Neck straps are often associated with young or tricky horses. However, many riders use them, and all have their reasons for doing so – even five-star and Olympic eventer William Fox-Pitt always uses one, even in the highest level of competition.
Why neck straps?
- Neck straps are great for giving riders confidence in the saddle, particularly on new horses. When trying a horse for the first time, always use a neck strap! You’ll be amazed at how much more confidence it gives you.
- For young and novice riders, the neck strap can be an excellent tool for helping to keep hands in the right place and reinforcing the use of other aids before using the hands.
- Neck straps are wonderful tools when starting youngsters, especially when first hacking and jumping. If you become unbalanced or if the horse throws an awkward jump, by holding onto a neck strap, you avoid pulling them in the mouth. Essentially, this underrated piece of tack helps to keep your hands soft and your youngster willing!
The neck strap used must fit both horse and rider, and a lot of this comes down to personal preference and the build of your horse’s neck, withers, and shoulders. Ideally, you want to fit a neck strap so that you can fit one of your fingers underneath it and still be able to hold onto the reins. This usually requires between 10-12cm of slack when measured just in front of the withers. A strap that is too tight will be too far up the neck to reach, but if it’s too loose, it will be too far back. Play around until you find the ideal fit for you and your horse!
Traditionally, many of us have repurposed old stirrup leathers as neck straps. These have the advantage of having multiple holes so they can be adjusted to fit the size of the horse. However, purpose-designed neck straps have now come onto the market. They can be cut to size and personalised with your favourite colours, name, and even an emergency contact number for when you are out hacking.
Did you know?
Neck straps are permitted in all unaffiliated competitions, whereas martingales and breastplates are often not (particularly in dressage). At the higher levels of affiliated competition (FEI), neck straps can be used but must be attached to the saddle to prevent them from slipping forwards towards the horse’s head.