Tag Archives: Tellington TTouch
Reader Question: Nothing Else Has Worked; I’m Considering Using A Shock Collar

Reader Question: Nothing Else Has Worked; I’m Considering Using A Shock Collar

I received this email from a reader who is considering using an equine shock collar on her unruly gelding as a last resort. I wrote about equine shock collars as endorsed by Julie Goodnight here.


I was considering buying equine shock collar for my horse and came across your article. I’m keen to understand what the alternative is when you have exhausted every avenue in terms of seeing if the horse has physical pain and it seems it is purely behavioural.
My gelding is not on the extreme end of the spectrum I am sure but is at times dangerous enough to the mare he shares a paddock with and to me that I have considered selling him.
He generally bullies the mare and when she comes into season he becomes quite aggressive towards her, last time pinning her down with his teeth by her neck while trying to climb on top of her.
With me he is generally pushy and argues about anything I ask him to do, and if I am out riding and other horses are running around, he then puts on his best stallion impression, tail up, neck arched, screaming at the top of his voice while plunging and spinning around.
I have had countless people of all sorts of therapeutic disciplines look at him and almost all have concluded there is not a huge amount wrong with him. Vets too and I recently had him tested as to whether he is a rig and his testosterone levels came back as lower than a normal gelding would be.
So here I am, trying to work out what on earth I do. I have had a trainer out who has given me some great things to work on with his behaviour toward me (basically me being a stronger more consistent yet fair leader) and I can see that over time this will work.
However I am at a loss of what to do with him and the mare. I am fortunate to be on our property now so can separate them but this is obviously unnatural and not a nice long term solution for either of them. Most of the day they graze happily together and he even lets her share his food, but in the afternoon, when he is bored, he just starts pushing her around and bothering her. And as I say, when she comes into season this escalates quite dramatically to the point one or both of them are going to get seriously injured.
If you disagree with shock collars, what would you suggest I do?
Many thanks in advance for your response.

I don’t believe there is ever an end to the opportunities for change in a horse. A shock collar is not going to make a lasting difference because horses, like people and other animals, cannot learn while they are in pain or afraid. And that’s just what a shock collar produces.

Imagine being shocked by a stun gun at what you believe are random times during what you consider perfectly normal behavior. How would you make sense of what is happening to you? I think it would take a very long time and a great deal of inductive reasoning. I’m not sure horses are either capable of or willing to apply this degree of reasoning to painful, seemingly random events like those produced by a shock collar.

The fact that you have had your gelding checked out extensively is commendable. But in terms of exhausting every available avenue to improve your horse’s behavior, you may need to consider that there is more to the behavior of a horse than physical or training-based behavior. If you have tried a wide variety of training solutions that have not worked (have you given them enough time for your horse to really learn?), then perhaps what you have is a loosely related group of behavioral reactions caused by fear, anxiety, or the fear of pain. These often are principal causes of “mis”behavior in horses.

It might be helpful to list the “mis”behaviors and group them according to whether your horse is acting aggressively, defensively, overly playfully, or just blowing off steam. Which ones seem to be most prevalent? What happens before “what happens happens (so to speak)”? What happens when you try certain solutions? What works and what does not? Keeping such a log even for a week might show you useful patterns in finding a solution.

After reading your description of his antics, I am reminded of my gelding Buster, who everyone said was too much horse for me. He was. At 17hh (I’m only 5′) and absolutely loaded with personality and great gusto for causing trouble (play) and breaking stuff with his teeth [(investigation) (hence the paddock name)], Buster also enjoyed imitating stallion-like behavior when it suited him. And it suited him every time I felt less than confident in handling/riding him, which was quite often!

In fact, Buster nearly killed me one afternoon as we rode back home along a fence line of fillies and I tried, mistakenly, to rein in his airs above the ground and “look at me I’m such a stud” antics by exerting “control,” rather than just doing the sensible thing and getting off, asking him to drop his head, and working on his body in such a way that I would connect with his limbic system to engage his attention, calm him, and make the situation safe. I should have and could have accomplished this easily with Tellington TTouch© bodywork and a few maneuvers from the ground. There is so much I regret about how I handled Buster, but I did not know at the time that connecting with his emotions through his body could effect such a profound change. In the intervening years, I have seen astonishing changes in just this kind of behavior in all sorts of horses with consistent, calm, quiet work with the TTouch Method.

