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Alternative Definition of Tellington TTouch In Light of Recent Findings in Neuroscience

Alternative Definition of Tellington TTouch In Light of Recent Findings in Neuroscience

By Kim Carneal and Caroline Larrouilh

The Tellington TTouch Method® is a holistic approach to physical, mental and emotional wellness that seamlessly integrates body work and in-hand work (ridden work in the case of horses), promoting a state of homeostasis (or coherence*) in both animal and handler.  Maintaining a stable physiological and emotional state under varying types of stresses is the ultimate goal of all organisms. TTouch has a direct effect on the natural physiological responses necessary to achieve homeostatic equilibrium.

TTouch is the first integrated system of touch and in-hand work to consciously and systematically recognize and honor inter-species communication, seeking to create a relationship between animal and human based not on dominance or the “alpha” model, but rather on the acknowledgement of the animal as an individual. Instead, the Tellington Method teaches the handler to lead by example: to approach and work with the animal with respect and empathy; to break information into manageable bits based on what we know about the way animals’ brains and emotions work; and to give them time and space to process what is asked, using feedback from the animal to guide the next step. The Tellington Method teaches the handler herself flexibility and open-mindedness when seeking solutions, requiring that they adapt creatively to the situation to help the animal learn new behaviors. The Tellington Method thus differs from more dogmatic, academic training approaches with circumscribed toolboxes that rely on ethology-based dominance or fear to force obedience rather than engaging the mind of the horse.

In each of its applications, the Tellington Method allows for an animal and handler to connect at a cellular level, experiencing a state of harmony characterized by a calm, focused awareness and trusting confidence in each other. Each species reaches emotional and physical homeostasis individually and as a unit.

the electromagnetic field of the heart is responsible for generating heart coherence

image courtesy the electromagnetic field of the heart is responsible for generating heart coherence

This degree of calm, engaged trust in mutual homeostasis (or coherence) greatly enhances the learning capability of both animal and handler. Research has shown that new skills are more quickly and easily learned in a state of calm, and are better retained and more easily generalized, or applied over a range of different situations. New scientific research about mirror neurons† may explain in part why the Tellington Method is so effective. Its exercises are thought to awaken mirror neurons in the brains of both animals and humans through both the sense of sight and touch. The sense of touch, along with the physical proximity and handler state of mind, is thought to further enhance the capacity for cooperative learning and performance via heart coherence. Heart coherence in turn effects an empathetic experience while increasing levels of neurohormone oxytocin (calm connection through physical contact) and decreasing cortisol (stress) in both animal and handler.

Mirror neurons are a large part of how we relate to others

Image courtesy Mirror neurons form a large part of how we relate to others. Discovered by Marc Iacoboni, they are literally responsible for the old saying, "monkey see, monkey do."

A key difference between the Tellington Method and others is that many of the benefits for the animal are handler independent and reciprocal. TTouch at its foundation is not a one-way endeavor like some methods of animal training, “do it my way because I am lead mare” or massage where the recipient is passive and the massage therapist is active, but interactive because heart coherence, neurohormone levels, and mirror neurons amount to cellular coherence in both beings.   TTouch works on the entire body, brain and mind of both species involved. TTouch benefits both animal and handler all the way down to the cellular level.


* coherence–consistency, cohesion. From
coherence  (kō-hîr’əns, -hěr’-) A property holding for two or more waves or fields when each individual wave or field is in phase with every other one

mirror neurons–neural cells found in the premotor cortex, supplementary motor area, primary somatosensory cortex, and the inferior parietal cortex of the brains of humans. While studies have not been conducted on horses, it is believed that most mammals share both similar brain structures and the capacity for mirror neuron function. In monkeys, functioning mirror neurons have been found in the inferior frontal gyrus. See Rizzolatti, Giacomo; Craighero, Laila (2004). “The mirror-neuron system”. Annual Review of Neuroscience 27: 169–192.

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The Biology of the Horse Boy: The Hormone Oxytocin and Touch

The Biology of the Horse Boy: The Hormone Oxytocin and Touch

Exploring how people and animals bond–and why it makes you healthier and happier by Meg Daley Olmert on Read the entire article here.

This is a really interesting article on what makes the human-animal bond tick, from the biological perspective. Socially and emotionally speaking, I have a few bones to pick with Olmert about the nature of horses, however. I don’t think that horses’ acceptance of Rowan was remarkable. I think it was standard operating procedure. That is what is so remarkable about animals, but their acceptance in and of itself is not remarkable. Horses did not help make Rowan human. Rowan was already human, for heaven’s sake. What a dreadful thing to say. Perhaps Olmert was trying to echo Temple Grandin’s statement, “Animals Make us Human,” but this is not an acceptable trope. Horses may have triggered the growth that made Rowan a more socially acceptable, communicative, content and functional human. I think that’s what she means, anyway, as she leads up to a description of the wonder hormone, oxytocin, and its role as the foundation of social bonding, touch.


