Icelandic Horse Connection

Neckline Driving by Robyn Hood, TTEAM

Link to this page!

Use Google Bookmarks to Bookmark This Page

Neckline driving is a gem of a tool.

How to use TTEAM's variation on ground-driving to improve your horse for any discipline.
By Robyn Hood - copyright 2001 - from TTEAM Up With Your Horse (now TTEAM Connections)

Would you like your horse to be more responsive, lighter and more balanced when you ask him to halt? Does your horse rush to be in front when riding in a group on the trail? Does he hurry through narrow spaces or kick out at other horses when they pass in the show ring or stable aisle? Are you starting a young horse or wish to teach your horse to drive? Read on-neckline driving is for you.

Its remarkable how many horses neck driving can help. While this exercise can be used to troubleshoot individual problems, it can also be used to start any horse off on the right foot to prevent training issues from arising, or simply to make a good horse even better. It's also useful for:
  • Horses who exhibit fear of things behind them or who kick. Typical situations triggering this reaction include other horses coming up from behind; horses that want to be in front on the trail; horses with aggressive behavior; horses who refuse to back out of a trailer or who kick in the trailer. Most unbroken or green horses instinctively fear things behind them and will often kick reflexively when unsure. Neckline driving helps defuse these concerns, educate the youngster about his body and produce an all- around safer horse.

  • Horses who travel above the bit, behind the bit or are ewe-necked benefit from neckline driving because they learn to stop through the body by shifting their weight back over the hindquarters instead of shorting the neck and tightening the back. The ropes around the base of the neck act like a balance rein and trigger the "seeking reflex," a passive neck reflex connected to the engagement of the belly and back.

  • Horses who rush through narrow spaces or who swing around to face things they are afraid of lack awareness of their body. In other words, they don't know how much space they take up. Consider that horses cannot easily see their own feet, particularly the hind ones. The lines along the body help give clear information to the nervous system and help to change such horses' habitual response to things from behind or beside them.

  • Horses who are afraid to cross water or that jump ditches rather than step through or over them often suck back through the neck and body. Neckline driving over poles and across plastic and plywood helps change the horse's habit and the way he responds to other situations.

  • Horses who are blind in one eye or losing sight. We have found that using this driving technique gives the horse more awareness and information about the blind side of the body, making him a less fearful and safer companion both under saddle and in hand.

Neckline driving epitomizes the TTEAM philosophy of creative problem-solving, teamwork and step-by-step success. Let's get started!

TOOLS OF THE TRADE Here is what you'll need:
  • a well-fitting flat nylon halter . 4-foot stiff whip (wand)
  • lead chain with nylon lead or Zephyr lead (has marine rope instead of chain)
  • two 21-foot driving lines, 7 to 9 mm in diameter.

Neckline driving requires at least two people-one at the horse's head and the other holding the lines. In the how-to that follows, we'll assume that you will be the one holding the lines, and we'll call you "the driver." Your helper will be called the "front person" or "leader."

From your position, you'll initiate the stop and go, and your "front per- son" will steer and reinforce your instructions. If you have a third person to help out, use the Homing Pigeon to help balance the horse and give a sense of boundary and information from both sides of the body. (For more information, see TTEAM Up With Your Horse, Jan./Feb. '99, p. 4.)

Before you begin, I recommend that you place a body wrap on the horse, either as a figure eight or with the bridge over the back. Although this step is optional, it will give the horse a better connection through the body, improve his self-image and reduce the concern he may have about the lines touching the sides. This is especially important for a young or green horse, as it helps defuse his concern about fear of things behind. (See TTEAM Up With Your Horse, Sept./Oct. '97, p. 8)


Have your helper stand at the horse's head, holding the lead and wand. Have her stroke the horse all over with the wand, starting with the underside of the neck and down the front legs. Use enough contact to have a slight flex in the wand to avoid tickling the horse. Stroke both sides. The horse's reaction will not only give you a sense of his level of concern, it will also start giving him a better sense of himself.


Now fold one of your driving lines in half and place it around the base of the horse's neck, as you stand about a foot out from the horse's shoulder with a line in each hand (Photo I). Your helper stays even with the horse's head to allow you space to work at the horse's shoulder. For safety, the two of you should always stay on the same side of the horse.

We want you to practice going forward and stopping several times, hand-holding the neckline to give you and your horse a "baby step" to prepare. Start by saying "and waaalk, " with the neck- line slack around the base of the neck. Your front person reinforces the signal by moving the wand forward in front of the horse's nose and giving a light ask-and-release signal on the lead.

