Tag Archives: Tellington TTouch Method
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…!

Serpentines.

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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Increasing Awareness and Performance with Tellington TTouch the Body Wrap

Increasing Awareness and Performance with Tellington TTouch the Body Wrap

In Barney, the Unrideably Dangerous Horse, Sarah Fisher uses the body wrap on Barney. You can see it at work. I’ve been getting a lot of hits searching for information on the Tellington TTouch Body Wrap. It’s not a product, per se, but the use of ordinary ACE Bandages in a proprietary way.

bodywrapridewithpride

Mr. Mule Expression here doesn't give the appearance, but he is a forward horse. Especially in hand. He is also prone to spooking and running over whoever is handling him. The body wrap is helping him feel his body, and to "stay in his body" rather than go into flight mode when he hears something behind him.

Why wrap your horse with ace bandages? It looks strange, to be sure. But it works if you have any of the following problems:

• spookiness at objects or sounds from behind
• rushing
• heaviness on the forehand
• problems entering small or confined spaces (like trailers)
• hollow backs
• strung-out striding
• toe-dragging
• hitting poles with front or hind feet

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I love these red wraps. This is one of the most excitable horse I've ever seen. She was dangerous on the ground and under saddle. In the hands of two experienced TTEAM practitioners, wearing the body wrap, and asked to focus on a non-habitual task (the labyrinth) without pressure, she calmed down and understood that she could move around in hand without wigging out. The body wrap helped her to maintain a sense of control over her own body.

Think of the last time you wore something closely-fitted, but not too tight, like a leotard. Dancers wear them not only because they don’t interfere with movement, but also because they provide body awareness. The body wrap helps a horse in much the same way. For horses who have trouble with proprioception, it is thought that there is a glitch in the information relay system from various extremities to the brain and then back to the muscles. This prevents them from making the smooth, coordinated movements we value so highly.

The body wrap enhances his internal “picture” of his body as it moves, just as a leotard provides feedback to a dancer as s/he moves. Each feels the fabric stretch a little here, ease a little there, revealing how and when their bodies are moving.

Nervous horses and horses in the process of spooking are often said to be “out of their bodies.” In flight mode, for example, their brains literally block out input from their feet, legs and sometimes their hind ends. Using a body wrap that encompasses the hindquarters helps a horse to maintain awareness of the hindquarters through pressure touch. This light and non-constricting pressure feedback is calming and thus can be helpful in situations that might normally cause concern for a horse such as entering a trailer or standing for the farrier.

Recent research on body-mapping supports the thesis that this type of feedback is helpful to both people and horses. In one recent study, providing close-fitting leotards to sufferers of anorexia nervosa helped to improve the body mapping capabilities of sufferers such that they were actually able to see themselves as they truly appeared.* Wearing the leotards 24/7, they began to eat more appropriately.

It immediately becomes obvious how helping a horse “map” his or her body more clearly while standing still or in motion would help them to move more smoothly and connectedly. If front end and hind end are working in a coordinated manner, and all four feet can be felt and controlled with ease, there is no need to rush. If the horse is made aware of the muscle movement of the shoulders and chest as the front legs move, while at the same time being made aware of the relation of the movement of the hindquarters, it is easier to come through from behind without dropping the back.

A general feeling of “where the body is in space during movement,” the hallmark of proprioception, produces a much calmer, quieter horse who is able to attend more carefully to his or her movement on the ground and under saddle. I’ve seen it work, I’ve used it, and it is really fascinating.

My young mare, Maira was spooky from behind, and when spooking, raised her head very high (sometimes high enough that I had to grab mane), and scooted forward as if to evade the fearful thing, no matter its location. She was also rather uncoordinated at the canter, and kind of strung out, as well as almost always on the forehand at the trot. A few sessions with the body wrap gave her just enough feeling of herself that she “collected” mentally and physically to improve these negative aspects. Video of her trot is amazing–no more pulling herself along on the forehand!

Unfortunately I had to sell her before I got the chance to ride her out in the woods wearing the body wrap, but I’ve seen it help many a horse with spooking issues. Certainly it would have helped me avoid a few spectacular rodeo maneuvers caused by the sudden appearance of turkeys.

If you think your horses might benefit from trying the body wrap, get the wide ace bandages, and as long as they come. Look carefully at the photos above, and try tying them so that they are loose and soft, but comfortably in contact with your horse. On the hindquarters, loop the wrap over the tail first, allowing the horse to get accustomed to having something back there before lifting the tail. Note carefully the location of the wrap in relation to the hindquarters. Do not let it slip too far down. The idea is to give the horse a sense of the movement of the legs and haunches, not to irritate. Allow the horse to stand a few minutes while running your hands over his entire body. Doing a few ground exercises while wearing the wrap helps to focus the horse. You can even use them in mounted work, tying each portion of the wrap onto the D-rings of the saddle. Ask an objective observer to note whether they see any changes in your horse’s way of going. You can easily be the judge of whether or not any unwanted behaviors change.