Reading your descriptions of your horse’s behavioral issues makes me think it won’t help at all to get into a battle of wills by asserting yourself as a consistent, firm leader. This just won’t work. In fact, it has not worked, according to your own admission. So why not try something else? Something different, that affects animals in a completely different ways through different pathways?

Here is an article my friend Caroline Larrouilh and I collaborated on to define TTouch. I hope it helps you to see the possible benefits for you and your gelding.

Alternative Definition of Tellington TTouch In Light of Recent Findings in Neuroscience
by Caroline Larrouilh and Kim Carneal

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.

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.

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

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 Dictionary.com:
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.

First, I suggest moving the mare for the short term, for her safety. If you are not her owner, you are at risk of being held responsible for any harm that might come to her through his hijinks. I would not worry at this point about what is “natural” and not natural.

Second, how old is he and how much exercise is he getting? A young horse (like my Buster) with tons of energy and not enough exercise is somewhat like a bored kid with too much Mountain Dew in his system and no hall monitor. “Eeee! What’s next? What can I do with all this energy?”

If he is not getting consistent workouts in interesting and stimulating environments (I am NOT talking about being run in a round pen or W/T/C around, around and around in an arena or lunging) enough to tire him out, then it’s only natural that in the afternoon he would seek out his own stimulation. “Buster” busted a lot of stuff, including me, and eventually, himself. Don’t let this happen to you.

As far as escalation with mares in season, I suggest that after you take a serious look at TTouch bodywork and groundwork, and if you choose to try some out, that you ask him to lower his head and lead him past mares in season using TTouch ground work methods. If you have to stop along the fence line and get him calm, do so through the use of bodywork. It’s quick ad simple, and the calm focus it creates cannot be beat. You are not then in danger of being injured in a battle for control.

Once you have success with a fence separating the mares, try working him (use a partner to work the mare, for safety and to reduce the possibility of mayhem) with the mare that is most familiar to him. If you have even a small success, then you know you are going in the right direction. Keep it up.

What I am suggesting is a methodical examination of how, when why and where his problems occur and what you have done in response. What works, what hasn’t. Follow this by an equally systematic connection with your horse’s mind, body and spirit in a way you might not have done before.

I truly feel that you will not have to resort to a shock collar if you try out these suggestions. Please let me know what you think and if you find a solution. I wish you the best of luck and safety!

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I Take the Vow

I Take the Vow

In Do No Harm: The Vow of Ahimsa, I wrote about the vow to do no harm and compassionate horsemanship as a perfect marriage of intention.

Just as the interspecies connection between mankind and animals is fertile ground for abuse, it is also the perfect venue for allowing “man” to be “kind.” I hope the field of horsemanship is ready to accept the message that it can be part of a larger movement, and that the larger movement can inform its growth with greater meaning. That this movement is based on ages-old traditions makes it more meaningful to me as a Buddhist. Yet, judging from the enormous popularity of Deepak Chopra’s modern Ahimsa Vow movement, it has wider appeal. Take a look at I Take the Vow.com.

One of the main components of the horsemanship I like to write about is Tellington TTouch, a gentle, non-dominant training and bodywork method based on communication through touch, taught all around the world. When I found this site tonight I felt that the compassionate horsemanship of Tellington TTouch and the Ahimsa Vow were meant to be lived together.

TAKE THE VOW>Taking any vow is a solemn affair. Please consider viewing the materials on the site. How this applies to the most basic relationships in life should be obvious. How it applies in our dealings with our horses is sometimes less so, especially in the face of ingrained habits of riding and training. Consider this:

The only thing that interferes with my learning is my education.

–Albert Einstein

Billie of Camera Obscura said something in a comment yesterday that made me think hard about the way we become accustomed to doing things. It’s not that we don’t question “the way it’s always been done.” But learning involves taking a new perspective. Habit does not encourage new perspectives.

This will take some very close examination, but I’m interested to know what you all think of some of the issues we face as horse people from the perspective of doing no harm.

