If you follow any natural horsemanship trainers, then you’ve probably heard the phrase ‘licking and chewing’ used. Essentially, the horse licks their lips and opens their mouth as if chewing something. It’s easy to spot during a training session. Most have been told that it’s a good thing, but what does it really mean?!?
Licking and Chewing- Submission?
Many have been told that horses perform this act to signify that they’re submitting to you. Basically, they now see you as an alpha. New research is suggesting otherwise though!
M.Sc. Margrete Lie and Prof. Ruth Newberry studied feral horse herds in Ecuador for 80 hours. They tested the theory that a horse would lick and chew to an alpha horse to signal submission. They wanted to also observe whether the horse was calm or stressed when they performed the behavior.
They observed that both (the approaching and recipient horse) licked and chewed, and that it wasn’t actually related to submission.
What they discovered is that licking and chewing is a behavior that occurred from a stressed to relaxed state. It is a transitional act. Furthermore, it’s likely caused by a dry mouth.
If you’re training your horse and they lick and chew, you can conclude that they were stressed by the situation but are now relaxing. Consider it an ‘ahhhh’ moment! It’s not necessarily a bad thing as it suggests your horse is calming down, but it’s also not a submissive act as previously thought.
More research still has to be done to further look into this behavior. Equestrians are constantly learning new things about how horses communicate all the time!