Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The Mike Neal Halter Clinic - Teaching the Horse to Set Hind Feet

Mike Neal series starts here

For those unfamiliar with the "correct" halter stance for an Arabian or half-Arabian horse, the rule book states in order to satisfy a proper presentation.. to the judge, horses should stand correctly bearing weight on all four feet. (not stretched) in a quiet and deliberate manner. .....A horse is considered not stretched if all four feet are flat on the ground and at least one front and one rear cannon bone is perpendicular to the ground.

The fashionable stance has the right hind perpendicular to the ground with the left hind slightly behind. How slightly is determined by the horse, but usually a half step works best. More makes it difficult for the horse to keep weight on the left hind.

The biggest part of teaching a horse to set its back feet for this halter stance is the timing. With the handler about half the length of the lead in front of the horse, the handler clucks to the horse and begins walking backwards with the horse following. The handler watches the hind feet and asks for the "whoa" as the right hind foot leaves the ground. (Remember when asking the horse to move forward to keep the lead hand down low and quiet.)

Mike asks the horse to stop by using a loud voice cue "whoa!" at the same time he stops his body from moving backwards. This provides a visual cue as well. Mike likes the loud voice cue to get expression for the horse. Making big movements are another thing he does to encourage his horses to be expressive.

I was taught by Jean Frieday Kielman to raise my lead hand slightly and stop my body for the "whoa" cue. Jean's thoughts were teaching the horse the cues will be subtle movements makes the horse be more attentive.

Either way will work. But it's important that the cue happen precisely as the foot leaves the ground. Too early and the horse will not complete the step and too late and the horse will walk through the step. For me, I think I'll probably stick with what's working for me but if I have problems with expression from my horse you can bet I will consider changing my cue.

Once the horse has been given the cue to whoa, if it does not stop (which it probably won't the first time) the horse is shanked backwards. Just like in the backing yesterday, how long will be determined by the compliance of the horse. When the backing is stopped, the whoa will be reinforced by allowing the horse to stand for a few seconds (at least five is good for the horse to digest that whoa is standing still). Then the horse is praised and the licking and chewing response is stimulated if needed.

If the horse does not back straight even though next to the wall, Mike will pick up the whip. The whip is used just as an extension of his arm to guide the horse back straight. He does the same thing walking forward. If the horse doesn't walk straight, he uses the whip as a guide.

When the horse does stop correctly, Mike drops his eyes, softens his voice, turns his body and makes that circle back to the horse's whithers to praised the horse. Again he spends as much if not more time praising the horse than he actually spent schooling the horse.

The other problem that can occur in asking the horse to walk forward is some horses get cautious and take these itty bitty steps or cautions not true steps that mess up the stance. To correct these steps, Mike does lots of backing. The horse cannot take half steps backing so this will reinforce full steps forward. Then he'll ask the horse to come forward again, if the steps are sill hesitant, he'll send the horse back again. He'll repeat this procedure until the horse is taking true steps forward and then praise the horse.

It's important when showing halter to get a quick response from the horse. Even is setting the horse up, it needs to be done quickly. Many amateurs have a tendency to walk too far backward before they ask the horse to whoa. To help his amateur handler's have a sense of distance Mike draws lines in the dirt about twelve feet apart. He has them start at the first line and stop by the second line. Repeating this over and over gives them the feel for how far is a reasonable distance to lead the horse forward before asking it to whoa.

Just like the belly band theory, Mike will work on this first step of his five step program for a couple of weeks, sometimes three, depending on the horse. His training session are usually never any longer than fifteen minutes. The horse will get bored and that's the last thing you want in a halter horse.

To be continued........

Setting the Front Feet

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  1. Hi ya.

    I have just started a new blog about good looking horsies and ponies.
    If you think you have one, why not comment on the posts and tell me!!

    ~ the Rainbow Socked Ninja

  2. I always learn something new when I visit about the Arabian horse! Thanks for sharing!
    Have a great day!

  3. I didn't realize that the current fashion had the left hind back more than the right. I never thought it mattered and never paid any attention, just so the horse was staggered behind.

    Not that I'm goign to show Kaswyn halter. Can you imagine me entering the ring with my 18 year old dressage horse! HA! Although I might try him Sport Horse in Hand, but that's totally different.

  4. a girl who sometimes went along to shows with me when I was in my teens had a morgan mare who excelled at Halter...except the mare would doze, omitting an occasional snore if her owner was not paying attention and keeping her alert! Liza (the mare) was the only horse Ive ever heard snore that loudly.

  5. kris, Arabian halter is a thing of it's own that's for sure. But the morgan's, mini's and pintos are using the stance in the ring as well in recent years.

    dressagemom, yes, the reason for that staggering is it raises the topline up and the reason for the right being forward over the left has to do with the appearance of the topline and keeping the shoulder up on the side facing the judge. It approves the appearance of the gaskin as well.

    barngoddes, that would be funny. A horse snoring in the halter line-up. lol

  6. With me photographing a lot of Pinto a, Palomino and Welsh Pony and cob shows, I see a lot of different stances when it comes to setting up a horse, and one of the things that I cringe about every time is when the horse will not co-operate and the handler takes forever to get the horse set up, I can just feel the judges impatience LOL.

    This also gives me a better insight into what am seeting the handlers doing especially in the saddle bred and half arabian Pinto's.