you are pulling against the sensitive windpipe,
so be sure only to signal for the stop and avoid pulling.
The neck ring lightens a horse's front end and shifts his weight back
to produce a balanced halt. In order to stop the horse, you will almost
automatically use your seat and legs in a more effective way. Your balance,
as well as your horse's, will improve as you both start to "smile"
at the new sense of connection.
When riding in a circle, initiate the turn by imagining a searchlight
in the middle of your chest. Look around with your eyes in the direction
of the turn and swivel your body to follow. This will keep you from leaning
into the turn and remain in better balance with your horse.
The neck ring will quickly reveal your horse's tendency to lean into the
circle in one direction or the other. It simultaneously gives you the
means to pick up his shoulder and neck and encourage him to stay on the
outside of the circle's perimeter. For instance, say you are traveling
to the left and your horse tends to pop his left shoulder to the inside,
with his body stiff rather than softly following the arc of the circle.
In this situation, the horse will tend to make smaller and smaller circles.
Hold the neck lariat so that it touches the neck near the shoulder on
the inside and close to the poll on the outside. At the same time, hold
your inside leg steady at the girth to encourage him to bend around it.
As you ride, try out different positions of the neck ring, from near the
base of the neck all the way up to near the throatlatch. Be careful to
only make contact with the neck ring when you are giving a clear signal,
such as to turn, slow down or halt.
Practice turning and stopping at a walk first. Once you feel comfortable
with the horse's response, you can pick up a trot. Most people find that
the trot and the canter will also improve with the use of the neck ring.
Experiment to see what happens when you hold the neck ring with your inside
hand, then your outside hand, then both hands. Do you lean more or less
with one or the other? How does your horse feel? Is the circle rounder
holding the neck ring one way or the other? Once your horse stops and
turns to a light signal, tie the reins in a knot halfway up the neck and
practice with the ring only.
Next month we will show you how to make the transition to riding without
a bridle. It's impossible to imagine the changes you will see in stride,
balance, and a feeling of fun for you and your horse. (If you don't have
a neck ring, you can start with a thick rope around the neck to begin
to get the feeling-see p.24 for how to order the equipment.) Even if you
eventually choose not to remove the bridle, the lariat neck ring is a
great tool for both you and your horse. If you have as much fun and success
with it as we think you will, add a lariat neck ring to your TTEAM tool
kit and enjoy "that Pegasus feeling."
The neck ring can be held together with the reins using both hands. Try
holding the rein between your middle and ring fingers and the neck ring
around the little finger. You can position the neck ring near the base
of the neck or up toward the throatlatch. Be careful to only make contact
with the neck ring when you are giving a clear signal, such as to turn,
slow down or halt.
As Robyn demonstrates, you may find it easier to hold the reins in one
hand and the neck ring in the other for stopping and turning. Here, the
ring has been lifted halfway up the neck, a good position for signaling
If your horse simply ignores the neck lariat, you may find that a wooden
neck ring can give a stronger signal in the early stages of training.
Here the rider demonstrates positioning the neck ring for a turn. Notice
how much like neck reining the signal is.
Scarlett is a 5-year-old mare who, with warm-up, goes in a rounder frame
than this above-the-bit, hollow-backed frame. But it takes time to get
it and then she is often heavy in her rider Valerie's hand.
Within a few minutes of adding the neck ring, Scarlett lifts her withers,
lengthens and rounds her topline from withers to poll and engages her
hindquarters. Valerie's position is more stable.
the Neck Ring Can Help Your Horse:
collection: Most people talk about starting collection through
the engagement of the hindquarters. Often what you see is quite the opposite-the
horse's head is set in the front and the rider pushes the horse into the
hand. It's a little like trying to drive a car with the emergency brake
on. There is a passive reflex at the base of a horse's neck called the
seeking reflex. When this is triggered-which can be encouraged with the
balance rein or neck ring set at the base of the neck-the horse's withers
rise and the neck rounds from withers to poll. That is what is happening
with Scarlet in photo 7. As this is happening, the horse's belly muscle
engages and the back comes up.
Teach a horse to back: The neck ring is an excellent
tool for teaching a horse to back. Pick up the neck ring and use it in
combination with your reins. It encourages the horse to back in balance,
without dropping the withers and hollowing his back.
Improve gaited horses: We have found the neck ring helps a horse
pick up his neck from the withers to improve the gait with Icelandics,
Peruvians, Walkers, Paso Finos and other gaited breeds. In order to properly
perform a rack-like gait, a horse must engage the hindquarters. Some riders
are taught to just pull up the horse's head, which may work in the short
run, but is physically hard on horses in the long run, The lariat aids
in the collection necessary to free the horse's front end. It is important
to use a light touch-and-release signal about two-thirds of the way up
the horse's neck, and to avoid pulling.