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Listening Hands – The Value Of Tellington TTouch® by Marnie Black

Listening Hands – The Value Of Tellington TTouch® by Marnie Black

Marnie Black is a Tellington TTouch practitioner for companion animals. She has written a lovely piece on the value of Tellington TTouch for smaller animals which answers some of the questions people often ask me. I can’t answer them better than Marnie does. Though this article speaks to issues with small animals, the principles are the same, and it takes little imagination to apply them to horses.

Named by it’s founder, Linda Tellington-Jones, TTouch is a gentle, respectful approach to bodywork. Best known for helping an animal recover from physical and behavioral problems, it can significantly deepen the bond between human and animal. Linda started experimenting with touch in the mid-70’s while she was studying Feldenkrais (moving a body in non-habitual ways develops new neural pathways in the brain. These fresh pathways give the body new proficiency in movement, coordination and muscular efficiency.) Linda saw a connection between touch and healing and started applying touches to horses who were not “comfortable” in their bodies – either physically or emotionally. Relying on her intuition, she moved her hands in slow circles all over the horse’s body. “Problem” animals exhibited immediate physical relief and marked improvement in behavior.

Marnie Black

Marnie Black

Here’s the article:

Marnie Black graduated from TTouch training in 2003. She is a private practitioner serving Seattle, Tacoma, and Olympia. To learn more about Marnie, visit Animal Matters.

Listening Hands–The Value of Tellington TTouch

     Marnie Black,  Certified Tellington TTouch Practitioner 




Listening Hands – The Value Of  Tellington TTouch   

(by Marnie Black, published in Seattle Purebred Rescue Magazine, May, 2006) 


 Hmm, too cold and rainy for a walk.  And all you really want to do is light a fire, hang 

out with your dog, and listen to NPR.  Then what? Sit and stare lovingly into his eyes?    


Here’s an idea.  How about giving your hands and heart to him with  TTouch  – “the 

touch that teaches.” 

Named by it’s founder, Linda Tellington-Jones, TTouch is a gentle, respectful approach 

to bodywork.  Best known for helping an animal recover from physical and behavioral 

problems, it can significantly deepen the bond between human and animal. Linda started 

experimenting with touch in the mid-70’s while she was studying Feldenkrais (moving a 

body in non-habitual ways develops new neural pathways in the brain. These fresh 

pathways give the body new proficiency in movement, coordination and muscular 

efficiency.)  Linda saw a connection between touch and healing and started applying 

touches to horses who were not “comfortable” in their bodies – either physically or 

emotionally.  Relying on her intuition, she moved her hands in slow circles all over the 

horse’s body.  “Problem” animals exhibited immediate physical relief and marked 

improvement in behavior.   

Linda’s intuition has been tested and retested in university settings for over 30 years.  

Distinct changes in the nervous system and at the cellular level of the animal have been 

discovered. She has taught TTouch to professionals, veterinarians and zoo personnel 

worldwide.  Her training program has certified students to become TTouch practitioners 

for horses and small animals in Europe, Asia, Africa, and South America. She continues 

to develop and research her work, and currently offers 18 videos and 13 books in 12 

languages on TTouch..  Today, she continues TTouch with animals and has extended her 

research to the effects of TTouch on humans.   

How TTouch works  Central to TTouch are touches that reach just below the animal’s 

haircoat and gently move the skin.  Unlike massage, which influences the muscle, 

moving the skin influences the nervous system.  The result is an animal who calms, 

begins to breathe evenly, and starts to focus (center) himself in his body.  Think of an 

exuberant puppy. You’d like him to settle down.  Try running your hands quickly from 

his belly to his back in opposite directions, crossing them at his back.  Not only will the 

puppy sense that his belly and back are connected, he will become absorbed by the 

sensation in his body.  The puppy will relax and begin to breath evenly and deeply.  His 

body “talks” to him saying “pay attention, something nice is happening here.”  In 

addition to this type of general touch, certain other touches activate brain waves in the 

animal and help him learn – whatever he needs to learn –more quickly. 

