Using the Neck Stretcher (German Elastic)

Using A Neck Stretcher (German Elastic)

The neck-stretcher, also called a German elastic, is an auxillary training aid (or gadget) that is commonly used when riding or lunging. The item is very simple and consists of a length of elastic or bungee cord which is passed over the poll , through the bit rings and then either between the legs, secured to the girth, or on either side of the horse to the saddle or lunge roller.

The principle on which this gadget seems to work is that when the horse lifts his head up higher than he should, pressure is placed on the poll, which is uncomfortable for the horse. In order to find relief, he will lower the head and neck to escape the pressure. This then has the effect of setting the head and neck in a more ‘acceptable’ position. There is no rider influence on the elastic, and it cannot be adjusted while riding. The elastic is preferred to a solid type rein as it stretches and thereby has some ‘give’ and is supposed to encourage the horse to stretch into a contact. (see drawings below)

Correctly fitted, the rein should only come into play when the horse lifts his head higher than the rider feels he must, however I must sadly say that I have noticed many horses being ridden on elastics fitted way too tight.

I have used this gadget on numerous occasions in the past and I believe, as with the plethora of other auxillary aids out there, that on the right horse and under the right circumstances with an experienced rider, these aids can be of use. Unfortunately it is also sadly a fact that most people who use gadgets have no idea how they work, fit them incorrectly and ruin perfectly good horses with them.

On a horse that needs to learn to stretch down on the lunge or one that simply needs to be shown what is being asked by the rider, build a musculature that will help the horse work in a better frame, this rein can be of benefit, if the following points are kept in mind:

- The horse must be worked forward and straight from behind to front. This means that the horse should track up well from behind, the footprints of the hind feet being placed down in front of those of the front feet.

- The neck should not be allowed to ‘break’ at the poll, which very commonly happens with the neckstretcher. (see pic) Instead of stretching up out of a raised shoulder with the poll the highest point, the horse simply drops behind the vertical from the 3rd vertebrae in order to escape the contact.

- The rider should pay particular attention to maintaining an even, consistent contact with the horse’s mouth, as the rider will often leave the work of the hand up to the elastic. The horse does not learn to accept a contact on the mouth, only to yield to pressure on the poll.

- Be very aware that the horse may very well learn to use the elastics to balance himself, instead of carrying himself correctly. When the rein is removed, the horse is worse than before, firstly because he has not learnt to move properly and has used the rein to steady himself around corners, through transitions and so forth, combined with the fact that he has learned only to yield to pressure from the poll, not to the rider’s aids and contact.

- The rider should realize that there is no control of the reward or pressure on the rein – it controls itself ! It works independently of the rider.

If the rider is in the habit of ‘snatching’ at the reins, or cannot maintain a consistent contact, then this elastic will enable the horse to steady the bit in the mouth slightly. In the horse’s mind, a steady pull is better than contant tugging. The problem is that the rider must learn to steady the contact, not use an aid that compensates for poor contact!

As with most auxillary aids out there, the neck stretcher is only concerned with fixing the front end of the horse, and little attention is being paid to what is happening behind the rider! Working in a correct frame begins behind, so the use of something to fix the front end seems of little concern when the front end of the horse is only reflecting what is going on behind, which is the most important part!

If a rider wishes to use this auxiliary aid, I would suggest that firstly, they assess why they wish to do so, then decide what they wish to achieve and finally, only ever use it under the guidance of a qualified instructor.


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Anonymous said...

This was a much better article describing he pro's and con's of the neck stretcher. It is hard to get an unbiased description of certain equipment on the internet, but having used this device and wanting to implement it, I was curious as to what feedback I might get from on lookers. Now it seems everyone runs straight to the internet for their opinion on a method or training question and it can be frustrating when something has gotten one negative comment online. I agree this is advanced equipment and shouldn't be used by many people, and I would never lunge or use the side position of this device.

Renee said...

You are so right, Anonymous! It is very hard to get both sides of the coin... I am so glad you enjoyed the article. I have found the neck stretcher to be useful on some horses, and in fact am using it with a client at the moment as this pony is just too strong for its little rider and rather than push a stronger bit into his mouth, the neck stretcher is giving him something to think about while she learns to use her hand effectively and just grows a little more! Keep up the riding and exploring and don't ever be scared to question things, learn as much as you can and keep cming back! Renee

Anonymous said...

Nice blog as for me. I'd like to read a bit more about this matter. Thank you for giving that information.

Anonymous said...

It is useful to try everything in practise anyway and I like that here it's always possible to find something new. :)

Underberg Girl said...

Interesting reading - thank you for both the pro's and con's. As an alternative... What are everyone's thoughts on lunging in a Passoa Lunging System before getting on...? I like the idea of working from the ground before saddling up but as per usual books, etc are very one sided. Anyone with opinions/experience??

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