Friday, March 14, 2008

The Baby Boomer Learns Arabian Halter - Meet Mike Neal

WARNING: i've added this after my original post. I received a comment on this post that read "WARNING: read this here" with the here being a link. The email to confirm publish or reject this comment did not ever come through my email. I located it through my dashboard and deleted it immediately. I can only assume this was one of those new virus carrying comments. If anyone receives this comment on your blog, I suggest removing it as well. These things can be devastating.

Part 1

First I'm going to share a little history about Mike Neal. That's how he started off his clinic and I think it makes great sense to show you this man's commitment to the Arabian horse.

Mike didn't get involved in horses until his late twenties. He got there because of a girlfriend. But once the girlfriend was gone, Mike stayed in horses.

He was fortunate enough to meet some influential people within the breed. "Old Man" Hart and "Mama" Hart (the parents of Bobby Hart Jr, the western pleasure trainer I hold in high regard - who happens to be a third generation horseman) took Mike Neal under their wing and taught him about the industry.

Mike says: "Mama Hart drove me to be what I am today, a perfectionist!"

My friend, Jean Frieday Keilman, says that she and Mike worked their way up from the bottom about the same time. They were "used and abused" (much like what Tommy Garland did with Brittany) working their way up the ladder. Jean had one more obstacle to overcome than Mike, that was being a woman. Jean holds Mike in high regard and according to him this weekend, Mike feels the same about Jean.

From the Hart's farm, Mike was able to move on to work with some very famous horses(and horsemen) over the years. He also spent many years working with straight Egyptian horses and still has many in his barn. He speaks "articulate pedigree" like only those who have been around the industry and fully immersed in what they do.

In the early 1990's Mike had a tragic accident. He fell out of the rafters of a arena (changing light bulbs, I am told). Mike was rushed to a nearby emergency room where he was stabilized. Then their first course of treatment was to be amputating an arm and a leg.

Fortunately for Mike, he was not far from the Mao Clinic. The doctors at the ER decided it would be best to send him there. Two years of hospitalization and 32 surgeries later before they had Mike put back into one piece. He still walks with a limb and his body aches but he has all his limbs. Mike would be the first to tell you that the horses are what got him through.

I remember the first time I saw Mike Neal after his accident. It was my first trip to nationals. I had heard the stories about his accident and how no one could believe that he'd survived, let alone gone back to training horses. There was speculation that he'd be unable to present a halter horse properly. How would he ever be able to run fast enough to keep up with a horse.

I wish I could remember what the name of that horse was, but I know it was either the mare championship or the stallion championship. There was Mike running right beside his horse coming into the ring. Even with his limb he ran just as far and just as fast as all of the other big boys of halter. It's not because I wasn't impressed with the horses that I don't remember the names of the winners, it was that I was more impressed with Mike.

Now Mike trains out of his own place, Mike Neal - Arabian Center LLC in Wisconsin. I think he said they have 55 stalls and around fourteen full time employees.

Part of the regular care at Mike facility includes taking temperatures on all yearlings and breeding stallions daily with a charted record hanging on each stall. Because yearlings are known to eat with temps of 102° and 103°, staying on top of their temps helps avert potential disasters. With the breeding stallions, variations in temperature can be detrimental to sperm count so being on top of that is important as well.

His feeding program includes NOT feeding grain on Sundays. Each horse is feed two flakes of hay instead. It's an old trick he learned (I think he said from "Old Man" Hart) that helps keep the horse's system cleaned out. The horses are not worked on Sundays. The barn is kept quiet (not even the radio is turned on) and the horses have learned to appreciate the day of rest. He believes that this practice (and waters changed every two days) accounts for the low incidence of colic of the horses in his care.

Mike's system of training halter horses is methodical. He believes its important to have the horse like the handler and the technique is geared towards accomplishing that goal. No thumping on the halter horses here!

To be continued...........

Mike Neal's Belly Band Theory

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  1. That is a really interesting idea about a day of rest for the whole barn. I know of some barns that are closed on one day a week but that is usually so the trainer and staff can get things done so I'm sure many horses get worked and the barn is very busy and noisy. Have you adopted this in your barn?

  2. Mike sounds like a hell of a guy. It is amazing that even after his accident he can still work the horses. Looking forward to more of this series.

  3. Hmmmm...I just looked up his website and Jason and I may be going on a road trip this summer...LOL! :D It's about a 6 hour drive (give or take) but it'd be worth the trip...right?!? ;)

  4. Geezus, He's only 7 miles down the road from me. I've driven past his place several times! Small world!

  5. dressagemom, I do already give the horses that I am working a day of rest. As for the idea of only feeding hay on that day, I thinking about giving it a try to see what happens.

    grey horse matters, I would say the fact he works horses after that kind of accident clearly shows his dedication.

    equinespirit, If I were that close, you can bet I'd be making an appoitment to visit. Does that answer your question? Also, I'd have to drop in and meet Callie and Steve since they are just right down the road.

    callie, that's pretty darn cool. It really can be a small world sometimes.

  6. Another fascinating series! I love the idea of the quiet day in the barn. With only 4 and not being competition-focused, my barn is quiet more often than it's busy, but it's a rare thing for a big show/training barn, and I bet he sees good results from his practice.

  7. Thank you so much for the kind words you left for me :)

    It meant a lot to me :)

  8. I just read your warning...the first time he left that in my comment section I notified blogspot. Now blogspot catches it on my blog before I do and disables him.

    Just a little fyi.

  9. The pride in this horse is astonishing. Wow. What a picture.

  10. MiKael- THAT is what I see in my mind when I think of an ARABIAN! What an amazing picture! I hope you have it framed and on proud display in your home, where everyone can admire it.

    Mike Neal holds a strong lesson for all of us- not only on how horses can help us through bad times, but how to put that love and passion to darn good use in life. No matter what- if you want it bad enough, you CAN make it happen. The power of his will is incredible yes, but the power of his MIND is what impressed the h*ll out of me.

    Looking forward, as always, to the next installment! Keep up the great work here, and with those amazing horses of yours.

  11. Mike sounds like an interesting guy! Heck, Callie can throw a stone at him from her house.

    Beautiful photo BTW.

  12. Hey! I'm an old groomer-colleague of Jean's--don't even know if she still remembers me. But we shared a few memorable topless rides on the dunes near the river while exercising the horses. Just for the tan, but the crop planes loved the show.

    Say hello for me next time you see her!