Flex Your Horse's Neck from the Saddle

Bend your horse's neck from the saddle to get full benefit of the neck-flexion exercise.

To Get the Most from this Lesson:

| Photos by Darrell Dodds
  • Before you begin, turn your horse out, work him in a round pen, or do some of my longeing for respect to get him relaxed and using the thinking side of his brain.
  • Outfit him in a saddle and snaffle bridle.
  • Before you mount, refresh his memory by reviewing my lesson from the ground, using the bridle.
  • Conduct both lessons (the ground one and this one) from both sides.

This time, I’ll show you how this exercise transfers to under-saddle work so you can get the maximum benefit out of this simple yet very useful maneuver.

If you practice lateral flexion routinely every day, it will make your horse lighter and more responsive, improve his steering, and teach (or reinforce) to him the concept of yielding to pressure.

It’s great for young horses, and it helps older, stiffer ones become more enjoyable partners.

It also is the beginning of a one-rein emergency stop, which you can use any time you get into trouble with your horse. (The one-rein stop works because when you bend your horse’s neck, it causes his hind feet to cross over, which unbalances him and prompts him to stop. When you pull with both reins, your horse can stay balanced for forward movement and thus avoid stopping if he chooses.)

You’ll start this exercise by drawing on one rein to ask your horse to bend his neck to the side, just as you did from the ground in the latter part of last month’s lesson. You’ll hold the tension until his feet are still and he “gives” to create slack in the line. At that instant you’ll drop the rein, praise him, and allow him to rest for a moment with his neck straight before you resume asking for flexion.

With the work you’ve already done from the ground, your horse should be willing and able to touch his nose to your boot, jeans or stirrup.

1. Before we begin, I want to show you exactly where to pull to when you draw on the rein. Bring your pulling hand straight back toward the place where the side seam of your jeans meets your belt. This gives you a full range of motion (by contrast, if you pull toward your middle, your hand will be stopped by your belly).

2. Now that you know where to “go” with the pull, take the ends of the reins in your other hand, and with your pulling hand grasp one rein midway down your horse’s neck, as I am here.

3. Now pull in a steady pressure back toward that spot where your seam meets your belt. If your horse resists, just keep the pressure on and wait until…

4. …your horse gives to the pressure, creating slack in the rein by touching his nose to your boot or jeans, or the stirrup. My horse stood still throughout the bending, but some horses will begin to circle in response to the one-rein pressure. If yours does, just be patient and wait. Keep the rein pressure on as long as it takes–even one or two minutes–until your horse’s feet stop and he “gives.” The instant that happens…

5. …drop the rein to allow your horse to straighten his neck and stand at ease for a moment, as a reward. Timing is critical here. The quicker you are to release all pressure when your horse responds properly, the quicker he learns what he’s supposed to do.

6. Once you’ve repeated the flexion several times from both sides, try it while your horse is walking forward. The process is the same; reach forward and grasp the rein partway down your horse’s neck and pull…

7. …maintaining the pressure until your horse brings his head around and stops his feet. In the next instant, I’ll pitch him slack and say, “Good boy.”

Clinton Anderson travels around the country, presenting horsemanship clinics and headlining at horse expos.

This article originally appeared in the July 2006 issue of Horse & Rider magazine.

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