Licking & Chewing In Horses

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"Licking and chewing" behavior in horses does NOT necessarily mean that whatever training happened right before it was beneficial. You have to understand all of the pieces in the training scenario to make that judgement.

Licking and chewing is basically a sign of relief or release after a stressful situation. When a horse begins a training session in a state of stress from prior experiences or environmental factors, and a trainer helps them find a new understanding, licking and chewing is a very desirable sign.

However, if the horse became stressed BECAUSE of the training and then showed signs of relief at the end, the trainer would have to answer these questions for themselves:

1. Was the stress that the horse felt avoidable by setting up the learning situation in another way?

If it WAS avoidable and the trainer's style creates stress as a pattern, you have a situation where the trainer or anything that feels like "training" may become a fight or flight trigger for the horse. That would handicap the horse's future training.

if it WASN'T avoidable...

2. Did the horse find 'relief' because the trainer quit pressuring them? In that scenario the trainer is the cause of stress.

...or did the horse discover a new way to respond and find his own comfort with the trainer's guidance? In that scenario the trainer is the leader that helped the horse to feel better. There's a big difference in the horse's mind, and it all depends on whether the horse was allowed to find the answer on his own or if he was forced to do the task.

Noticing licking and chewing behavior is a super useful thing for students as long as they have a clear picture of what actually happened right before it.

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K. Baxter
Maria saved my horse and I. She taught me how to understand the body language and needs of my horse and has completely changed my life as an … read more