A few sessions can make a long-term change. It never hurts to use the wrap from time to time to boost the proprioceptive memory of this flight animal. What mother nature breeds in by instinct cannot be completely erased, not should it be. But we can help our horses be more comfortable in doing what we ask them to do using the Tellington TTouch body wrap.

It works on dogs, too, by the way. Especially valuable is its use for fear of thunderstorms and fireworks.

Here's Rayne dog in a body wrap in preparation for the fourth of July festivities, of which she is not particularly fond.  This was last year. This year, Rayne did not need the wrap. She did not wet the house, did not tremble or cry, and spent an enjoyable evening alongside her humans, free of fear.

Here's Rayne dog in a body wrap in preparation for the fourth of July festivities, of which she is not particularly fond. This was last year. This year, Rayne did not need the wrap. She did not wet the house, did not tremble or cry, and spent an enjoyable evening alongside her humans, free of fear.

* It is thought that one of the main issues with anorexia nervosa is the persons’ inability to see and judge their appearance correctly. Observers see sufferers as sickeningly thin; they see themselves as truly obese. If you want more information on the new science of body and mind-mapping, drop me a line and I’ll point you in the right direction.

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Start Packing! Learn TTouch and Tellington TTouch Training in Paradise!

Start Packing! Learn TTouch and Tellington TTouch Training in Paradise!

It’s never too early to start planning a family vacation in paradise. Sure, it’s warm a bright now, but those winter doldrums are sure to come. Why not plan a way to escape them for a week? Bring your family along!

In 2007 I made last-minute plans to join my friend Caroline in Hawaii for a combined TTouch for You and Tellington Training Method week in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii and I never looked back. I’ve written about the training in Hawaii before, but it bears repeating: you’ll have a great time, meet interesting new people, and learn some new skills that may change forever how you view your relationship with your horses.

I seem to have misplaced the huge CD of pictures from that 2007 training during my move, but here are one or two I managed to find on my computer.

Swimming with dolphins!

Swimming with dolphins!

After nearly a week of working outdoors in the hot sun, we all cleaned up and saw a dinner show with a luau. Everyone was smitten with the young man in the red loincloth--the fire juggler. He is quite, um, talented!

After nearly a week of working outdoors in the hot sun, we all cleaned up and saw a dinner show with a luau. Everyone was smitten with the young man in the red loincloth--the fire juggler. He is quite, um, talented!

At Horse Play Stables in the lower arena. In the upper arena, you feel as if you are floating over the Pacific. Here you can see crops growing in the background going up the mountain.

At Horse Play Stables in the lower arena. In the upper arena, you feel as if you are floating over the Pacific. Here you can see crops growing in the background going up the mountain.

We take a day to ride in Kohala, which is at considerable elevation. It's green and wet and chilly, surprising for a tropical island. It looks like New Zealand.

We take a day to ride in Kohala, which is at considerable elevation. It's green and wet and chilly, surprising for a tropical island. It looks like New Zealand.

The 2010 training is February 21-27 in Kona, Hawaii. It will combine TTouch for humans and the Tellington TTouch Method for horses. We will work for six days, with a one-day break for a tour of Kealakekua Bay to swim with dolphins. There are lots of other activities planned that can included you and your family. If you would like to learn about possible vacation rentals or good hotels nearby, just contact me.

There is also a gorgeous five-bedroom house available for rent at a special price during the training.

To learn more contact: the TTEAM Office at 800-854-8326 or email trainings@tellingtontraining.com.

I have a fantasy of meeting each and every one of you there for a bloggers’ reunion.

 

 


© 2009 enlightened horsemanship through touch and Kim Cox Carneal

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Tellington TTouch at Work in the U.K.: Barney, the Unrideably Dangerous Horse

Tellington TTouch at Work in the U.K.: Barney, the Unrideably Dangerous Horse

Watch Sara Fisher, about whom I’ve written before, work on a horse deemed too dangerous to ride.

watch the video on Horse Hero, a British video website called “paradise for horse lovers.”

Sarah Fisher and her donkeys, photo courtesy Horse Heroes

Sarah Fisher and her donkeys, photo courtesy Horse Heroes


Sarah works with Barney, photo courtesy Horse Heroes

Sarah works with Barney, photo courtesy Horse Heroes

What’s that thing wrapped around Barney’s chest? Find out in tomorrow’s post.

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