Teach a horse to neck rein: Making turns with the neck
ring is a great way to start a horse neck reining. The outside of the
neck ring touches the horse's neck about six inches behind the ear, and
the inside of the neck ring touches just in front of the shoulder. Use
a touch-and-release signal rather than holding the pressure. If you use
this approach in combination with your reins it will help transfer the
signal to neck reining.
Calm horses on the trail: Horses that rush or jig when
they turn back for the barn can be steadied by using the neck ring low
on the neck along with your reins. If you ride one-handed, pick up the
lariat with your free hand and use the touch-and-release signal just above
the base of your horse's neck. If you ride two-handed, hold the lariat
with your little fingers and the reins between the ring and middle fingers,
as if you were riding with double reins, or pick up the reins with your
ring fingers and the stiff neck ring with your middle fingers. This technique
also can be used for horses with a tendency to shy. Pick up the neck ring
as needed and allow it to rest on the horse's neck when it is not needed.
Start young horses: We start our young horses under saddle
with a Lindell side-pull hackamore along with the lariat neck ring. By
using the combination, horses learn to shift their weight back onto the
hindquarters when stopping. Turning is aided with the neck ring helping
horses stay more balanced through turns.
Slow horses that rush jumps: Using the neck ring along with the reins
can help to steady a horse that tends to rush. Engage the neck ring from
the base of the neck to about halfway up it.
TTEAM Up With Your Horse --The Tellington TTouch Equine Awareness
Volume 2 - Number 4 Nov/DEC, 1998 Pp. 5-8
L.T.J. BALANCE REIN:
tool effective in rounding, steadying and balancing your horse is the
Balance Rein. We use a 3/8" thick, 7'2" rope or a leather strap
as a Balance Rein. it is used in conjunction with the snaffle rein. With
the TTEAM training bit that has two reins, it is combined with the top
rein (or snaffle). The effects are usually marked immediately. Many times
a rider tends to ride a particular horse off the bit or between the feet
and hands. For horses who tend to come above the bit or to go behind the
vertical, the combination of the snaffle rein and the Balance Rein, used
approximately 50-50, collects the horse while keeping him in a state of
balance. This technique effectively brings the back up and lengthens the
neck so that horses who suck back or shorten their necks when ridden on
contact, or under collection, no longer do so. Horses who tend to pull
on the bit stop pulling in a matter of minutes when they feel the contact
around the base of the neck. In Germany, a twelve year old girl brought
her sister's 16.2 hand Trakehner mare to a week-long clinic to see if
she could get any help. The mare would not walk; she jigged or trotted
flat out and was held back only with all the strength this rider had.
When the mare broke into a gallop, the twelve year old completely lost
control. Because this rider was pulling on the mare's mouth for control,
the horse shortened her neck, and her back became too sensitive. We added
a PBM pad for protection and a Balance Rein for balance. In two '-2 hour
sessions the mare improved greatly. I had the rider practice the shortened
walk that we call a half-walk. I had her practice slow, posting trots
with a pressure of about 60% on the Balance Rein and 40% on the bit. The
change in the mare was really exciting to see; and the rider was able
to ride her home, a mile from the stable, with complete control and without
hanging on her mouth. Another difference of the Balance Rein is that it
sits low on the chest, at the base of the horse's neck, whereas the lariat
is moved up the horse's neck for the signal to stop. The Balance Rein
at the base of the neck helps the horse to round his neck. Because of
this, the conformation and carriage of ewe-necked horses can be changed.
Interestingly enough, this softness and roundness in ewe-necked horses
carries over from the use of the Balance Rein to the use of the lariat
neck ring. We have found the Balance Rein or the lariat neckring extremely
useful for starting young horses. In combination with the Lindel and with
a helper leading the horse, we use it the very first time the horse is
ridden. During the following lessons, as the horse learns to work without
a leader, we find that the horse stops more easily and in balance when
we use the combined signal of the Lindel and the Balance Rein or lariat
neckring. The Balance Rein or lariat ring also prevent the common problem
of "rooting" with the nose that is so often seen with newly-started
same principles apply for unaware horses who walk through signals. They
learn to listen, to pay attention to their riders and to stop IN BALANCE.
I consider the development of this combination of Balance Rein/snaffle
rein revolutionary in its effects on a horse's mental, emotional and physical