Walk a few steps forward and then make contact with the neckline, giving a slight up-and-back signal on the base of the horse's neck as you say, "and whoaaa. " The front person reinforces the halt with a signal from the wand toward the horse's chest and a light signal on the lead. This helps the horse get the idea about stopping through the body when he feels a signal on the chest. We want you to give a verbal command at each step for two reasons: First, it sends a "cue" to the person in front to follow up with the reinforcing signals; and second, it teaches the horse to start listening to signals coming from behind his head, which will set the stage for riding and ground driving with just one person.

Practice the walk and halt sequences several times, then change sides and repeat from the right. If you are using the Homing Pigeon, only the neckline person will need to change sides.


Position one end of the rope around the horse's neck, using a special quick-release knot that will not tighten around the neck and can be released with the pull of the short end (see box with drawings and how-to). With the button end of the wand held toward the end of the neckline, wrap the rope several times around the wand. Be sure the loop of the rope is long enough to stroke along the horse's body but not so long that it hangs below his belly. Stroke the horse with the wand and the rope along the topline and hindquarters. Stay in front of the horse's hip and watch his reaction in the eye, ear, posture, etc. If he is comfortable about this step, the person leading can ask the horse to come forward a few steps and then halt. If your horse remains quiet, walk a few steps forward with the line looped around the wand (Photo 2)


The line can now be taken off the wand and held in two hands with the end of the rope in the outside hand. If you are still the one handling the lines, stand off to the side slightly so the horse can see you (and you can see the horse's eye) and bring the rope against the horse's body with your inside hand. Then ask the horse to step forward by stroking with the rope against his body and giving a little signal with the rope to ask him to move for ward, while your handler in front reinforces the to signal. Walk a few steps and then give a signal from the rope around the neck to halt. Repeat this exercise several times from both sides.

If, at any time during this exercise, your horse is nervous about the lines, use a bit of food to help replace the fear of the ropes with a pleasant experience and encourage the horse to breathe (Photo 3). Do this from both sides and take care to slide up the ropes so neither you nor your horse can become entangled. A little food keeps him breathing, activates the parasympathetic nervous system and replaces something he is concerned about with a pleasant experience. It is difficult to hold the breath and chew at the same time!


After using a single line on both sides, add the second line by tying it in the same fashion on the other side. Before driving your horse from behind, take a few more moments to bring both lines to bring both lines to one side and walk beside the horse with the two lines along one side of his body. Move toward the back of the horse but stay just off to one side so you can still see his eye, and slide the second line over the opposite side of the horse (Photo 4).

As the driver, it's your job to give the person leading the horse clear direction about where you want to go and enough time to execute the plan. Some horses take a moment or two to respond the signal from behind. Be sure to wait at least two seconds before repeating. This holds for work under saddle as well. Give your horse a chance to get the message and respond.

Try to maintain your lines with a supported slack-not too taut and not completely droopy. Just the weight of the lines gives a signal. If there is no slack, it gives a constant signal and can be confusing or trigger the horse to lean forward.

With your palm up, lay both tines across your palm with your index finger separating the lines. Depending on the size of your horse and the length of your lines, hold the lines about 18 inches from the ends. Your free hand picks up one line over the index finger. To keep a connecting "bridge" between the two lines, take some from the "tail" of the rope you are holding.


You are now ready to neckline drive, as shown in Photo 5. As before, to go forward, say, 'aaand walk" and give a signal with one line. Initiate your signal with a horizontal movement of your hand, which creates a wave along the horse's body. Your helper can then give a signal at the head, if necessary. To stop, say 'aaand whoa." (The "aaand" gives both the horse and the leader a chance to know something is coming, similar to a half halt.) On the "aaand," take the slack out of the line, give a signal back and then release. It is actually on the release-not on the pull-that the horse stops in balance. Your helper can follow with a signal from the wand and lead, but by now your horse should readily stop from your neckline signal.

Note: Be sure that on the stop your "bridge" is wide enough to allow your hands to be wider than the horse's hindquarters. Otherwise, you may be giving him a signal to stop on the chest and go on the back end. Most horses actually get calmer and more focused as you go through the steps. If you find that your horse does not settle within about five minutes of each step, go back to where he was comfortable or use the obstacles.

Once you, your horse and your helper are functioning smoothly, you can drive your horse around the arena and try some TTEAM exercises. Use various pole configurations as you are driving to give your horse a focal point and a parameter as well as something to think about.

Robyn Hood & Philip Pretty
Icelandic Horse Farm
Vernon, BC

To contact us, please go to the Contact Page.