The Touch That Teaches
By Sarah Fisher
The Tellington Touch Equine Awareness Method is a training system for horses that incorporates body work, ground, and riding exercises to help improve co-ordination, balance, and athletic ability whilst deepening further understanding between the horse and its carer.
Developed by American horsewoman Linda Tellington-Jones, TTEAM is used widely in many countries across the world by competition and pleasure riders, veterinarians and trainers to educate and rehabilitate horses of all ages and breed types.
With its roots in the Feldenkrais method of Awareness Through Movement, TTEAM techniques take horses through a variety of gentle exercises to help alter existing habitual postural patterns by encouraging them to use their body more effectively. As posture dictates behaviour, many owners and carers note that unwanted behaviour such as rearing, bucking, or biting etc diminishes as the horses posture improves. TTEAM enables the horse to move beyond its instinctive responses and encourages them to become active, rather than simply re-active. It can encourage a slow horse to be more forward going, calm an anxious or hot-headed horse, or re-assure a nervous one.
TTEAM blends well with many other modalities and training methods. It is not necessary to adopt the whole TTEAM philosophy in order to make a difference to a horse. Learning just a few of the simple body TTouches and movements can help you to make a difference to a horses life, increasing his natural vitality and helping him to overcome stress and behavioural issues.
The work focuses on the Central Nervous System and any one can learn to use TTEAM safely and effectively. Unlike some forms of massage, the body work is gentle and non-invasive, however it is not a replacement for veterinary care and should never be used as such. If you suspect that a horse has a physical problem you must contact a vet immediately.
Flight, Fight, Freeze, Faint and Fool Around are five instinctive responses to stress. Both the Flight and Fight reflexes are closely linked. The Flight reflex is triggered when the head is raised and the tail is tucked in. The horse will be ready to flee at great speed away from the source of potential danger. Many high-headed horses are therefore also high strung and a horse that is difficult to handle from the ground will generally be difficult under saddle. Freeze may be misinterpreted as the horse being stubborn and uncooperative. Usually the horse plants its feet and is reluctant to move. If pushed the horse may then explode out of Freeze and buck, rear or shoot forwards. Sometimes, if the central nervous system becomes overloaded, they may simply lie down which is part of the Faint response. Fool Around speaks for itself! Often the horse may appear extrovert and confident but clowning can sometimes be a cover up for a lack of self- confidence. Many comedians in the human world often struggle with feelings of vulnerability and depression throughout their careers.
Tension in one part of the horses body will have a knock-on effect through the rest of the body as, for example, in the case of the high headed posture mentioned above which can occur for many reasons. Poor dental or foot care, inappropriate training, injury or a badly fitting saddle can cause the horse to hollow his back in compensation for the discomfort. The head becomes raised and the horse becomes tense through the entire body. The breathing becomes elevated and shallow, the stride becomes short and the horse loses engagement behind. The horse may be noise sensitive, spooky and have a tendency to stumble or trip as circulation to the lower legs is inhibited. Even if the root of the problem is addressed the horse may still hold the memory of the discomfort in his body and as the incorrect muscles will have been developed the horse may continue to move in this posture for some time. Forcing the horse into a different outline will often cause problems else where in the body as the flexion will come from the poll rather than up through the back.
TTEAM body-work can help relieve the memory of pain, reduce stiffness and improve posture allowing the horse to move more freely and in a more natural outline. The TTEAM ground and riding exercises help to improve co-ordination and increase suppleness enabling the horse to develop self-carriage without having to rely on the handler or rider for balance. Poor self-carriage is linked to a lack of both self-control and self-confidence.
Traditionally, the majority of horses are handled primarily from their left side. Leading, tacking up, and mounting a horse from the same side throughout its life exacerbates the horses natural tendency to be one-sided as the posture develops unevenly. It is no co-incidence that the majority of horses therefore find it harder to be ridden on the right rein. By teaching your horse to lead from both sides using some of the TTEAM ground exercises, both you and your horse will become more balanced and find schooling work less of a struggle.
Emotional balance = physical balance = mental balance. As the ground exercises and body work improve physical balance by encouraging the horse to become less one-sided, he/she moves into a more balanced emotional and mental state. He/she becomes less reactive and more responsive and is therefore easier to train as tension held in the body inhibits learning. TTEAM meets the horse where he is and the focus is always on what the horse can achieve rather than what he cant.
Examples of how posture and behaviour may be linked:
Tightly clamped tail Horse may be reactive to movement or noise behind him,which may make him unsafe to rider in traffic. May find it hard to engage behind and may have a tendency to kick out. May also be concerned when hind legs are picked up.
Floppy tail (like spaghetti!) Horse may find it hard to engage behind and like the horse with the clamped tail, may find it hard to pick up back legs. Often linked to tension in the poll and neck.
Cold lower legs Horse may be jumpy, particularly in the wind. May dislike going through water and may find it difficult to stand for the farrier or when tied etc.
Ear shy* Often linked to tension in the poll. May be reluctant to move off
the leg and may even have a tendency to rear as tension around the top of the neck makes it hard for a horse to move forward.
Head shy or pushy with head* Horses that dislike contact around the head or neck are often easily spooked by objects moving towards or in front of them. They may therefore be unsafe to ride in traffic as approaching vehicles can cause them to spin round. May be spooky in sunlight around white or light coloured objects.
*Both the above examples can also be linked to pulling back when tied.
Hollowing behind the withers/ This is often linked to spooky behaviour. If your horse reacts
Dropped back when you put on his saddle or do up his girth check for sensitivity in the wither area and check saddle fit.
Look at your horses posture. Listen to him/her. Note whether he/she is using his front legs to strike, paw or stamp, his hind legs to kick or his mouth to bite. Does he threaten when you approach a certain part of his body? This is the horses way of telling you that something is causing him/her concern and the horse often carries the most tension in the part of the body that he/she is using to express him/herself.
By taking the time to observe and understand our horses we can help minimise the debilitating effects of stress and work towards keeping them free from injury and dis-ease. Stable management, tack and rug fit, diet, gut function, foot, dental and veterinary care are just some of the factors that may need to be addressed if your horse exhibits a persistent behaviour problem. The body will give way where the body is weak and if we demand re-spect from our horses then surely it is up to us to do as the word suggests and look again, beyond the presenting symptoms, to restore harmony to the horse as a whole.