What is it about animals that inspires the mute to speak, make wild children mild, protects our hearts from the ravages of stress, and our fills our minds with a sense of wellbeing? These dramatic therapeutic effects are built on physiological changes such as lowered heart rate, blood pressure, and stress hormone levels. I wanted to know what biological mechanisms are triggered by animals that can make us healthier, happier, and more socially competent.

Emerging research has shown that there is a distinct biology behind social bonding (both human-human and human-animal). Brain chemicals previously thought to control such narrowly defined functions as lactation and labor have been found to contribute to a wide variety of human social bonding functions. The neurohormone oxytocin, also known as the touch hormone, has been found to be responsible for triggering the cascade of biological events that govern behaviors from monogamous bonding to breeding, maternal care, and satisfaction in close contact with a loved one, male or female. Olmert reports, “Even unsociable male rats will act friendly when treated with oxytocin and it also helps these rodents remember their new friends.”

For the purposes of both Rowan and his beloved horse Betsy, as well as humans and horses in general, it is fascinating to learn that high levels of oxytocin are linked to increased calm and nurturing behaviors. Oxytocin treatments for men have a host of benefits: they look longer into another’s eyes and are able to detect more subtle meaning in them. As with rodents, our social memory can be improved with oxytocin treatments.

I’m not advocating oxytocin supplements here. Just introducing the very basic qualities of this neurohormone that governs bonding and touch.

Oxytocin helps us make social connections in much the same way it does in other animals. It quiets the fear circuitry in our brains so that we don’t automatically see everyone and everything as a threat. With our fight/flight reflex in check we are able to detect even the faintest glimmer of benign or friendly intention. And such positive social signals trigger a further release of oxytocin that encourages us to approach and interact with each other in cooperative and nurturing ways.

…fortunately, horses are even more social and visual than us, which may explain why the lead mare was able to see in this writhing boy’s eager eyes a deep desire to attach. She did not fight this strange boy or flee from him, but instead accepted him. And when Rowan began to ride her, the rhythmic, repetitive motion stimulated his pelvic nerves in ways that are known to release oxytocin. Certainly, Rowan’s behavioral transformation signaled a rise in oxytocin. His repetitive gestures stopped and he began to communicate. Oxytocin treatment has been shown to reduce hand-flapping and verbal tics in autistic patients and improve their ability to comprehend non verbal communication, like the emotional meaning in a tone of voice.

The other wonderful thing about oxytocin is that the positive social encounters it encourages also causes it to be released in both parties-whether they are human or animal. This means oxytocin can create and sustain a social feedback system that knows no species boundaries. This is why we are not imagining the mental and physical sense of wellbeing we feel when we connect with animals. It’s also why a horse can see the good in a boy and help him see the good in himself and others. As I explained in an earlier post, this shared neurobiological heritage is what created the human/horse partnership that proved to an evolutionary win/win. Apparently there are still some journeys only horses can take us on.

I’m looking forward to talking more about this hormone, oxytocin and its profound implications for touch and horses. Look for more soon.

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Tellington TTouch for Colic: Emergency Measures That Could Save Your Horse’s Life

Click HERE to read TTouches for Colic by Marie Hoffman of On Eagle’s Wings Equine Center, LLC. This is an excellent article.

There are literally thousands of case studies as well as anecdotal reports of Tellington TTouch Ear Work and Belly Lifts that have saved the lives of horses, beginning with the seminal event in which Linda Tellington-Jones first used Ear Work to save the life of her colicking endurance mare, Bint Gulida. If you are interested in reading this story, let me know by responding in the comments. I will ask Linda to report it here.

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Report from the Tellington TTouch CELLebration in Santa Fe, NM

Report from the Tellington TTouch CELLebration in Santa Fe, NM

Rachel Allen, TTouch P1, and Linda Tellington-Jones at La Fonda Hotel in Santa Fe, NM

Heart Coherence is a term describing a state of being when all bodily systems are synchronized at a high performance state. When a group comes together sharing a common intention, each individual is like a tuning fork resonating to the vibration of others nearby.
At the 2009 CELLebration conference in Santa Fe, NM, 77 TTouch inspired human beings experienced profound heart coherence from the moment we gathered together. Linda Tellington-Jones, the founder of the Tellington TTouch Method and TEAM, led us to a place of higher awareness and connection through her presence, her compassion and her infinite wisdom.