In animals, just as in humans, a quiet, centered state-of-mind can bring about a feeling of 

well being.  The goal in touching the animal is also to bring him to a sense of equilibrium 

or balance in his body.  This balance will enhance his proprioception – the ability to sense 

the position, location, and movement of his body and its parts.  And much like athletes 

who use centering techniques to improve confidence during performance, this centering 

increases an animal’s self confidence in a demanding situation. Imagine you have just 

escaped an automobile accident.  Your breathing is shallow, your pulse rate is high, your 

emotions are all over the place,  It’s hard to figure out just what happened.  Then you said 

to yourself “take a deep breath and relax a bit,” and when you did, you were better able to 

evaluate your surroundings.  You relaxed, placed confidence in your senses, and in your 

ability to better evaluate this event.  This same process can be given to your animal.  

Imagine he and you have run into an aggressive dog on the street.  Your dog is upset and 

uncertain.  You can’t tell him to take a breath and relax, but you can show him, through 

his body, with your hands, how to take a breath and relax.  Then, he too, can better 

evaluate this upsetting, maybe dangerous situation, and react with more appropriate 

behaviors, such as calming signals or reduced aggression.  

Though circular touches are the hallmark of TTouch, many other techniques are used to 

help the animal get to a better physical or behavioral place. Thoughtful observation of the 

animal’s physical and emotional state is the first and most important. Movement analysis, 

motivational techniques, and ground work are all used to assess and ultimately counter an 

animal’s fear, worry, or damaging habits.  These techniques alone can sometimes solve 

an animal’s problems in one TTouch session.  Among the non-circular TTouch 

techniques are exercises in confidence building, wraps that bring awareness to the 

animal’s body, and various types of balance-enhancing equipment.  For instance, dogs 

who participate in agility quickly improve confidence, balance, and footing when they are 

worked within the principles of TTouch.  

Thirty years of case studies have shown that TTouch can help animals with physical 

injuries, internal issues such as arthritis, digestion problems, and skin problems.  TTouch 

has also helped animals with emotional/behavioral issues such as excessive barking, 

chewing, fear- based aggression, shyness, separation anxiety, extreme excitement, and 

leash pulling. 

How Ttouch Can Help Aging and Senior Dogs 


Just as humans struggle with aging, so do our animals.  It’s hard to watch our older dog 

struggle with getting up from the floor, or losing his balance.   And it hurts not to know 

how to help him when he looks so obviously sad or confused.  But most dog owners, 

lucky enough to have an animal live to an advanced age, will see some loss of physical 

vitality and behavior, or mental change in their animals.  The good news is – there are 

many TTouch techniques that can help your animal cope with his aging body. 


TTouch should never be used as a substitute for regular veterinary care.  But the first step 

in both veterinary care and TTouch begins with your ability to observe your animal 

objectively.  Objectively (not sentimentally! or in an attempt to diagnose) observe your 

animal’s movements and behaviors.  Use your hands to “listen” to the cool and warm, 

tense and smooth, ruffled and soft parts of his body.  Use the blink technique: look at 

your dog, close your eyes, then open them much like a camera shutter.  Where does your 

eye first land? What piece of information does your “camera” first pick up?  Is your dog’s 

left hip higher than his right?  Is his head lowered?  Is his fur ruffled just behind his right 

shoulder?  These observations are important.  Share them with your vet to clarify any 

medical issues with your animal, and then start using TTouch to improve his comfort 



Here are some issues that elderly animals encounter.  Learning to observe these types of 

issues will help you, your vet, and your animal: 


      An unwillingness to move as much as usual.  A vet might find arthritis or illness. 


      Increased injuries.  A vet might discover a vision or hearing impairment.  


      Heightened agitation with unfamiliar circumstances or noises. 


      Increased separation anxiety when you are away. 


      Listlessness.  Is your animal socializing with other animals? 


      Lack of appetite, possibly  due to worry or sensitive stomach. 


      Loss of bladder control, possibly because of fear or illness. 


      Disorientation, possibly due to illness. 


      Chronic pulled muscles from loss of muscle tone. 


How TTouch Can Help Dogs with Disabilities 


Animals with disabilities have two strikes against them.  The disability, temporary or 

permanent, for which they must physically compensate. And the emotional aspects that 

go with a loss of vitality, balance, sight, hearing, or reduced socialization. 


