Tag Archives: http://enlightenedhorsemanship.wordpress.com

Everything But the Kitchen Sink: Maira's TTouch Prescription

Today in the TTEAM Training, it was time to round up our assessments of our horses. We discussed how to effect the necessary changes and encourage beneficial qualities in our horses. We spent a warm and breezy afternoon in the arena figuring out how to use some of the Tellington TTouch® ridden work in the Playground for Higher Learning, experimenting with TTEAM equipment, and getting sunburned.

After examining Maira thoroughly, Linda’s pronouncement confirmed some of my suspicions, but when she threw in everything but the kitchen sink, the diagnosis got a little alarming. I’ve got a lot of work to do.

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Ever Been to A Tellington TTouch Training?

Ever Been to A Tellington TTouch Training?

Greetings from a Tellington TTouch® training!

For folks who’ve never made it to a training,  I thought I’d fill you in.

Pam Woolley, rider, trainer, equine professional and TTEAM Practitioner III, who calls TTouch, “the best kept secret” in the horse world, hosts an annual training at her boarding facility, Brook Hill Farm, in Middleburg, Virginia. After hosting training weeks for several chilly springtimes in a row, Pam has things running smoothly for the twenty-some participants and auditors who come to Middleburg to learn TTouch from the source, Linda Tellington-Jones.

Nestled in spring-green, rolling hills of Piedmont, Virginia and lavishly dotted with dogwood blossoms, the stone barns at Brook Hill Farm provide a snug haven for horses arriving by trailer from around the country. Pam’s capable staff see to it that owners can return to their hotels at night secure in the knowledge that their horses are safe and well cared for. I left Maira snoozing happily in the corner stall of a U-shaped barn that looks like and old-fashioned movie set, with her new neighbors: the other horses who will be our “training subjects” throughout the week.

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Adam's Rib Is A Nag (Case Study #3)

It’s been 11 days since I fell and injured my ribs, among other things. I can’t help thinking there’s something wrong with a set of ribs that can’t at least start to feel better in that span of time.

More whining, and some TTouch®

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Of Equine Bondage and Bonding

Of Equine Bondage and Bonding

Today I read an article that basically hobbled my brain, preventing me from thinking about anything else until I worked out my feelings about it.

The author of the piece makes some assertions about the relationship between horses and their people that no logical mind can dismiss. However his tone, a sort of, “these are the cold, hard facts for all you hairy-neck-nuzzlers–face up to them!” renders even the most obvious “facts” difficult for the horse-loving heart to accept.

His conclusions appear to result from a utilitarian distillation of natural horsemanship based on equine ethology, in which all relationships (horse-horse and horse-human) are based on dominance hierarchies:


“People and horses don’t “bond in friendship”; all respect emanates from fear… Bonding, as so many are so fond of “saying and doing,” is really “shackles, imprisonment and captivity” for horses. The concept of friendship doesn’t exist between horse and human…not as humans would like it to be.

The author of this article, Mr. Blazer, issues a sharp rebuke to anyone even remotely guilty of anthropomorphism, or of receiving or orchestrating human benefit from contact with horses. NARHA and EAGALA, beware: Mr. Blazer wishes you to know that you and your clients are deluding yourselves. What we perceive as friendship or bonding, he says, is merely respect based on fear.

I looked high and low to find data to support any kind of qualification to Mr. Blazer’s assertions. What I found was that most all discussion of the human-horse bond is skewed toward quantifying the obvious benefits for humans, while little is ever said about possible effects on the horse, or evidence thereof. I am eager to investigate this topic beyond the standard boundaries of evolutionary benefits of domestication. If you have relevant information, please post it here.

In natural horsemanship circles, we hear a lot about respect: how to get it; how to keep it; how to use it to our advantage in riding and training. But who knew that once we have won it, that’s all we really get? And equally important, once won, the horse who has bestowed it benefits not at all?

For horses, respect emanates from fear…. of pain In the herd, when a horse misbehaves, he gets a kick or a bite; he quickly learns to respect another’s space and position in the herd. The pain is what behaviorist call a “re-inforcer”, and the horse learns that the behavior immediately before the pain was “not acceptable.”