The church bells of the neighboring Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi serenaded our conference with regular chimes, a melody that has been heard in downtown Santa Fe continuously since 1887. From the deck outside our conference room a statue of the Saint could be seen gracing the church entrance. In the type of synchronicity that seems commonplace with TTouch, St Francis of Assisi is historically known as the patron saint of animals. I believe we all felt his presence as our conference delved deeply into the realm of compassion for and communication with animals. Read more…

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Routine Tasks With No Inherent Meaning Diminish the Spirit of the Horse

Routine Tasks With No Inherent Meaning Diminish the Spirit of the Horse

You clip the lunge line to his face and send him away. A flick of the whip or the rope and off he goes. Short time, long time, whatever, he walks, trots or canters in a circle. Your purpose for this exercise is clear in your mind: exercise, smooth transitions, an attempt at calming, lameness detection, etc. His understanding of the point of lungeing? ZERO.

Mounted or on the ground, you tug gently on the lead rope in the direction of his withers to ask for flexion to the left and then to the right. You practice this each and every time before you ride. Sometimes it’s a part of all the groundwork you do each day. A routine. It’s good horsemanship. You have a clear intention of what you want to achieve: a quick and soft yield of the head. Your horse’s attention. You have his attention al lright. But do you know what is in his mind? I wonder if it’s this:

I learned what you want in this flexion thing in a few tries. I don’t understand why I have to do it over and over. It’s boring. If we don’t do something new pretty soon, I’m going to find something else on my own. Oh hey, look what I can do…!


Backing up on the ground.

20 meter circles at the walk and trot.

Lead changes.

Trotting over cavaletti.

Sliding stops and spins.

Most of what we ask our horses to do on a daily basis is not as inherently harmful as dressage practice with rollkur. Yielding the head and trotting in 20 meter circles can’t physically hurt a horse unless he has health problems or injuries.

It can be harmful in other ways, however, as Frédéric Pignon says,

What people do not appreciate is that every time a horse submits to pressure, whether subtle or overt, he is diminished. Probably the great majority of people who achieve their own ends by making their horse submit are not even aware of what they have done. It is a sad fact that a horse can be made to do many things by breaking his will. If he can be persuaded to give his assent freely and pleasurably rather than give into man’s pressure or clever techniques, he is not diminished.

In Do We Really Know What We Do?, I posted the quote above also. I don’t believe we can contemplate what Frédéric was telling us enough. Horses who cannot find meaning in what they do are sour. They “misbehave.” They go lame. What we often do not realize is that it’s our fault.

Each and every time we as ordinary riders, just like the stars of the horse world, ask our horses to repeat an action they have already learned, or to do something contrary to their nature as horses, we are asking for a kind of submission, “making” him do things that make no sense to him. Most of horseback riding is not natural to horses, to be sure.
Horseback riding and training require a certain amount of repetition. This is irrefutable. But how much is enough? How can we be sure that our horses’ activities have clear and valid meaning for them?

One way is to change the way in which they are rewarded for producing the desired behavior. The pleasure of spending time with us is a reward for social animals like horses. We don’t always have time, but making time within our riding and training schedules to add a few extra moments of just being together with no goal in mind, and using this as a reward/positive reinforcement adds meaning to the tasks we ask horses to do.

Another way is to increase the amount of physical contact we have with our horses. Not the kind with the whip or with the leg. The kind where you both are on the ground and your hands are on the horse. Touch is a miracle communicator because horses are sensory creatures. Like us, touch in equine life is an important part of the establishment of social hierarchies and family interaction. The reward of human touch is powerful for such tactile animals. You’ve seen a horse with a metaphorical sign reading, “will work for food,” but most of them also will work for touch.

Do what comes naturally to your horse. An Icelandic Horse is bred for moving out across country. Their minds are not suited to riding in circles in arenas. If you are going to ask them to work in confined spaces at tasks they don’t inherently understand, make sure they get to do what they do understand, on a daily basis. Ride out, at speed!
Likewise, a Percheron is not built for, nor does he have the mindset for, the rapid changes in tempo and rhythm of dressage. Don’t even try it! I’m not suggesting that owners of Percherons take up hauling logs instead of riding. But perhaps long rides in the country are a better option for the health and sanity of the horse.
The much-abused Thoroughbred also comes to mind. OTTBs just aren’t constitutionally suited to a great many of the jobs we give them. Sure, they are in plentiful supply. They are inexpensive and easily replaceable. But consider suitability for your desired activity first. And if it’s just impossible to match breed to discipline, make sure you keep in mind my suggestions above for keeping your horse sane: avoid mindless repetition of meaningless tasks, give plenty of downtime in your company, and make sure to touch touch touch! I have one further suggestion for helping your horse find meaning in his working life.

The best way to ensure that horses find meaning in what they do is to change things up. On a routine basis. Yes, we will have to put considerable thought into this.

