Friday, March 21, 2008

The Mike Neal Halter Clinic - Releasing at the Throat

Mike Neal series starts here

This is the step in halter training for Arabian horses that is the most illusive if you ask me. From the time I have started with Arabian horses understanding how trainers can teach a horse how to reach forward in such a way as to totally expose their throat latch has been difficult. Many people who show halter do not accomplish this to the same degree that the big name professionals do.

I've heard horror stories, even posted about one in An Arabian Mare's Tragic Death Due to the Halter Divisions' Dirty Little Secret And while I've been criticized for that post I guess because I "only" believe that this is what killed this mare, I cannot prove it in a court of law, that doesn't change the fact that the method was and is still being used. What is important is the technique described is NOT a good thing for the horse and it sure isn't anything I would want done to any horse of mine.

So this step in Mike Neal's training method for halter horses was particularly important to me. I was curious to see what his "trick" might be. Imagine my surprise to see that his method had nothing to do with stretching up at all. Instead Mike Neal teaches the horses to stretch to the ground, all the way to the ground. What a contrast between his method and hanging a horse off a wall.

The only way the horse can get all the way to the ground is by stretching those muscles in the throat. By using the horse's normal response and applying a cue (the pressure of the chain on the chin) the horse can be taught to give this way upon command. With many repetitions the horse will learn whenever it feels that type of pressure from the chain that it should give its head including that illusive area of the throat latch.

To accomplish this, Mike sits on a bucket in front of the horse. That way he has some support and can flee quickly if the horse should come forward. He says at home he actually even does this in the horse's stall.

Mike teaches the horse to lower its head by putting pressure on the lead and releasing when the horse gives or even thinks about giving to that pressure. In the beginning of this process, Mike gets up and praises the horse for even a little give. He also used his voice a lot to let the horse know the movement down is what he's asking.

Timing is important and sometimes you have to release a little pressure and take it right back to get the horse to think. They can get locked up and confused and just hold against you. By releasing a little bit and then taking it back, it changes the stimulus for the horse and will usually break that lock.

If it doesn't break the lock or the horse fights the pressure, then Mike gets off the bucket and backs the horse off a bit. Then he starts over again. Even moving backwards away from pressure is better than no movement at all.

Mike also uses a little bat (see in the pictures) that he uses to tap the horse on the neck if the horse isn't understanding the cue. The purpose of that tap is to tell the horse, "this is what I want you to move."

In just little increments at a time, the horse will gradually lower its head. Remember the goal is to get the horse's nose all the way to the ground. It is in those final couple of inches that separates the amateurs from the big boys. That final extension of the throat latch cannot be achieved without the horse's nose on the ground.

Mike works on this step, like all the others, for a couple of weeks, maybe three. It all depends on the horse and how quickly they pick it up. However, it isn't in just accomplishing the task but teaching the horse the proper cues. Getting it done one or twice isn't the same as having the horse understand when you ask this, he gives. Repetition is the key.

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

The Final Steps

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  1. Very interesting. I have soooooo much work to do with my guys this summer. Last summer was taken up with injuries (mine) and founder (Buddy) so I didn't get much done other then the necessities so I am looking forward to a productive summer.

    The graphics I use are from a company called Hug Bug and you can click on the Hug Bug credit on my sidebar and take a look. Some I find on the internet too and from forwards people send me. I love graphics, wish I could draw, I would love to make my own but I can't draw a straight line!

  2. I wonder if using a Clicker might be an easy way to train a horse to do this. With Siete, I've taught her to touch her nose to the ground when i point my finger and say "Down". Now, we're working on staying still with her head lowered for longer periods of time. It's a handy thing for a horse to learn. I have her do it in the stall each morning and it makes it easier to get her halter on.

  3. That throat latch area is so delicate, beautiful, and important in Arabians that this step must be very well trained, I bet.
    Great series.

  4. This sure makes A lot of sense now seeing it in action. Makes you think why the heck didnt I think of that Duhhhh LOL

    Yes even I a non arabian breeder am STILL enjoying these posts so keep them up.

    Snowing here today was in 50s yesterday. Off to town. Talk later.


  5. I believe your original post on that mare was when I first found your blog. I much prefer this post on Arabian halter!

    Have you looked outside yet this morning? It looks like it's going to be a beautiful day in the Northwest! Hope it's dry for you, too!

  6. This is similar to what John Lyons teaches to relax a horse. He also stresses that the last 6" are the most important.

  7. midlife mom, I'll be you are looking forward to a more productive summer. That was a lot to deal with last year.

    Thanks for the info on the graphics you use, they are very cute!

    victoria, teaching them to lower their heads is helpful for lots of things. The most important one is getting them to calm down. lol

    I am sure that the horse will respond to whatever type of cue you use. I think clickers work so well because they remind the handler to be consistent with their cues.

    molly, I think that's what makes it so important. How is a judge going to know how fine throatlatch is if the horse doesn't use it?

    lori, yes, I looked at this too and thought geez it is so simple why didn't I think of that. And why do horses be abused the other way when this will work. But I have the answer to the last question. This way takes time and some people always have to take shortcuts whether they're good for the horse or not.

    tracey, I much prefer this post too. I wish people would wise up and put pressure to stop on the trainers who use the other method.

    It is beautiful here as well. I am doing yard work. YUK!

    kathy c, when I saw Lyons he was teaching riders to drop their horses heads. That was the first step in his riding clinic. But he wasn't doing it on the ground back then. Just goes to show that true horsemen are learning all the time.

  8. Beautiful. The horse is really nice and they try to hard.

  9. Another interesting post, I love the grey horse in the picture, but then again I am partial to greys. See you tomorrow.

  10. Keil Bay will lower his head when I say "down" - or if I bend over while doing ground work he'll "follow" me. Actually, all our horses know the down request, but he is the most consistent about doing it on command. :)

    It's funny - I do an exercise with my mare Salina to keep her atlas joint clear - she has one eye so the atlas tends to get locked up - and now all I have to say is "stretch" and she does the pose that looks like what you're going for here.

    It was totally accidental that I trained her to do this - mostly I would ask her to stretch for carrots, but she learned it so well she'll now do it for nothing.

  11. Very interesting. I've never seen anything quite like it. I'm so used to Quarter Horses, Arabs are so refined and beautiful. I love the pictures.


  12. Abraham, the gray horse is one of my babies with my granddaughter, Rachel.

    Arlene, that gray mare is Scandalous Hope. She is one of my Legs babies.

    Billie, horses really are amazing. Teaching them something like that they will do forever. lol

  13. Finally I have some time to get caught up on reading! I always love the "technical" posts, and this series is especially helpful as I have always wondered HOW exactly halter training was done.