Updated: Apr 19
When you work with a horse it is amazing all the different behaviors and reactions you see from them! Sometimes we understand them and other times, well we just have no clue!
And when we have no clue that is when we rely on more experienced equestrians, horse owners or professionals to guide us in helping with understanding our horse! This is great and all, but it becomes a huge problem when what they are saying is not backed with science and is actually a lie that can hurt the relationship we have with our horses.
The big myth I am busting today is........licking and chewing means a horse is learning or digesting a thought. Absolutely false!
Watch a quick video below to learn more or skip on ahead to read more!
A group of scientists from Europe went down to Ecuador to study a herd of feral horses. They wanted to see if licking and chewing was a submissive behavior to more aggressive members of the herd or if it was done in between stressful and calm situations. What they found was fascinating!
Licking and chewing was seen in BOTH the horse that was being aggressive and the recipient.
Licking and chewing was actually SEEN MORE in the aggressive horse!
Licking and chewing occurred when a horse was TRANSITIONING from a stressful situation!
The results debunk the idea that this is a submissive behavior and debunk that this is a thinking behavior!
Instead the results tell us that licking and chewing occurs after stressful situations! They conclude that the horse is switching from a dry mouth to salvation production, aka nervous system is getting out of fight or flight and moving into their everyday normal nervous system. Almost like when a person gets nervous, they may get dry mouth!
So you may be asking what does this mean for our horses....keep reading!
When massage therapists, bodyworkers, acupuncturists, etc. work on your horse you may see your horse lick and chew and this may be a good thing! This is because these professionals are helping to release tension in the horse's muscles that could be slightly activating their fight or flight response. Of course always look for a professional that is very responsive to horse's emotions during these sessions because too much can be asked of the body and the horse can get stressed during the session!
Now regarding training and riding, we need to think deeply and really watch the horse's whole body to understand why they are licking and chewing. It could be because there is a stimuli outside of the arena, like a dog or weird shadow, that is activating their system. It could be because we are helping to release tension in the body through different movements. OR it could be because our training methods are too forceful and have too much pressure!
We need to actively think about why our horse is licking and chewing and if it is a good thing!
I was floored when I first learned this!
I had been told for a while that licking chewing was just them thinking something over and that I should strive for that behavior in training sessions.
On my part I should have researched instead of blindly trusting what the trainers were saying and doing.
It would have saved my horse from all the pressure put on her to do certain movements or patterns.
I learned and now I actively think over why my horse and other horses I work with may be licking and chewing during training. And I immediately change my methods or task if I think something is too much for them.
For the sake of our horses we need to stop perpetuating horse behavior myths and stay up to date on the latest research from equine scientists!