Following are some issues that disabled animals contend with.  If you are the owner of a 

disabled dog, make objective observations of your dog’s physical and mental well-being 

a priority, and do not hesitate to ask your vet for his opinion: 


 Loss of limb, possibly leading to back and neck strain, and pulled muscles in 

other parts of the body.  


 Loss of eyesight or hearing, possibly leading to increased injury, confusion, 

undeserved punishment from the owner.  


 Paralysis, leading to loss of confidence and loss of body  awareness. 


 Loss of balance, and resulting injury and confusion, from lack of body awareness.  


 Serious behavioral problems such as increased confusion, disorientation, seeming 

depression following the trauma of the disabling situation.  


 Falling, tripping and running into objects, which can lead to bruising, pulled 

muscles, and confusion. 


 Chronic injury from lack of muscle tone and body awareness.  


 Poor proprioception ( a sense of the body’s position) leading to lack of 



Though the practice of TTouch for senior and disabled animals is much the same as it is 

for young animals, it can be more valuable to the senior and disabled.  Why?  The body  

of a young dog has quick-healing abilities, the muscles and tendons are smooth and 

uninjured, arthritis and autoimmune illnesses are relatively rare.  The world is new to the 

young animal and his emotions, if nurtured by his owner, are relatively resilient.  The 

elderly animal’s tendons and muscles have less elasticity, arthritis has moved into injured 

and stressed joints, and the animal experiences increased difficulty with obstacles and 

complicated environments.  The older animal will benefit more from external sources of 

support such as TTouch, and particularly from the increased time in bonding with you. 


 TTouch provides many positive results to the elderly and disabled animal: 


 It warms the body through the central nervous system; 


 It teaches the  body how to achieve a calm, centered state on it’s own; 


 It changes habitual movement patterns enough to provide the body with new 

motions, thus relieving long-use muscles; 


 TTouch improves body awareness so that walking in difficult places e.g. a 

staircase) can be easier. 


 It increases brain wave activity so that learning new behaviors is easier. 


How to do TTouch  


Following are simple TTouches and techniques that you can use any time on your animal.  

All of these will help both the senior and the disabled animal.  Twenty minutes at a sitting 

is the maximum amount of time to do TTouch on your dog. Beyond that time, the 

nervous system can be overtaxed, and the animal can become tired or restless.  After a 

TTouch session animals often (but not always) drink more water and sleep deeply for an 

hour or two. 




Lying Leopard 


Excellent for excessive barking, nervousness, reducing stress, relaxation, wounds, 

bruising and swelling, and injuries. 


Rest your hand lightly on your dog’s body, your fingers flattened slightly to allow a large 

area of warm contact with fingers and palm.  Go below the haircoat and push the skin one 

and a quarter circle.  Make your circle last to a count of 5 or longer.  Let your middle 

finger lead.  Feel the connection between your forefinger and thumb, which are held 

several inches apart.  Keep your wrist straight yet flexible.  Breathing in rhythm with the 

circles you are doing helps maintain a softness in your fingers, hand, arm and shoulder.  

Assess your dog’s comfort level.  If he seems uncomfortable, lighten the touch.  Never 

press harder than you could tolerate on your own eyelid. 


Python Lift 

Excellent for arthritis, balancing, hip dysplasia, nervousness, gait improvement, 

improving physical and emotional balance, stiffness in back and shoulder. 


Place your hand on the body or around a leg with just enough pressure to gently lift the 

skin and muscle.  Lift to a count of four or a full breath in, hold for a count of 2, and 

slowly lower the skin to a count of four or a full breath out.  Be sure you are balanced and 

breathing.  If you lift with tension in your own body, the animal will tense or move 



Belly Lift 

Excellent for arthritis, bloating, digestive problems, fear, fear of loud noises, sore back, 

shoulder or hips, stress and tension. 


Fold a towel so that it is 4 to 6 inches wide.  Starting just behind your dog’s front legs, 

gently lift to a count of 4 or a full breath in. Do not lift so hard that you lift your dog off 

his feet.  Hold for about 15 seconds.  Release slowly, to a count of 8, or twice as long as 

it took to lift up.  The slow release is essential to achieving the desired effect.  After each 

lift move toward the hindquarters and repeat the procedure.  Continue until you are all the 

way to the hindquarters.  Repeat 3 or 4 times if your animal tolerates it. 



