Monday, March 17, 2008

The Mike Neal Halter Clinic - Licking and Chewing

Mike Neal series starts here

In a past series What's Up with Licking and Chewing and Arabian Horses there was a lively discussion about just exactly what that response means in the horse. There were lots of differing opinions and, at least in my mine, more to learn on this subject.

Somewhere in that series I had mentioned another halter trainer who would stimulate the licking and chewing response when teaching the horse. That halter clinic was the first time I witnessed a trainer looking for that response in the process of training. I didn't know enough to ask "why" at the time. Then along came Mike Neal and he does much the same thing. Mike actually sticks his finger in the horse's mouth to stimulate the response just like Brad Gallun had done those years ago BUT now I get to ask questions!

As I mentioned in yesterday's post The Mike Neal Halter Clinic - The Belly Band Theory I wanted to go over Mike's thoughts on licking and chewing in horses. I think it's important before we go any farther to understand Mikes thinking about this response and how he makes it work for him. It's also important to note that Mike believes strongly in using the voice to praise the horse. I know that Arabians in particular respond well to verbal praise. They thrive on it actually.

Whenever Mike approaches a horse he wants to praise, he averts his eyes, changes his voice (it was funny to see this hulk of a man talking baby talk to horses), even softens his posture (ducking down a bit) and makes a wide circle away for the horse's head and comes back at the horse's shoulder. Then he strokes the horse, still talking and if the horse does not drop its head to lick and chew on its own, Mike puts his finger under the horse's tongue to cause the response. Sometimes he spends as much time rewarding the horse as he does asking it to perform.

In the beginning every time he gets the desired response from the horse in whatever he is teaching, he does this dance praising the horse and searching out the lick and chew.

Obviously with the belly band theory, this step can only be added when the horse is safe to approach. (Up until that time Mike uses his voice to enoucrage the horse...."Good") A horse that might give to the pressure for only an instant and then go back to fighting cannot be physically praised. But once the horse is safe to approach, Mike would be petting and praising and encouraging the horse to lick and chew.

Mike's reasoning for causing the horse to lick and chew was based on his own personal observations. This is the way that Mike explains it:

Human beings with tight jaws and clenched teeth can not learn. They are so uptight, the walls are up and information is difficult to get in. But get that person to talk, the jaws and muscles relax as the words flow and the person is more open to take in information.

Mike believes the same thing is true of the horse. If the horse doesn't lick and chew on it's own, he causes it to happen.

Mike explained the whole ritual as an important part of training.

He states, "I want the horse to me. The more they like me, the better they will work for me."

Mike wants the horses to learn to want that reward. The different parts of the reward, verbal praise, petting and even their own licking and chewing, cause the horse to learn to associate with being successful. It builds confidence in the horse and makes the whole experience pleasurable. That in turn makes training something the horse looks forward to instead of dreads (as some halter horses do).

Then when Mike takes the horse into the ring to show, the horse's attention will be focused on receiving it's reward. The horse has been conditioned to believe the reward will come when the horse gives the desired response. When it doesn't get that reward as quickly as it does at home (because the horse needs to stand up longer in the ring) instead of getting bored, the horse will try harder seeking that reward. Just as when we humans are used to getting praise and all of a sudden it doesn't come, we try harder assuming that's what we need to do to receive the praise again. The result is a bright show horse focused on pleasing the handler.

With most of the horses at the clinic, it only took a few times and they were doing it on there own. Every time that Mike or their handler would move towards the horse for praise, the horse would automatically drop its head down and begin licking and chewing.

As for those baby horses bouncing around the ring on the halter video (that has since been removed from Utube), it's Mike's belief if the job was done at home, the baby horse would have the skills to focus on the handler. Since Scottsdale is a such a big show for any horse's first show, there might be some reactions from young horses but with thorough training the horse will be able to tune in and show properly.

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

Visit Blog Village and vote daily for this blog Here They are now measuring the rankings by votes out, so if you find my blog on the site, please click that link too to improve my rankings. TY


  1. Funny in lessons etc we are always looking for what we call "licky chewy". I was told is was both a relaxing and thinking response. Nice to know that I am occasionally on track

  2. I have just read this post but still need to read the one from yesterday which I will do in the morning.

    Very interesting, and it makes perfect sense. Great post.


  3. Funny you should bring this up today lol. We had the one colt gelded today, but while we were doing that I was holding onto his buddy, my colt Chaos, who was just not used to standing still for long periods of time. I had to hold him to keep him from investigating all that cool 'stuff' the vet had there, but wanted to be close enough so that I could see what was going on.

    Which meant that Chaos got a lesson in standing - for about an hour. Every few minutes of him standing really still and not fussing, I would reach over and start petting him, telling him what a good boy he was. What did he do? He immediately started the licking and chewing.

    He gradually progressed to standing longer and longer between looking like he was about to fuss. The last time he stood perfectly still for 15 minutes before I told him what a good boy he was, lick, chew, then I released him.

    Just another knew feature to add to the 'lick and chew' response.

  4. Does Mike Neal still do clinics? Is he a Pacific Northwest guy? I will have to google him and read more about him.

  5. So much of that makes sense to me. I've 'trained' myself to look for the licking and chewing.

    It's really interesting, because my horse Bundy has the habit on chomping on his bit. But it's only when he's really switched on, e.g. waiting for the signal to go for a beast. It's quite interesting when you're taking note of this, the difference between licking and chewing, and chomping in anticipation. Off topic now a bit, I know a lot of people think chomping on the bit is a ''vice'', but my boy and I have an understanding, so I see it as nothing like that, just his way of saying, "I'm reading, waiting for your command now.."

  6. I can relate that to humans, and specifically to me learning. I learn very little from "don't do that", "that is not right" and much more from "you've got it there" I know to get the horse in frame, ride with the horse, and put my heels down etc..., but it ties together much better when I get "that looks really good" Then I get the overall feeling of a soft horse and rider.

  7. Mr. Neal sound sincredible MiKael! I have seen some trainers work "through" the lick and chew, but have found, like Mr. Neal, that if you let the horse stop at the lick and chew, they are happier and more willing to work on. Verbal praise is a fun tool too. Little Mare here could care less. Sonny on the other hand-- tell him he is a good man and he just grows about 5" and SMILES. I swear-- the big red head SMILES. Too funny.

    Love this series!! Cant wait to learn more about Mr. Neal and your time spent learning with him!!

  8. MiKael,

    Thanks for another great training series. I can't wait for the next installment.

    Keep up the good work!

    Mary Haley

  9. GREAT post!! :) Can't wait to read more!

  10. I love the addition of verbal rewards. I certainly do that and most everyone I know does too.
    On occasion I've had to hold a colt still while something was being done on him. I automatically stick my fingers in his mouth and play with his lips to redirect his thoughts. Horses mouths, like elephant trunks and human hands, have sensitive nerves.

  11. We look for licking and chewing in groundwork as well as mounted work, and all of mine will lower their heads and lick and chew if I ask. I use this all the time when calming, focusing, etc.

    I've read some info about the physiological reasoning behind it, but am not sure I can paraphrase it accurately enough to do so here!

    Thanks for the great posts.

  12. Great post! I always enjoy and learn.

    Don't know the name of the farm we visited last week but the owners first name is Abby. We saw so many farms and so many people and horses my head can't take it all in! It was great fun though and I will do it again!

  13. Mr. Neal has good theories, I agree!

    Licking is something that Scooter does A LOT of. He is happy tolick my hand for hours.

  14. I like his theory on the licking and chewing. To us it always signals a happy, relaxed horse. When you are handling them and even riding them. I have enjoyed this series! Thanks!!