Sunday, March 16, 2008

The Mike Neal Halter Clinic - The Belly Band Theory

Meet Mike Neal

OK, I promised you Mike Neal's halter training techniques step by step so here we go. Most of the horses that Mike gets in training are untrained horses out of the field that have seen little if any handling. Mike spends the first thirty days getting these horses used to the change in environment and teaching it how to give to pressure by using his belly band theory.

For the belly band theory Mike has a special tool that is made of a 24 foot length of 1 inch marine cotton rope. It is constructed with a lope at one end.

Mike has a tying ring mounted at about 6 ft on one of his long arena walls. At home for us amateurs Mike suggests tying the horse to a solid ring mounted on a solid wall. The backside of a barn or a garage would work. That way the horse won't have an opportunity to throw it's leg through a rail or anything else and hurt itself.

Mike uses this rope to teach a horse how to tie and to give to pressure. He wraps the rope around the horse's cinch area and threads the end through the loop totally encasing the horse's trunk. From there the end goes between the horse's front legs and on up and is threaded through the noseband of the halter underneath the jawline. Then the horse is tied with a slipknot to a ring mounted in the arena wall.
I had a similar rope on hand to use in exercises I had learned from John Lyon's many years ago. My cotton rope is probably 3/4 inch in diameter and 30 feet long. I used it for these pictures because I had it handy.

I can see where the added width would be good for a horse with no kind of training at all. The added width would make the rope less likely to cause a gall or take a bite out of the hide of a horse that got scared and fought this system.

The extra 6 feet of length in my rope was really a nuisance. I could easily see why Mike had decided on the 24 foot length. You can see in the pictures that there really is a bit much of extra rope. With my silly horse it gave him something more to play with, even the two who hadn't been taught to tie thought the rope was a toy but I digress.

The rope needs to be tied long enough that the horse has some room to be moved back and forth teaching it how to give off the pressure under it's chin in a round fashion. But it must be short enough that the horse cannot get its leg over the rope and cause a big wreck. You'll see from the pictures, I probably have this horse tied a bit long.

When the horse fights the pressure at the jaw, the rope shortens pulling from the belly and causes the horse's neck to round thus encouraging a give. The bonus is that you're teaching the horse to round off of pressure as well as give to it.

Once Mike ties the horse then he applies light pressure from behind encouraging the horse to move off. To keep a safe distance, Mike had a small bat (a 36 inch crop with a flat rectangular popper) that he could use to apply pressure to the horse's back end, driving the horse into the pressure on the halter and rope.

In that moving away process, the horse will walk into the pressure when it reaches the end of this rope. If the horse fights this pressure, Mike lets the horse figure it out on its own slightly backing away unless the horse backs out of the pressure. It's important that the horse learn to give to the pressure not back away, so if the horse tries to escape backwards, Mike keeps the pressure from behind constant to block that form of escape.

There are a number of ways the horse may try to evade this pressure. The way the rope is threaded from the the horse's belly up through the halter protects the horse from injury to its neck and poll as it fights the pressure.

Besides the backing away, the horse may throw itself into the pressure but doing that will cause the horse's neck to round and a give to the pressure. Some horses do fight the pressure and thrash about. Some even throw themselves on the ground but the more a horse fights, the rounder it will be pulled resulting in a give to the pressure. If the horse decides to sit back on the pressure, the result will be the horse is round up at the neck, causing a lowering of the head and a release from the pressure.

No matter what course the horse chooses to fight this pressure, the end result will be the rope pulling the horse up round and causing a release. Since the horse learns from the release, it will eventually get it figured out that it's best course of action is to give to the pressure in a round manner.

What I really like about this method is there really is no escape. Whatever method the horse chooses will result in rounding followed by a give to the pressure. That give will cause a release.

I did see as I played with it that it's important to size up the length you need to give the horse right off. I was uncertain and that wouldn't do for the horse this exercise is designed for. I hadn't thought about it going how much rope I was going to give the horse. After the fact I realized I had tied my horse too long. With an untrained horse like Tracey's that mistake wouldn't be good.

My horse in these pictures is fairly soft right from the start. He figured out right away how to not hit the pressure at all. As you can see in the pictures, it doesn't look like he's hitting any pressure. He hit it one time hard and that was it. Unfortunately the timing on my POS digital camera missed the hit and captured the release.