We are all used to petting our dogs, but petting becomes unremarkable and somewhat 

mindless after a while.  Even our dogs become habituated to petting and won’t be aware 

6 of  6 

of the health benefits of your touch.  Varying your hand movements as well as using 

different textures to touch your dog, will have your dog snuggling closer to you: 


 Use a chamois mitt from an auto store.  Gently and slowly rub the mitt over your 

dog’s face, ears, back and paws.  Always go in the same direction as his whiskers. 


 Use a paint brush to outline the sworls and rivulets around your dog’s ears, chest 

and chin.  Use a bigger paint brush for his stomach and back. 


 Grasp a small handful of fur at the root.  Gently move it in a circle and a quarter, 

and slowly let go while pulling over your index finger.  Dogs especially love this 

on the top of their heads. 


You will enjoy using TTouch as much as your dog does.  TTouch effects you the same 

way it effects your animal.  Many people use it while they are meditate or do their yoga 

exercises.  Being mindful and enjoying the time you have with your animal is a gift you 

can give to both of you.   








© 2009 enlightened horsemanship through touch

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Tellington TTouch and Sensory Integration by Kathy Cascade

Tellington TTouch and Sensory Integration by Kathy Cascade

I hear about Tellington TTouch Instructor and physical therapist Kathy Cascade an awful lot. With her background in neurophysiology, biofeedback, sensory integration, myofascial release, and cranio-sacral therapy, it’s easy to see why Kathy might have a great deal of knowledge and wisdom to impart to those who study the effects of TTouch on animals bodies and behavior.

Kathy, who lives in Stillwater, OK, teachers Tellington TTouch to people like me, practitioner hopefuls who still have a lot to learn about this respectful and gentle approach to working with animals and people.

While I was perusing the Tellington TTouch Yahoo Group document site, I found this article, which Linda has often referred to. In it, Kathy addresses some of the most fascinating elements of Tellington TTouch, and incidentally those which I have felt the most skepticism about. It turns out that as a skeptic, I just didn’t have the right information. Why would sensory integration be an interesting topic for horsepeople? Because this is what we ask of them when we teach them. Though Kathy writes about dogs in this article, we know through many years of study that the TTouch modality generalizes to equines.

I am reprinting the article, which originally appeared in TTEAM Connections¹, the magazine of Tellington TTouch, in its entirety, with the express permission of Kathy Cascade, of Cascade Animal Connection.

Kathy Cascade at work

Kathy Cascade at work

We have all witnessed the sometimes remarkable changes in animals following a few minutes of TTouch or work in the Confidence Course. The hyper, twirling dog suddenly stands in balance and looks calmly around the room. The fearful cat hunched in the back of a cage steps forward allowing human contact. Even a stressed snake is calmed by gentle lifts along its body. While we can easily observe the outward changes in
an animal’s behavior or posture, explaining how these shifts occur is not always so simple.

Linda speaks of “awakening the function of the cells” when she describes the intent of TTouch. How does the act of touching another being, human or animal, influence the very function of the body, even down to the cellular level? One way we can understand this process is to examine how the nervous system takes in and makes sense of information. This is the function of sensory integration, and it is what allows us to learn, and make adaptive responses to each new experience or situation.

Input – How Information Is Recognized

Most of us are very familiar with the five senses of sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch. We also have two other sensory systems that process information from “inside our bodies”, rather than external sources. The vestibular system responds to changes in head position and is critical to balance and postural security. The receptors are located in our inner ear. Anyone who has ever had an inner ear infection or vertigo knows what happens when this system is out of whack! The proprioceptive system is what gives us our internal awareness of where our body parts are in space. It is critical to spatial awareness and coordinated movement. The receptors for proprioception are located in our joints and muscles, and they respond to compression of joints or movement (exercise). People or animals who have suffered a stroke or other head injury often experience a loss of proprioceptive function and tend to have very impaired movements.

