Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The Mike Neal Halter Clinic - Five Step Program

Meet Mike Neal

Now that I've got the philosophy out of the way, it's time to get to the nitty gritty. But first I want to add that Mike believes in spending some time on all of these steps including the belly band theory. Mike used that theory over two or three weeks when a horse first comes into training to guarantee the horse that really knows how to tie and give to pressure and won't pull back or fight.

To train a horse for halter Mike (and most of the big name halter trainers) prefer a schooling halter designed specifically for halter training. He sets the halter so the noseband fits right up to the tear bone. He also uses a very big chain and starts off with it captured. (Captured means the section of chain that normally lays against the jaw is "captured" in the lead along with the ends.)

I've known for years that the smaller the chain the more severe it is. However, it's only been the last few years that I have noticed these large chains that Mike uses. I think the links may have been about 5/8ths of an inch.

Mike prefers the schooling halter made by Victor Custom Tack Mike swears that Victor has the best leather on the market and advocates people stocking up on Victor tack before the man retires (he's in his 70s now) because no one else in the market even comes close to this quality of leather.

Mike also prefers the leather lead from Victor's. It is heavier leather and wider too than the ones I have. I noticed when I used Mike's lead I got a more solid response from my horse with the thicker heavier lead.

I have to say, I totally agree with Mike on Victor's tack. I came across it my first trip to Nationals and I've been a fan every since. Victor is an old world craftsman and it shows in his product. If I won the lottery tomorrow, my first purchase would be a lifetime's worth of Victor's work tack including more schooling halters, bridles, reins, surcingles and show bridles with Sterling Silver! Guess I could probably do a entire post about my what I have and what I want in Victor tack.

Mike describes his process for halter training as a five step program. Step 1 consists of three parts: whoa, back and setting the back feet. These are all done from the handler's position in front of and facing the horse.

It's important to note here details on holding the lead and hand position. Unless stated otherwise, walking beside the horse, the hand position on the lead with be the mid point on the lead for the right hand and the trailing end in the left (along with the whip when that is added).

When standing in front of the horse, the midpoint of the lead is held in the left hand and the trailing end in the right. It is important that the hand position be low on both hands. Changing the height of the hands will be part of the cues in later steps but the horse will be desensitized to hand positions unless the hands are kept quiet and low (below the waist.)

Mike walks beside the horse next to the arena wall. The wall serves as a barrier to keep the horse straight. Before he moves out in front of the horse, Mike takes the end of the lead shank right at the chain and firmly but not aggressively pulls down on it a couple of times saying "whoa." As the horse stops, Mike walks up in front of the horse and turns in facing it.

If the horse tries to move at all, he reinforces that whoa with a shank on the lead. If the horse is pushy about coming forward, Mike will shank the horse back. He also uses his body and voice to get big, noisy and push forward into the horse, driving it backwards. How far back he goes is determined by how pushy the horse was being.

Mike stops when the horse is co-operating with the back. (A resistant horse means more back is necessary.) He repeats the whoa as he takes the pressure off the horse. When the horse is securely stopped, Mike drops his eyes, softens his voice, turns his body away from the horse and circles around to the horse's wither to praise the horse. If the horse does not chew, Mike puts his finger underneath the horse's tongue to produce the licking and chewing response. Mike spends as much time at the side of the horse praising it for a desired response as he does out in front of the horse seeking the response in the first place.

Some horses will stop immediately when Mike asks them to whoa as he walks out in front of them. Others it will take a few repetitions before the desired response is gained. But once Mike has a solid whoa response where he can walk to the front of the horse and face it, then he is ready to begin to work on placing the back feet. If the horse has not learned the "whoa" or "back" parts of this step yet, that's ok, they will be used in teaching the horse to place it's back feet.

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

Setting the Hind Feet

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  1. That tack is beautiful!!!!

    There is not much really gorgeous tack that is truly hand made any more. Its so "name brand" now.

    I wanted a figure eight nose band yesterday at a tack shop and I was asked "Pessoa, HDR, Ovation?" I dont care a cob sized dark savanaha figure eight nose band. sheesh!

  2. This is an AWESOME set of entries! Great learning! Thanks much and I look forward to reading more! :)

  3. I agree about the Victor tack. I think Blair had a western headstall, breastcollar, hobbles, and riata from Victor. She might have even gotten a custom saddle too, but I just can't remember. What I do remember is that it was always regarded as the cream of the crop tack, and highly sought after.

  4. Here's an interesting blog entry and training/natural horsemanship discussion from another horse blog.

  5. I've enjoyed reading these posts, lots of interesting info. Thanks and keep them up.

  6. Mikael, I'm going past that place and taking some pictures. I still can't believe how close I am. I often see the brood mares out in various pastures as we go by. The whole Arabian Halter thing is quite interesting.

  7. I always like to learn about new things, and this is something I know nothing about so it is interesting to me.

  8. Wondering if you got the pics I sent you of his facility ?

  9. beth, yes victor tack is really my all time favorite. But if I can't get victor, then my next choice is Jerry's Harness. He uses beautiful leather as well. Just his surcingle's don't have the same type of ring placement as victor. I sure hope I get one of victors before he retires.

    equinespirit, I hope they will demistify halter some so more people will feel comfortable showing their own horses.

    dressagemom, it doesn't surprise me that Blair used Victor tack> I think it's almost some kind of unwritten requirement for Arabian trainers. lol

    linda, I just keep hoping I'm not boring anyone to death. lol

    callie, I can't believe he is just down the road from you. It's such a small world.

    grey horse matters, I like to learn new things all the time as well. I think that's part of why I decided I might as well learn halter. The added bonus was better ground manners on my horses.

    callie, I did get the pictures. I sure would like a close up of that "horses for sale" sign. lol

  10. I always believe we can never know too much so even though my horses aren't arabians and we have different techniques/methods for training, sometimes one breeds methods will solve a problem with another breed so I always enjoy hearing what you say.

    Keep em coming