Today I received a question about where to find a neck strap – a proper racing neck strap, like the beautiful horse in this picture is wearing. “I’m using a stirrup leather right now,” the writer added, and I thought, “Well… that’s clever!”
The filly (Winter Bird, a very adoptable 3 year old from The Second Race) in the picture is wearing what racehorses wear in training, a training yoke. It’s essentially a running martingale, but like everything made for racing, it’s made of much more solid construction to contend with the heavy physical demands of galloping and general Thoroughbred nonsense.
Training yokes themselves aren’t hard to find. You can go without the bib if you don’t feel your horse needs the attachment. Here’s a lovely one from Northampton. This is a nice option because it has a girth strap which anchors the neckstrap at one point in the circle. I’d prefer this, personally, because I could imagine a few awkward situations when an un-anchored neck strap could be far too high up the horse’s neck.
Typing “neck strap” into Google led me to an interesting conversation on COTH – I hadn’t realized so many eventing and sport riders use stirrup leathers as neckstraps on their event horses! I’d never heard of such a thing. Seems like a good solution to me. But American riders share an inherent jealousy for all the pretty things they have in the U.K. Like, a proper neck strap, such as the one William Fox-Pitt is not using in this picture.
(I also found this blog post from Equestrian Ink, which also cites stirrup leathers and the possibility of a strap without a girth attachment coming over the head while hunting. I have some bad news – when the Bad Apple dumped me on the racetrack, the yoke came with me. It can happen whether it’s attached to the girth or not!)
Still, I wanted to find a lone neck strap, not a stirrup leather.
I finally found a few U.K. tack shops offering neck straps in both webbing and leather options. I also found a lot of those little pommel-straps (monkey-straps, I think those used to be called) which are possibly the worst solution to off-balance novices or fearful riders that I’ve ever seen, as they put a rider’s hands in their lap. A neck strap, on the other hand, keeps your hands in front of the withers.
Finally, I contacted a saddler in Kentucky and asked if such an animal could be made here. He’s looking into it… I’ll keep you posted!
Neck straps, whether you just use a training yoke, or a stirrup leather, are amazing tools. In training, you can use them to help back your horse or slow his pace without hauling on his mouth. Try it on an OTTB that pulls – he’ll know exactly what you mean. And on a goofball who prefers to show his energy in up-and-down leaps and bounds, it’s always nice to have something to grab. Not to mention they can save your hide if your horse stumbles, takes a jump awkwardly, or does something else that is unpredictable.
They’re the next best thing to a seatbelt.