William riding in the master class at the Australian International 3 Day Event with his neckstrap
I personally won't get on a horse without one and I don’t mean a gin and tonic – although with some horses I’m sure that would help! No what I’m talking about is a neck strap. I am happy to admit I am a neck strap rider and I feel I’m in good company given the fact that William Fox-Pitt feels the same way too.
Actually it was William who started me off with neck straps when I worked for him many years ago. The habit stuck and there have been many occasions since that I have been very glad that it did.
Neck straps have long been associated with beginner riders and that was how William started with them. “When I was learning to ride my mother always made me wear a neck strap because she felt it wasn’t fair to pull on the horse's mouth just because you may have lost your balance. We would get into a lot of trouble if she saw us (my sisters and I) ride without one. As I progressed I came to appreciate that a neck strap was a really useful piece of equipment in so many situations"
"Most of my horses will stop by using a neck strap so on the occasions when those horses spook or go a little faster than I want the neck strap can be used rather than always relying on the rein contact. These days I will rarely get on a horse without a neck strap – it would just feel as if something was missing.”
Look carefully and will see the neck strap in place
If you are riding a horse that’s a little fresh, keeping one finger hooked around your neck strap can be helpful in making you feel a bit more secure. Of course it’s not necessarily going to stop you from falling off but if the horse shoots sideways and you have hold of a neck strap there is more chance you will stay with it.
If you just had hold of the reins the chances are you could lose your balance and grab the reins, whereupon the horse shoots his head up and runs away from sudden rein pressure … so what could have been a simple step sideways turns into a drama.
These days neck straps are becoming a common piece of equipment for many of our top event riders – not just William.
“I think I’ve converted quite a few of the British team to the benefits of wearing a neck strap - certainly Mary (King) is wearing one these days. Of course just because it’s there doesn’t mean to say you have to hang on to it all the time – but it’s just like an added piece of safety equipment. Some people just use the martingale strap and although I have done that on occasion it’s not quite the same because it doesn’t sit in quite the right place and a breastplate is no good because it sits too close to the saddle.”
Quite often the neck straps you see being used are old stirrup leathers but they are not ideal because they are often too thick to hold onto comfortably (this is certainly true for small children).
The neck straps from a martingale (with the martingale itself removed) are better but still thicker than ideal. So if you are going to give a neck strap a go you are better to get your saddler and ask him to make one for you out of the leather from an old rein. It just needs a buckle and keepers so you can adjust it for different horses and you will be set to go.
If it’s good enough for William Fox-Pitt (six time Burghley winner, Badminton winner and holder of numerous silver and gold medals) surely it's worth trying a neck strap!