Linda Tellington Jones:

Riding 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 little control.

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 feeling.
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 the halt.

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.


How the Neck Ring Can Help Your Horse:

Encourage 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 Method
Volume 2 - Number 4 Nov/DEC, 1998 Pp. 5-8

Part 2 follows...


Another 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 horses. The
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 balance.