Monday, November 19, 2007

More on Licking and Chewing and Arabian Horses

Yesterday's post, What's Up with Licking and Chewing and Arabian Horses
has generated quite a response. When I began thinking about responses to the comments I realized another post was probably in order. So here goes.

The overwhelming consensus is using licking and chewing as a training tool or guide works. Although it still sounds like there are an assortment of ideas about what it means as far as the horse is concerned. Is the horse relaxing because he finally got it? Is the horse relaxing because he tried really hard? Is it because the horse needs to relax after trying so hard?

Probably the horse is the only one that's ever really going to know the answer to most of those questions. But here are a few more things to throw into the mix.

Remember the trainer that I said would stick his fingers into the horse's mouth to cause it to lick and chew at the end of a try? He contended that even if the horse was not willing to give it up on its own volition, causing it to happen enhanced the training process. Since the time I worked with this trainer I have meet a couple of others who believe and practice the same thing.

That would suggest that the very action of licking and chewing plays a role in the learning. That it's not just an indication of learning but somehow a catalyst in the learning. Having tried his method on horses who are reluctant to lick and chew on their own, I can tell you it undoubtedly has helped me in their progress.

If I am working with a horse and think a lick or chew should have been a reasonable response by now, but none has come, I will induce it. The result is usually an "immediate" breakthrough with the horse.

The horse might not "learn" the response on that lick and chew but within another request or two the response from the horse has increased dramatically. The horse appears somehow to be more receptive to learning. Also, I find that when I encourage a horse to lick and chew this way, over time I have a horse who is beginning to do it on his own. It's almost like the horse had to be taught it was part of the process.

Notablogger mentions in her comment about horses she has had who never lick and chew. I would suggest those horses would be great candidates to have licking and chewing induced during their training sessions.

No matter how licking and chewing works for the horse, relaxation must be a part of the key. Since the chiropractor does achieve it with a successful adjustment, it only makes sense. I know from my own experience that pushing the offending part back into place is definitely stressful and once it is where it belongs there is a sense of relief followed by an involuntary relaxation.

Equine chiropractors use the amount of the lick and chew as a gauge for whether they have gotten a complete or a partial correction. On a difficult adjustment, if the appropriate lick and chew isn't attained, the chiropractor will repeat the adjustment until he gets the measure he believes is appropriate. I never seen a chiropractor that thought he needed more who ended up being wrong. And usually the overall response for the horse support this.

And then for Ro's horse in the trailer incident This horse went through a very stressful incident and afterwards was licking her hand.

I have had experience with this as well. Over the years I've experienced a number of horses after stressful or even during stressful situations that will lick an attendant's hand. I've always thought that this was a soothing thing for the horse. But it is only licking. I have never seen chewing involved in these types of situations. To me that would suggest it has it's very own role.

As surprised as I was by the amount of response to this subject, what surprised me the most was not one person asked what explanation I heard that I thought was stupid. I guess it surprised me because I had mentioned "good" trainers being my sources of information. But then maybe I wasn't clear that it was one of the "good" ones that said something I thought was so stupid. Maybe I should just sneak by and forget I said it at all.

In this picture, Reflection is just getting ready to lick and chew.

Part 3 Submission

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  1. Hi there MiKael,

    I am so sorry to hear about your fall and I hope that you are feeling better. Sounds like you are getting quite a few of your horses under saddle though, which is exciting.

    The whole licking/chewing response and the fact that trainers and other horse professionals look to it as a barometer seems to be pretty universal. Our trainers also look for that response as well. And we just had the chiropractor out yesterday and he was definitely looking for that lick/chew response to gage the effectiveness of the treatment.

    Take care and please give Louie a big hug for me.

  2. Hmmm, now you REALLY have my curiosity up. So are you going to share who said the stupid comment? I didn't ask because I figured, you didn't want to share it.

    I have found the licking and chewing discussions interesting. I don't do much training, but do note that when a horse is licking and chewing he is more receptive towards you in general.

  3. Your posts on this subject are so interesting and very detailed, thank you for that. I will have to find the study for you and send it to you, it is contradicts almost everything that is known about licking/chewing.

    I used to believe it was because a horse "got" what I was training them, but now I am unsure after that study.

    As I work Sam and watch his reaction, I can see it is a release from work and stress. When he is out on the lounge and he relaxes, I will whistle for him to stop, when he does he immediately turns into me licking/chewing. I *think* he is licking/chewing as a release, but I am unsure...

    Thank you for your thoughts!

  4. I've used the sticking the fingers in the mouth to encourage licking and chewing when I've gone to catch a horse in the field who has gotten itself too wound up and they are in that "off in space" type of mindset. Which in my opinion can be a dangerous time to try to halter and lead the horse.. so I'll stick my fingers in the mouth to get the horse to lick and chew, and I've found that it "brings them back to earth" so to speak, and makes them easier to handle.. the licking and chewing usually accompanies a large breath.. makes it a LOT easier to lead them back to the barn!!

  5. I personally would love to know what the stupid comment is...some of the most brillant people can say the stupidest things!!!

  6. OK, OK, I'll tell. If any of you have ever seen this clinician you'll know exactly who it is.

    I don't remember his exact words but the geist of it was the horse is telling you he is not a predator and he is not going to eat you.

    All I can say is that statement has never helped me in training a horse.

  7. Great post and good discussion. I have still have to argree with Robert Miller and Rick Lamb that licking and chewing comes from simulated eating or drinking which signals submission to leadership. I am not sure if chiropractors are looking for the right response. The horse is probably "submitting" to whatever they are doing to them and the chiropractors interpret is as relaxation. Maybe the submission precludes relaxation, because the horse is trusting you to be the leader and now it can relax. Good Post Mikael.

  8. I believe I have seen that study. I don't know exactly what to think, but I do know that when Mira has been tense, tickling her tongue to get her to lick/chew has relaxed her IMMEDIATELY.

    MiKael, I'm pretty sure I narrowed it down to one of 2 clinicians, and yes it is a stupid thing to say (:-D) but I can't remember WHICH ONE said it! Oh well, next time I go to an expo...

  9. I was thinking about the flight response and how it could be that a horse under stress could go so quickly back to licking/chewing.

    Photogchic's 'submission' theory would go some way to explain this.

    I don't mean to state the obvious but it's got to be a grooming reflex hasn't it? - nothing to do with 'I'm not going to eat you'