While it is an accurate reflection of equine ethology, Mr. Blazer’s comments on negative reinforcers and learning no longer represent current thought and practice in animal training, which has historically followed the trajectory of human behavioral psychology. Behaviorism, in the style of B.F. Skinner, is out of fashion because psychologists have learned a great deal about how and why people learn–the intersection of intellect and emotion which drives learning.

Similarly, we have learned a lot about how horses respond to training. The application of dominance and negative-reinforcement horse training has fallen out of favor with good reason. You have only to look at the catch phrases of some of the most popular trainers around the world for evidence of this: Pat Parelli’s “Love, Language, and Leadership” and Linda Tellington-Jones, “The Touch That Teaches.” In stark contrast, we have the old cowboy way:

An example is the throwing of a horse to the ground—often done by “horse whispers[sic].” Or the tying of a horse’s head to his tail. The horse suffers no pain unless he struggles, and he learns he can eliminate the pain by calm compliance. Other forms of restraint also work…such as tying a horse’s front leg up, or hobbling both hind legs.

Progressive horse trainers have learned that equine learning via this kind of brute Behaviorism is less effective because, on balance, the equine brain is an emotional brain, rather than a conditioned response brain.

This “emotional brain” is inherent in the psychology of the prey animal. Fear, for example, has a prominent evolutionary purpose, providing the horse with a trigger mechanism for survival. Using the fight or flight response, the negative reinforcer, may “train” your horse to fear you, to respect you, and even to do as you command, but it will impede your horse’s learning and his ability to bond with you.

A good equine partner may not in fact be a “trained” horse, but one who is able to respond to changing demands rather than to perform invariable and automatic reactions.

In response to Mr. Blazer, I offer this:
While we cannot quantify or describe the emotional benefits a horse derives from contact with humans, it behooves us to assume the existence for their potential.
Horse are perfect at being horses,” says Evelyn Hanggi, PhD of the Equine Research Foundation, and as such they should be treated accordingly.” If we interact with our horses with dignity, kindness, and positive reinforcement, allowing them the space to think and understand what it is we are asking of them, they will learn, and a bond will form.

No bondage necessary.

For more information on equine learning, visit these sites:
What is Behaviorism?
Testing Equine Intelligence
Equine Smarts
The Changing Status of Animals and Human-Animal Bonds

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My Friends Are Gone and My Hair Is Gray

and I ache in the places where I used to play…

When I first heard that line in the Leonard Cohen tune, The Tower of Song, I giggled a bit. After all, Mr. Cohen is upwards of seventy years old, I thought smugly, preening my forty-seven-year-old self.

Then God said, “Ha!,” and made me ache in all my places!
Last week I made an ill-advised decision on horseback and received a face full of dirt as my reward. “That’s nothing new,” you say, “I fall off all the time!” And like me you may even have broken a couple of ribs, bruised one entire side of your body, damaged subcutaneous nerves in your thigh, and nearly dislocated your shoulder, as I did. But this is about me!

As I sit, stand, lie, wander (whatever hurts less), my thighs tingling with the regeneration of those damaged nerves, able to take only the shallowest of breaths, wishing I had just bounced like I did all those years ago, I have the opportunity to examine the circumstances surrounding my accident, and to consider my options for preventing a reoccurrence.

Riding accidents happen both in a flash and in slow motion. As we take flight, we have the peculiar combination of acute awareness of our impending doom and no clue at all how it’s going to play out. The minute we hit the dirt (and after we catch our breath), we wonder, “How the heck did that happen?” yet we know. We know. We play the whole scene back in our minds in slow-mo, in our dreams, in the recounting to friends and the EMTs.

Usually you can chalk it up to a series of errors.
Not this time.

I think maybe all horse people have at least one extra risk-taking gene. I have two. This tendency toward a lack of good judgment diametrically opposes my efforts to be a more mindful person. In all areas of my life, the “risk-taking override” often kicks in when I should stop and take a moment to step out of automatic pilot, to exit “doing mode” and enter “being mode” to connect more deeply with the present moment.

My dust-eating face plant is a prime example, and one from which I want to extract every lesson I can.

I remind myself of Henry David Thoreau’s comments on this subject:

“I am alarmed when it happens that I have walked a mile into the woods bodily, without getting there in spirit… The thought of some work will run in my head, and I am not where my body is; I am out of my senses… What business have I in the woods, if I am thinking of something out of the woods?”

