Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Submission to Leadership in Arabian Horses

I can't believe I'm still doing this, but What's Up with Licking and Chewing and Arabian Horses has quite a discussion going. I personally don't think that anyone is really off the mark, even the "stupid comment" fits into the parameters of the responses coming in here.

photogchic stated "I still have to agree with Robert Miller and Rick Lamb that licking and chewing comes from simulated eating or drinking which signals submission to leadership." While I haven't read the work she speaks of, I think that it is all related.

Trying to explain what I see I need to go back to a basic of equine behavior. A horse is either going to lead or be led. Most horses would gladly be led by another but if there is not a horse (or person) in that leadership role, the horse will move in to fill that void. Even the most submissive horse in the field will become dominate over a new owner who is not the established leader.

With leadership comes stress. In the wild the leader makes all of the decisions for the herd. Where they go? How long they stay? What they eat? The list goes on. So it would seem to me that if a horse submits, it must be a relief for the horse because the horse can be be led instead of worrying about being the leader. So with submission would come a release from stress, a softening eye, a dropping head and probably licking and chewing.

I think it's safe to say that most of us have relationships with our horses where we are trying to establish that we are the leader on a daily basis. If as a handler we allow anything at all that leads the horse to believe we aren't in control, the horse perceives that as an invitation to move up the pecking order.

Since most of us haven't achieved the kind of prowess at handling horses as the John Lyons, Clinton Andersons etc of the world, we are continually working towards achieving that kind of relationship with our horses. Those men can get complete submission in minutes or a couple of hours, for me, I'm happy if I get it at all and even happier when I can keep it.

Watching the various clinicians work horses, I've seen some pretty nervous horses in those exhibitions. But the closer the horse gets to submitting to the cowboy, the more calm the horse becomes.

Take a horse that's frantically running around the round pen and control the movements of its feet. Next thing you know the horse is getting quiet and attentive. The eye gets softer. The head gets lower. And the horse goes to licking and chewing.

Harvey Jacobs says the very action of controlling the horse's feet, usually can convince the horse you are in charge. The amount of control is the illusive part if you ask me. It's easier to sit and watch than to achieve the same results.

I know the reason for that lies in reading the horse's body language and timing. I swear Harvey Jacobs can hear what a horse is thinking. Because of that his timing is flawless. I have seen the man counter a move and release the horse before I've even figured out what the horse was thinking about doing in the first place. The result is that the horse quickly learns that Harvey is the boss. I guess that total submission can be detected when the horse decides it want to follow Harvey around the ring.

More on Submission

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  1. Another great post! I am loving this discussion! :D

  2. What I don't understand is why Zorya is quite happy to submit to us but she dominates Ruby (quite forcefully). But Ruby doesn't recognise that we're in charge and always tries to dominate us. We thought it was because she was a mum at a young age and got used to pushing her foals around. (We also think her previous owner was scared of her.)

    I think I need to spend more time studying the herd dynamic. It would be interesting to see how she gets on with the other mares at stud.

  3. Interesting what photogchic said about submission and leadership. This makes me think of something I saw with a foal.

    I have not been around many foals, but the first time I was I saw a filly meet up with another filly's mother, I saw the first filly do this thing with her mouth and tongue. I asked the barn owner what that was all about, and she said that the filly was showing signs of submission to the other mare who was not her mother in an attempt to be accepted and not run off or attacked.

    She wasn't exactly chewing. It was like she was opening and closing her teeth with her lips pulled back, and when her mouth was open she'd stick her tongue straight out. It was very weird and I've never seen an adult horse do it. I'm sure you breeding people see it all the time, and you might even have a name for it (showing my ignorance here...).

    So, could this foal mouth thing be the baby stages of submission that changes into licking and chewing as the horse matures?

  4. Dressagemom, I call it 'baby mouth' and I've seen youngsters as old as two use it with an older more dominant horse to tell them, I assume...after all I can't read a horse's mind... "I'm a baby, please don't hurt me." All of my foals have done it. Some stopped earlier than others. Right now I have a cute little half-arab that loves everyone. He makes friends very quickly, so his baby mouth is discarded as soon as he knows the new horse won't savage him. Then there's the two-year-old that will still baby mouth to a more dominant horse. I think it has a lot to do with the horse's natural confidence and sense of self-worth. The half-arab's dam is a bit of a bottom of the hierarchy mare, but his sire is very confident, and all of his siblings have a good self image. The two-year-old's dam is a middle of the hierarchy mare (daughter of a dominant mare), but I don't know much about the sire's dominance standing. However, the two-year-old is out of the same mare as the four-year-old that he feels is dominant. He's also the scaredy cat that spooks when I drop feed to him. I've even seen this horse do baby mouth to an older pasture mate that he's normally quite at ease with. This resumption of the gesture generally comes after a day or two of being separated. It's as if he feels that he must re-establish his 'baby-ness', especially if the older horse comes after him, even in play. The gesture is dropped quickly, once the pecking order is re-established. I think the baby mouth is an appeasement gesture on the part of the horse/baby that feels he's at a disadvantage. It may lead to licking/chewing, but I think the psychological triggers for each behavior may be different.

  5. I linked you on my latest post because I remembered that our calves lick and chew when they are young.

  6. This has been a very interesting discussion! I have seen the foals do the licking like notablogger said but not the older horses. I just thought it was a submission thing.

    Hope you have a nice Thanksgiving!!!

  7. All of our foals do the "baby mouth" thing, it is so cute, I think I have a few photos of them doing it. The yearlings are nearly two now and they still do it with horses they havent been exposed to before. Taxes does it all the time, hard to believe he is only 7 months old, he is so big.

    Interesting subject. Hope you are doing okay MiKael. ((((Hugs))))


  8. I was just thinking about another aspect of this - under saddle it is always a good sign when a horse is playing with the bit and has plenty of saliva. It is one of those classic signs that the horse is happily tuned into their rider and focussed on the next request. I would think it's related to what we're talking about on the ground.

  9. I have heard the term "clacking" when foals submit around other horses. I read the book "The Revolution in Horsemanship and What it means to Mankind" a couple of months ago and it had a small chapter on this. I can't say enough good things about this book. It chronicles the history of horses and really analyzes the last 30 years. Happy Thanksgiving everyone.

  10. first happy tom turkey day all!
    As you may know, i'm a new arabian owner (he's a been there done that endurance horse) but unlike my other horses.. i ALWAYS do a few minutes o' groundwork to see if i'm in "leader" role:)

    I've heard he'll do anything for his rider, but it can go to heck quick if i'm not in confident mode and being the leader.

    Since we are but 3 weeks together, i wonder if that "testing" will abate a bit. But i always look for that licking lips before i get in the full and upright

    happy trails all
    gp and billy-meister in montana