Non-habitual movements, like those described by Moshe Feldenkrais, capture the horse’s attention in a way that habitual actions do not. When practiced in a relaxed atmosphere without provoking typical fear responses, any new activity involving all four feet, the head or tail, or the back or belly engages the horse’s mind in a new way. Expanding the horse’s body image through new and different (non-habitual) movement sequences brings attention to parts of his body he might not be fully aware of (we all know those horses who forget they have hind feet and leave them parked out, for example). Asking a horse to do new things allows you to become more aware of their habitual neuromuscular patterns and rigidities as well because you are seeing them in a new way. You can then expand his options for new ways of moving and living his life more fully and comfortably, not to mention with greater ease of performance.

The Tellington TTouch Method™ has a variety of ground work and ridden exercises called the Playground for Higher Learning . Through brainwave studies, it has been shown that working on the activities in the Playground activates both hemispheres of the equine brain and calms the sympathetic nervous system, the part that excites the flight reaction so common in horses when they don’t understand what is being asked of them. The opportunities for learning are increased greatly. It is interesting to note that when navigating corners in the labyrinth, a horse’s BETA brainwaves are activated. They are actually thinking logically while working in the Playground for higher learning.

Why get excited about a horse thinking? When lungeing or repeating the activities we might need endless practice at, horses turn off their brains. They get sour and sometimes they get angry. A sour, angry horse who is merely becoming fitter as a result of all this mindless exercise is not the horse we want. This does them a profound disservice and does not further our goals.

Guiding a horse deliberately and gently through non-habitual paths while in close physical contact is the very essence of mindful horsemanship. The bonus is that it’s fun!

It’s easy to make any of the items in the Playground for Higher Learning. You can use the stuff you have lying around the barn or purchase it cheaply. It’s not heavy and can be set up and then moved out of the way to ride by one person in minutes. Here are some examples of what you might want to include.

The Zig Zag

The Tractor Tire

The Labyrinth

The Fan, or Star

The Triangle

These tools are not your typical obstacle course. They are not intended to be negotiated at speed, or as objects for desensitization. Rather the object is to practice focus and self-control, and to increase flexibility, body awareness, balance, coordination, and confidence. Increased patience is a wonderful side effect of working in the Playground. You can immediately see the benefits of working youngsters here.

It is beyond the scope of this post to describe how to use each of these obstacles. I suggest that you visit the Tellington TTouch website to read about them in more detail or get a book or video. Better yet, take a training so that you can practice with a horse before trying yourself. The TTouch methods of leading a horse through these obstacles is an integral part of the exercises. Last week in Bodega Bay, California, horses worked in these obstacles, and on a plywood platform raised 6 inches off the ground, in addition to walking through a gradually-built path of straw bales with people standing on them, eventually holding bright pool noodles in an arch over the horse. I saw striking changes in these horses in a short time–just four days of work two hours a day. These horses ranged from a youngster aged three (not yet mounted) to an elder aged 23 (unrideable due to past neglect and possible abuse), to a Grand Prix dressage horse with impeccable training and manners.

Horses’ capacity for learning and engagement with their human handlers never ends. It is our responsibility to meet them more than halfway by providing the opportunity to do so.

I’m not suggesting that we all drop our favorite equestrian disciplines in favor of turning our horses out into a field and visiting them daily with a carrot, a massage and a turn in the Playground. Though that would be excellent. We have horses so we can do things with them. Balance is absolutely necessary. It takes skillful means to strike and hold that balance. It isn’t easy, and it takes more time than grabbing the horse from the stall or field, scraping off the dirt, slapping on tack and circling the arena 50 times.

Rather than seeking yields (submission), we might instead seek cooperation, fun and learning with these tools, which will allow us to pursue our personal horseback riding and training goals without completely eradicating the soul of the horse. In this, we can all learn from Frédéric Pignon and Linda Tellington-Jones, whose mutual goal is to uphold the sanctity of the horse.

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Tuesday's Touch: An Introduction

Tuesday's Touch: An Introduction

I’ve been thinking about this new series of posts for a long time. Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean I have perfected the concept before I deciding to bring it to you. So I ask your patience as I refine my ideas.

Tuesday's Touch1 with titleEach week I plan to introduce and discuss how body work can enhance your horse’s life with reference to either a particular part of the horse’s body or a common area of soreness. Often, simple bodywork procedures can alleviate behavioral issues related to pain and fear of pain in those areas as well, and I will recommend those.

As we all know, finding suitable images for use online will be tough, but I hope to get permission to use what I need to demonstrate the all-important HOW TO segments.

This will not be an extended lesson on Tellington TTouch. While it will figure prominently (it’s always nice to write about what you love), there are many other bodywork methodologies that appeal to a wide audience, and I’d like to explore a great many of them.


This will evolve, as all blogging projects do. Please let me know by commenting here if there’s a topic or a particular area you’d like to see discussed here, or if there’s something you would like to add. Guest posts are welcome!

© 2009 enlightened horsemanship through touch and Kim Cox Carneal

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