I have a young horse. A four-year-old Morgan/Percheron cross, not quite finished growing. Still a little “downhill.”
Maira is as sweet as a horse can be, with the conformation and personality one would expect from her breeding, and an extra dose of quiet bravery thrown in for good measure. I’m very fortunate to have her.

I consider myself especially lucky that she’s so willing, considering that I’m both a relatively novice rider and not in the best shape. I’m a fly on her back, but I’m a BIG, floppy fly. She tolerates me bouncing around up there like a sack of potatoes without batting a long black eyelash 99% of the time.

The 1% where something went wrong was my responsibility.

We had just come back from a long ride with a friend out in the hills and rivers of Free Union, Virginia. Maira and I had walked, trotted, and cantered in the woods, up hills, down hills, and out in the fields. Happily, we encountered none of the usual stealthy monsters: no deer, no hunters with shotguns, no Great Blue Herons. I figured (wrongly) that since she was pretty well worn out, we had nothing to lose by joining another friend for a final canter around the upper ring before heading back to the barn to cool off.

Two strides into what was a very poorly organized transition, Maira spooked. I must have pulled a sack-of-potatoes maneuver, because she dropped her inside shoulder (she must have lost her balance–I would have if I’d had me on my back!), and over I went.
*ugly sucking sounds*

It took me a few moments to get the breath working again, and poor Maira was so upset about dropping me that she ran around the ring several times, reins flapping. I remember feeling so bad that she was upset, but thoughts of Maira were crowded out of my head by pain and shock.
I needed help back to the barn, and eventually into my car, etc., after swearing on Xenophon’s grave that I didn’t need to go to the hospital. Turns out I did, but anyway

I never did get back on.

I have no idea which of my kind friends untacked her, wiped her down, soothed her in her upset, and put her in her stall for the night. I am sorry that it was not me. It was our first trying experience together, and it would have been better for me to see it through to the end. Young horses are so impressionable, and I hate for her to have this experience.

In the end, I think it all came down to a simple lack of mindfulness on my part:
• I didn’t realize that, even though we’d worked in that ring the day before, it had been her first time there. So it was still a new place for her.
• I didn’t think to pause at the gate, show her the ring, introduce her to the horse who was already working there, and allow her to consider our entering to work a bit.
• I didn’t walk her around the ring a few times in each direction to re-familiarize her with the area.
• I didn’t make a careful, planned transition from walk to canter, and her spook set me off balance, which set her off balance, which set the whole ugly mess in motion.
• I never saw what it was that spooked her.

This has been as good a lesson for me as it has been a bad one for Maira: Awareness of surroundings, the mind-set of my horse, my own preparation (or the lack thereof) are all basics of horseback riding. And if you don’t remember the basics, you’re sporting ice packs and singing a sad song.

Now that I’ve determined what I need to do to avoid similar rodeos in the future, I need to explore how I can help Maira do the same.
After I go ease myself into a tub of ice, I’ll write more about how I plan to use Tellington TTouch® and Tellington Equine Awareness Methods to deepen our partnership and overcome the future possibility of Maira’s spooking.

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A funny thing happened on my flight

A funny thing happened on my flight

…from Hawaii last February.

Unless you have had the misfortune to become ill onboard an airplane, or witness the illness of a nearby passenger, you may not be aware of the large number of medical emergencies that occur at 35,000 feet. Airlines are not required to report them.

Here’s what happened to me:

On a sleepy flight from Hawaii to San Francisco, I was disturbed by a minor kerfuffle in the aisle a couple of seats behind me. It was evident that there was a very sick passenger because the flight attendants began running around looking fraught, wringing their hands, and fiddling with oxygen tanks (so not necessary). The plane sported the standard FAA-required medical kit, including an automated external cardiac defibrillator, a non-working stethoscope, a thermometer, and a blood pressure cuff (useless without the stethoscope). They also had aspirin and acetaminophen.

I don’t necessarily feel it’s the airline’s responsibility to be a flying ER, and provided the equipment they have onboard actually functions and attendants know how to use it, they have a good chance of caring for most onboard illnesses. Additionally, several major airlines have established contacts on the ground to guide them through the process of caring for a sick passenger and getting that passenger to the hospital once landed. In the case of my flight from Hawaii to San Francisco, flight attendants resembled Keystone Kops more than trained professionals. No apparent contact with doctors on the ground was made.

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