Of particular importance when talking about TTouch is the tactile system. This system is actually very specific. Not only can we perceive temperature, pain, and vibration, but also the difference between light touch and pressure touch. The receptors for each of these modalities are specific and are located in the skin and other membranes such as the mouth. The tactile system is our first communication system and serves two purposes: The first is protective and carries the signals about temperature, pain, and light touch. Light touch receptors detect very subtle movement of the hair on the skin, for instance when a small bug crawls on your arm. It is alerting and draws our attention immediately, as in “get that bug off my body now!” The second purpose is discriminatory and carries signals about vibration and pressure touch. Pressure touch receptors are located just under the skin surface, and allow us to detect where we were touched, for how long, and how much pressure was applied. This is actually the type of touch receptor activated when we use TTouch on the body. It is interesting to note that pressure touch tends to be calming
and we will see why in the next section.

Processing – How Information Is Transferred and Interpreted

At its most basic level, TTouch is a form of communication. We are giving information to the nervous system, which then processes and interprets that information. We can give information to the body using our hands to perform various TTouches, using other tools such as a wand, feather, or body wrap and through leading an animal in various movements over the confidence course. In other words, we are giving tactile, proprioceptive and vestibular input to the sensory part of the nervous system. Thanks to major advances in neuroscience over the past twenty years, scientists now recognize a complex communication system powered by chemicals known as neurotransmitters and neuropeptides. Candace Pert refers to these chemicals as an informational network between the various systems within the body, and virtually every cell.

There are three classes of neurotransmitters, each having a specific function in terms of how they respond to information (sensation). Some excite cells or “turn the volume up” and some inhibit cells, or “turn the volume down.” The class that we can influence by giving specific input or sensations (tactile, proprioceptive, and vestibular), are called Biogenic Amines and includes Serotonin, Dopamine, and Norepinephrine. The names are not so important, but guess what these neurotransmitters do? The are the cell programmers! The function of these chemicals in the body is very widespread and they are critical to our survival mechanisms of eating, drinking, reproduction, and sleep. They also are key to arousal, motivation, emotion, and pain relief. It is thought these neurotransmitters are the major link between the nervous, endocrine and immune systems. Much has been written on the relationship between stress and digestive and immune disorders.

You may recognize Serotonin as being associated with positive emotional states, and often people with low levels of Serotonin experience depression. It helps us to feel safe, secure, and content. Proprioceptive input (movement, which is what we do with groundwork) enhances Serotonin release. Sensual pleasures found in nature also enhance Serotonin. (This includes interacting with animals)! In states of stress, especially chronic stress, Serotonin is depleted and Norepinephrine is increased. Norepinephrine is the chemical of activation and arousal. It contributes to the sympathetic response of fight, flight, freeze, and fool around. Of course we need a certain amount of arousal in order to focus or pay attention. New situations or novel experience (non-habitual) enhances Norepinephrine release, but too much can result in reactive or aggressive behavior. Dopamine has a significant impact on the emotional centers of the brain, allowing us to feel pleasure and is associated with bonding and attachment. It also impacts motivation and focused thinking. Pressure touch (the type of input done with TTouch) enhances the release of Dopamine.

Another important aspect of sensory processing is how sensation is carried through the nervous system to specific areas of the brain. There are separate pathways that carry specific sensations. As a student in PT school I had to memorize these pathways with weird names like the Spinothalmic tract, which isn’t very useful to anyone! We really only have to remember the two general functions of the pathways. One pathway carries protective sensations of pain, temperature, and light touch. The other pathway carries discriminative sensations like pressure touch, proprioception, and vibration. When we look at the difference between the two pathways in the chart below, it is interesting to see how the sensations associated with TTouch (pressure touch) and Groundwork (proprioception) appear to be carried by the Discriminative Pathway, and result in the type of responses we often observe in the animals we work with.

From the chart we can also see why the body wrap may have such a significant effect on animals in terms of increasing focus, calming, and improving body awareness. When applied to an animal or person, the body wrap provides pressure touch, as well as enhancing the brain’s perception of where the body is in space.

