Thursday, March 20, 2008

The Mike Neal Halter Clinic - Setting the Front Feet

Mike Neal series starts here

Once the Arabian horse has learned all of the parts of step one well, (whoa, setting the hind feet and backing) it's time to move onto the step two, setting the front feet. It used to be way back when (probably twenty years ago) you would see handlers pulling the horse to the right or to the left to set those front feet. But which direction you go makes a difference for how the horse stays on its back feet.

It took a while for most to figure it out. According to Mike Neal he got it by watching one halter trainer in particular. Mike noticed that this trainer was always specific about moving the horse to his left. This trainer's horses stayed on their back feet better (keeping weight on both) and didn't get a drop in the hip that comes when a horse cocks a foot. It wasn't long before the other big name trainers followed suit moving the horse to the handler's left.

Obviously to teach this step, the handler must first walk the horse up and get the back feet in the correct position before moving onto the front. The horse will probably be locked up because of the whoa and uncertain about the request. To free the horse up, the handler will move his/her body the direction the horse's feet need to go while applying pressure to the lead. (Remember to keep the hand position low.)

Now I know I just said in the final stance that the front feet must move to the handler's left. But when teaching the horse to move those feet, Mike starts off to the right. It's actually easier to pull the horse slightly off balance going to the right because of that extended back foot. The handler will need that advantage because of the horse's confusion over the whoa that was applied.

In the beginning it will probably take a continuous pull to get the horse to move any foot because of that whoa cue. The horse is trying to do what it thinks the handler is asking. Being able to pull the horse slightly off balance will cause it to move a foot or even both. At the first sign of movement in the front end, the horse needs to be praised with voice and petting so it understands this movement is what the handler is asking. Again Mike drops his eyes and walks in a circle to approach the horse's whither.

However, when applying step two it's important to focus on just this step, moving the front feet. If the horse moves a back foot or cocks a foot while a trainer is teaching moving the front feet, the handler lets it slide. It's just too much to expect the horse to grasp leaving the "whoa" it's been taught is OK with the front feet and not the back all in one step.

Some horses take to this step like it makes perfect sense to them right from the beginning. Others have a hard time figuring out that it's suddenly OK to move when they've been told whoa! Patience and quick releases and praises can make all the difference to the horse.

In the beginning getting those feet even or in the exact position that's right for the particular horse are not important. What is important is that the horse learns when the handler wants the front feet to move, they need to move, whichever way the handler decides and in the controlled manner the handler is asking for.

You'll see in the picture that Mike is not paying any attention to Storm's back feet. They are totally out of the proper position. Mike started off with the horse parallel to the wall and has turned him about ninety degrees working or loosening the horse up in the front end.

Mike gets the horse moving off to the right and then he starts working on the left just a bit. Once he is sure that the horse understands about moving the feet both directions and getting the correct position (both feet straight underneath the horse) then he begins to enforce the whoa with the back feet. That means if he asks the horse to move the front feet and it cocks or moves a back foot, he corrects the horse with a shank and a whoa or for more egregious movement backing them off.

Before you know it, he is working the horse back and forth between the moving to the right and the left. Sometimes he will move the horse to the right with both feet, then he'll move to the right again, making sure the horse stays locked in behind. Then he'll move to the left, and the left. A couple of the clinic horses were move a whole ninety degrees one direction before they went back the other way. The whole point is to keep it mixed up enough the horse doesn't go on auto pilot. The last thing you want in the ring is a horse that's not paying attention.

To be continued........

Releasing at the Throat

If anyone has questions, please ask. This is a lot of information. I have tried to not overload the posts with so much information that things get lost in the details and yet still make the directions clear.

I hope there's enough information that even with the varying responses of different horses someone could figure their way through and get the horse trained well enough to show successfully. So if you see something I missed or have questions, bring them on.

And also, do you want a break from this series? If so let me know in the comments. I can sure come back to it. And in the meantime, I have a update on Rhythm and one on the twins is long overdue, not to mention a couple of other things I have hiding up my sleeve. There's never a dull moment on this farm, there's no reason there needs to be one on the blog.

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  1. RR, you could put up ten posts a day, and I would read every one. I am interested in all your horses and any bits of info you have about training!

    On a side note... I am flying solo in the barn in April for two days, and assisting his daughter over the weekend. I have had horses for years, and worked at barns for years. I am nervous, and I know I shouldn't be. I know he wouldn't leave me there if he thought I couldn't handle it, but all the what-ifs are running through me head!!!


  2. GREAT series of posts...I'm learning LOTS! :)

  3. LOL talking about horses snoring in the ring, I have a real hard time getting shots of halter horses in the paints and QH sometimes with their ears up and eyes open LOL. It is amazing how often they just stand and sleep the whole time LOL. Certainly doesnt make for good photos but at least they dont move!!!!! Poor things they are probably bored to death!

  4. lovelee, there's no sense in worrying about what might or could happen. It will just wear you out and make the whole situation harder than it needs to be. You can't control the goofy things that horses might do, all you can do is deal with whatever does happen. Staying focused on the job at hand will keep you and the horses happier.

    equinespirit, thanks, sometimes I think the halter can get boring. But it sure has taught my young horses a lot.

    lori, it would seem to me if the horses were snoozing the shots woulnd't be worth taking. Do people actually buy pictures of sleeping halter horses?

  5. Yeah MiKael that is the problem, they dont sell so I very rarely even shoot them, may just shoot one frame just in case, people are funny and they purchase some really weird photos. I used to edit what I shot, I dont anymore, they see it all, practically anyway, because I have often sold shots that owners have loved that I thought were dreadful LOL

  6. MiKael,
    I'm still reading the posts everyday, but I have to leave the same comment. I am learning new things, and enjoy the posts. Be back tomorrow.

  7. lori, I figured that would be an issue. But at the same time I know that the owners don't always like the same one's the photographers do. I've been there myself. lol

    Arlene, I appreciate you commenting. It lets me know I haven't bored you all to death. lol

  8. I'm reading your posts, but don't have time to actually put it into practice until I get a weekend with good weather and not too many errands to run. I'm thinking I might print out each post of the series and keep them in my pocket, so I can re-read them as I work with Gabbrielle. I have a nice show halter. May as well put it to use. If I get some good pictures of her halter training, I'll post them. Thanks.