I would recommend doing this the first time with a horse that already has a bit of an idea how to give to pressure or tie. That would give you a chance to see exactly how short or long you want to tie and how much room you need to safely tie an unbroke horse. Then move the horse around from side to side some to get an idea how the horse will respond and see how the rope works. That will make you first use on an untrained horse, or reschooling one who pulls back when tied, more effective

I tried two horses today. I am thrilled with the response. You can bet I will be reschooling my broodmares and a couple of youngsters who think about pulling back from time to time. I will also be using this method on my yearlings who haven't yet been taught to tie or longe. I'm sold.

Also I want to add that Mike encourages a horse to lick and chew whenever he can. If a horse moves off and hits the rope and gives. Mike backs off and slowly approaches the horse's shoulder, pets the horse and if possible sticks his finger under the horse's tongue to cause it to lick and chew.

Next up I will explain Mike Neal's thoughts about licking and chewing and his five point halter training method. Oh, I almost forgot the horse in these pictures is Scandalous Storm.

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

Licking and Chewing

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  1. Now this I'm going to have to try. I have the rope and can build the solid wall. I have quite a few here that really need a safe lesson in tieing and giving to pressure.

    You explained it really well! I wish I had known about the clinic, I would have loved to have gone.

  2. My farrier taught me this to teach my young horses to tie. I tie them up with it when they are babies as it is very safe. However, my rope is 2 inchs and has a metal ring on the end. It's also good for teaching to lead etc.

  3. Very interesting! I may try this with lunging. Two birds, one stone, as he'd get used to something pulling about his middle while moving as well as giving at the poll. Thanks!

  4. I never heard of this process before today. I have seen the horse whisperer in action. Have you? He takes mustangs off of the range and actually talks to them and in no time he can ride them or do almost anything with them.

    Well, now, you got to come back and take a look at me in my new blonde wig.

  5. Very interesting! I don't think I have ever come across this method.

  6. Well that is very interesting,I've never seen this done before.

  7. I've never heard of this before but it sounds like it works great! I don't know anything about natural horsemanship like Parelli or John Lyons so I find this very intriguing. Too bad I don't have a young horse to experiment with. You breeders get to have all the fun!

  8. oh this could have been good for my last girl. She was a rehabbed horse, and never full gave at the poll, and she would panic once in awhile. She was stubborn, and before I taught her to ground tie, I was at my wits end. She did ok with it under saddle, tho I wasn't asking for a huge amount of rounding and giving. She was my first horse that I broke, and we both didn't know what we were doing. I just had to get her out of the situation that she was in. She learned early on to sit and pull until the offending object broke, or the hitching post came out of the ground. This limited where I could take her because she couldn't be left tied alone. Most of her pressure give came off of voice commands because she had been so desenstized. I had no problem riding her as we both were similarly paced, and she did have a good whoa. There is so much more I could have done.

  9. Interesting technique. Thanks for the good photos along with the description.

  10. mikeal! thank you for the photos..I have read about this method, even heard about it from a local trainer but have never actually SEEN it performed. Your photos are great visualization. I will definitely try this out...the next time I need to train a horse to tie. Thanks!

  11. I enjoy reading this blog but most of the language / terms goes well over my head. But I know nothing much about horses so that is par for the course. I am slowly learning!

  12. I always learn something on your blog. makes total sense.
    BTW the arab show is at Devonwood in Sherwood April 5/6
    it only goes to 4th level, but still should have some nice sport horses to see.

  13. I have been trying to get back to this post for days to read it and see what you had to say on this subject but you know what my life has been like.

    My filly Lori was an absolute nightmare when it came to tying her up to do something with her. She had systematically destroyed every ring we had mouted on the walls of the stalls, broken about 5cheap(thank heavens they werent strong ones) halters and broken a few lead ropes and I was at a loss as to what to do with her because she knew if she pulled hard enough something would give and it worried me.

    Larry suggested something similar to what you did here but because we are more into the Western Pleasure type of horse the flexion and bending and giving the way you work with yours wasnt our objective, so me with my ignorance followed his advice and we did a similar thing but rather than having the rope with the loop around the girth section it was around her neck behind the ears and then under and through the bottom ring on the halter and then tied with a quickrelease to the ring on the wall.

    After all of my months of battling with this horse and this problem, it took only once for her to hit that rope and feel the response on her neck for her to back off and she has never done it again. I was a bit worried about it being around her neck but fortunately in my case it worked and she is a very clever mare. That was my first battle won with this mare, she has been quite a challenge in a lot of things.

    When I start with the two year olds I have now I think I am going to put your method to the test and see what response I get.

    Great post. and glad I finally got to it LOL.