Response – The Effect of Sensory Processing

The ability to adequately recognize and process sensory information is what enables people and animals to respond to the world around them. The type of input greatly influences our responses. Too much stimulation can be overwhelming and too little input does not keep us interested or focused. Therapists who use sensory integration as a treatment for kids with sensory processing disorders often refer to the “Just Right Challenge,” giving the appropriate amount of new information (sensation) to encourage learning without overloading. We intuitively apply this principle when working with animals using TTouch and Groundwork. By carefully observing the animal’s responses to the work we know when to change the type of input, either by changing to a different TTouch, moving to a less threatening part of the body, changing the pressure, etc. When doing groundwork we often stop and allow the dog to come into a state of physical balance and simply process the experience for a moment.

Responses to sensory information can be physical, emotional, and behavioral. Physical responses include changes in muscle tone (release of tension), postural adjustments (tucked tail to relaxed tail), and other internal physiological changes like respiration rate, blood flow, etc. As sensory information is relayed to many areas of the brain associated with emotional processing, we often see shifts in an animal from a fearful, anxious state to a more calm and focused state. Of course we can easily observe behavioral responses ranging from arousal (fight, flight, fidget, freeze), to more exploratory behavior and adaptive responses. The most vivid example of this is seen when working with a reactive dog using the sequence of slowly introducing first a neutral dog and then other dogs while working in the confidence course. As we lead the dog through the confidence course (proprioceptive input), making changes in direction and stopping in balance (vestibular input), we also occasionally stroke with the wand or do a few TTouches (pressure touch). As we know from the discussion above, this type of sensation is calming and organizing, and helps to shift the dog from a state of fear and arousal to a more relaxed state. When this happens, we often observe that the dog can then make a more appropriate choice when in the presence of another dog, such as giving a claming signal and just looking away. In other words, the dog learned an adaptive response!


While this is a fairly simplified and condensed version of the neurophysiology of sensory processing, it does give us one perspective to describe how the Tellington Method influences the nervous system, and indeed the function of the cells. In teaching workshops and trainings, my goal is to help my clients and students understand that we can have a significant influence on an animal’s behavior and emotional state simply by the way in which we give information. Using TTouch, our tools, and groundwork we can shift an animal from a state of arousal or fear to a state of calm focus, creating the optimal opportunity for learning to take place, or self-healing to occur.

© Kathy Cascade 2004


Ford, Clyde W. Compassionate Touch: The Role of Human Touch in Healing and Recovery. 1993.

LeDoux, Joseph. The Emotional Brain: The Mysterious Underpinnings of Emotional Life. 1996.

Pert, Candace. Molecules of Emotion: Why You Feel The Way You Feel. 1997.

Sands, Robert. “The Power of the Parasympathetic Nervous System,” Stress News, October 2002 Vol. 14, No. 4

Manual from two day course: Sensory Integration: Its Effect on Learning, Behavior and Motor Control.
Presented by Debra J Denniger OTR/L, BCP

Manual from three day course: Evaluation and Treatment of Sensory Processing Disorders. Presented by
Bonnie Hanschu, OTR.

In my next post, I will examine the ways this information applies to our horses.

¹ For a subscription to TTEAM Connections, visit: The Tellington TTouch web store

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Equine Touch: Massage

I started my journey to Tellington TTouch® as an equine massage therapist.

Unfortunately, the field felt limited to me, as it left the root cause of discomfort unaddressed. If I had been willing to keep my mouth shut and just do the work, I am sure I could have been of some benefit to the horses I worked on. But I never could! After massaging a horse, a therapist usually has a chat with the owner or trainer to discuss the findings and suggest movements to keep the horse limber and to decrease further stiffness, etc. I found myself suggesting changes in training, and that’s a no-no. Do not go above your station!

That’s why the Tellington TTouch is so appealing. It’s holistic.

But back to massage. It is, after all, a meaningful part of horsemanship, and a therapy I think more people should avail themselves of. I always suggest hiring a professional, after having scoured their credentials carefully. I’m posting some educational videos here so that readers can learn about massage for themselves.

Effleurage is a very basic stroke in human and animal massage. It is completely harmless, and almost anyone can do it. WARNING: do not perform effleurage on any area that is inflamed, has an open cut or sore, or where there is a cancerous growth or proud flesh.

Embedding has been disabled for this video, but it’s worth watching for a basic introduction: Equine Massage Effleurage Techniques

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