Tack: Auxiliary Equipment
The Neck Stretcher
By Karen Nelson
Used for lunging and ridden/flat work. This should NOT be used for jumping as the horse is unable to stretch its neck
out over the fence, or raise it for balance on the land.
This training aid very basic; it is a long elastic rope that runs from either between the legs, or the side of the girth, up
to the bit, and then around the poll. The device is usually tightened by a clip that sits on the horse’s poll.
The concept of how it works is fairly simple. If the horse raises its head and/or pushes its nose out, the device
primarily puts downward pressure on the poll, with secondary pressure on the bit. If the Neck Stretcher is attached
between the legs there is less pressure on the mouth and more on the poll.
How it works:
- If the horse raises its head, the “neck stretcher”, puts pressure on the poll with a thin stretchy cord. This is a fairly
severe pull along the horse’s spine. The pull is sharp enough to encourage the horse to drop his head back down,
providing the horse is trained to submit to pressure. Some horses may resist this pressure and suck their heads in
and back as a response.
- If the horse sticks its nose out, then there is pressure on the bit as well as the poll. The bit is pulled up and back
more than it would with normal rein pressure. The bit may be pulled up into the teeth. Having the bit up against the
teeth can damage the teeth, and some horses find this feeling unbearable and the horse will learn to fear the bit.
- If the horse lowers its head and the stretcher is done between the legs, then the device is unlikely to come into
play. If the stretcher is done to the side, then the stretcher will again squeeze up on the bit and down on the poll,
sending conflicting signals.
When properly adjusted, the neck stretcher should only come into effect if the horse raises its head, or pokes its nose
out an unacceptable amount. This can be more complicated than it sounds however, as the "head set" of the horse
should reflect the gait and length of stride for that particular gait. Think about it...don't you find yourself adjusting your
rein length or hand position with the different gaits or as you collect and lengthen the stride?
The stretchiness of this gadget means a horse is less likely to violently resist the pressure, this, and its apparent
simplicity make it a popular tool by some training stables, with it being used for a quick fix that overlooks the negative
results that come along with its use.
CONS/RISKS of using the neck stretcher/bungee:
1) When used, people typically put it on the horse tightly adjusted right from the start of the ride/lunging session.
The horse is expected to warm up in a frame without their muscles being allowed to warm up first. Putting tension on a
cold muscle can cause cramping and ultimately damage the muscle. A horse should always be warmed up and cooled
down in a loose frame.
2) Similarly, as people rarely adjust the device throughout the ride, they rarely lengthen it for forward work, and in
doing so discourage the horse from properly coming forward and stretching its spine for lengthened gaits.
3) As the device is fixed in position, it does not allow the horse to bob its head as is correct for the walk and the
canter. This results in the horse developing a short, stilted walk, discouraging over track, and encourages the horse
to curl its neck under and rock onto its forehand at the canter. For a horse to properly use its back at either gait, it
must be able to USE its head and neck! To experiment with this yourself, try to walk briskly and run with your arms
fixed at your side and a stiff neck!
4) When used for lunging, the rider will find that the lesson learned by this device does not transfer well to ridden
work without the device, as the neck stretcher puts the pressure on the poll rather than the bit. It does not teach the
horse to yield correctly to the bit.
5) When used for ridden work, the rider does not control the device, and cannot give or take as needed…the
device is fixed at one length for the entire ride.
6) This device encourages riders to ride from front to back: pulling the horse into a "Frame" rather than develop
the muscles through correct training. As it uses force to achieve this, the horse may be forced to hold a frame that it is
not physically able to maintain which can lead to a physical and/or mental break down.
7) Finally, the neck stretcher’s pressure encourages the horse to break at its 3rd vertebra rather than at the pole
as is technically correct. This is typical of training that is “Front to back”. To train a horse to carry itself properly, riders
must ride from back to front!
You can see by the photo to the left, that even though this neck stretcher is
adjusted loosely, the horse is still breaking over at the 3rd vertebra rather than at
the pole. You can also see how tense the horse's ears are as he concentrates on
holding his head behind the contact to avoid the poll pressure.
The Neck Stretcher / Bungee: