Helping Horses Overcome Phobias and Fears Using Tellington Method and EFT

originally published in TTeam Connections Journal

As a Tellington Method practitioner, I use the Labyrinth exercise with nearly every horse I work with. While I use it to help a variety of problems, I have found it most helpful for horses who are frightened and reactive. I have always wondered why the Labyrinth works so well. Recently, I have been studying the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) and have noticed some correlations between releasing trauma in people and the Tellington Method work with horses.

The Emotional Freedom Technique

EFT, also known as tapping, is a method of tapping on acupressure points on the body while talking about an issue to release the emotional charge. It was developed by psychiatrist Roger Callahan to help a patient with severe phobias, and has become a tool many therapists, counselors and lay people use. It has been shown to help people suffering from chronic pain, PTSD, addiction, and many more serious emotional challenges.  

One of the techniques of EFT, The 9 Gamut Procedure, was developed by EFT pioneer Gary Craig. It involves two basic components – the stimulation of the Gamut point by tapping, and movements designed to bilaterally stimulate the brain. This procedure bridges EFT with another therapeutic method, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR). 

EMDR was first developed by psychologist Francine Shapiro, Ph.D., of the Mental Research Institute in Palo Alto, CA. While on a walk in a park, she discovered she was unable to maintain her focus on painful memories while walking and scanning her eyes back and forth looking at stones along the path. With this inspiration, she developed the technique of maintaining attention on a traumatic event while deliberately moving the eyes rapidly from side to side. The therapist guides the patient through the troubling memory while instructing him to watch her hand, or an object such as a pen, back and forth across their field of vision.

Normal daily experiences are filtered through the brain quite differently than traumatic experiences. Sensory input is initially filtered through the amygdala, which checks it for emotional content. If the information is neutral, it then goes to the hippocampus for processing, then to the left hemisphere for storing in memory. However, if the information is traumatic, it is not processed but is instead stored in the central nervous system in the right hemisphere of the brain. These unprocessed memories are stuck and can be re-triggered at any time, feeling, to the person experiencing the memories as if they are happening in the present moment. These distressing memories can cause flashbacks in those who suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).The process of EMDR (or other bilateral stimulation of the brain) allows the memories to be processed, and permits learning to take place so new responses to stimulus can occur.

The 9 Gamut Procedure

In the 9 Gamut Procedure, the client is guided to replay in his mind the troubling memory while tapping the Gamut point and bilaterally stimulating the brain by moving the eyes, humming and counting. This procedure allows the processing of the stored traumatic memory.

The Points

The Gamut point is the third point on the Triple Heater channel (TH 3). The Triple Heater channel runs from the center of the coronet band on the front leg, up the front of the cannon bone, crosses to the side of the forearm and up the shoulder and neck, ending after wrapping around the base of the ear. In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), points on this channel are used to clear heat and inflammation, which includes overactivity of the mind and emotions. Some sources feel this channel is responsible for turning off the fight-or-flight response.  

On a human the Gamut point is on the back of the hand, just above the knuckle between the pinky and ring finger. In the horse, it is located on the front of the foreleg, just above the pastern joint, on the cannon bone. This particular point can help the body come out of a stress reaction, and is used routinely by EFT practitioners to help people get through stressful events and to clear traumas.

In EFT the points are tapped lightly with the fingertips, but this may not be practical or safe when working with horses. You may have to discover what the horse will enjoy or tolerate, and try a few different methods. Simply stroking the wand firmly over the knee, down the front of the cannon to the coronet band may provide the needed stimulation. If the horse is calm, you may try gently tapping the button end of the wand on this point.

The other point used in this procedure in humans is termed the Under Arm point, which is under the arm, roughly on the area where the bra strap lies. The TCM designation for this point is Spleen 21 (SP 21), and in the horse it is midway back on the ribcage, above the level of the shoulder joint. The specific point location varies from horse to horse, so I stimulate this point by using Abalone TTouches and work an area roughly the size of a dinner plate.

The Movements

The movements used in the 9 Gamut Procedure are: looking down hard to the right, looking down hard to the left, rolling the eyes in a circle in one direction, rolling the eyes in the other direction, humming, counting and humming again. Obviously, we will need to modify these somewhat, as I have not yet learned how to encourage a horse to hum! These actions bilaterally stimulate the brain, but there are also other methods. Researchers have used clicks delivered to the participant via stereo headphones and touch stimulation on alternate sides of the body. 

Eye Movement

The eye movements in the procedure are a natural part of Labyrinth work. Make sure to introduce your horse to the ground poles before you enter by pointing them out with a wand and tapping on them to be sure your horse is seeing them. The process of walking in the Labyrinth encourages the horse to focus downward in both directions as he navigates the poles.  

The eye rolling segment of the Gamut Procedure is one that may be replicated by using the Peacock movement with the wand. With a highly reactive horse I would be very careful, and be sure that the horse does not find this movement threatening. Due to the differences in anatomy and vision between the human and horse, more research would need to be done to see how this eye rolling movement could be replicated, if indeed it is useful for the horse. Decades of Labyrinth work with fearful horses may indicate the naturally occurring eye movements of the Labyrinth exercise are enough, so additional eye rolling may not be necessary.

Tactile and Auditory Cues

We can use the wand and stroke the horse on both sides of the body. Standing on one side of the horse, I stroke all four legs, the chest and both sides of the shoulders. If I am working with a partner in Homing Pigeon, she can then stroke the horse with her wand from the other side. The use of the Body Wrap will also provide bilateral tactile stimulation, especially as the horse moves his body through the labyrinth.

We can use our voices to give cues in the Labyrinth. By trading leading roles and asking the horse to listen for our cues from both sides we can mimic the bi-aural stereo clicks.

Applying the Method

To use this method with a horse with a particular fear, such as a fear of umbrellas, I would begin by introducing the horse to the basic Labyrinth exercise. After he has learned to work in the Labyrinth, you can begin introducing the frightening element, in this case the umbrella, slowly. Avoid frightening the horse with the object and keep it far enough away so he can see it but not feel threatened. As you work through the process he will become more comfortable with the object and you can bring it closer.

Apply the various elements of the procedure while working in the Labyrinth. How many of the elements you can apply at a time will depend on the ability of the horse to be calm and stand still. With a nervous horse you may have only a moment or two of halt time in the Labyrinth exercise to stroke the forelegs with the wand. On the next halt you may do some Abalone TTouches on his side. As you lead him through the Labyrinth initially, be sure to use your wand in the Elegant Elephant position so he will focus downward and follow the button end through the pattern. Once he understands the pattern and watches the poles himself, you may wish to step back to the Homing Pigeon position. If you have a partner to work with you, be sure to take advantage of the bilateral brain stimulation and have her alternate giving leading cues.

While there is much more to learn about applying these methods in horses, I think there is great promise to help horses with deep-seated fears. The Labyrinth, and other Tellington Method techniques have been helping horses for many years. Adding a few additional concepts and techniques may provide greater and more targeted results. I hope you try these methods, and share your results.

Navigating the Emotional Rapids with Flower Essences

Recently, I was discussing how to navigate intense emotions with a client. She was frightened by the prospect of facing a big challenge in her life, and I was encouraging her to try to open to the experience. This is a common cultural issue, as we are generally not taught how to experience our more difficult emotions like fear or anger. We may have been shamed by our parents or peers for feeling fear, so we learned to repress it. These emotions then build up, and can feel very daunting to face.

The emotional experience is generally of short duration; emotions flow like water.

The problem arises when we have not learned to allow the flow, and instead repress or bottle them up. When these long repressed emotions are finally acknowledged and allowed to move, they can move very intensely, like water bursting forth from a dam. Part of my work as a flower essence practitioner is to encourage people facing this daunting experience to recognize that the best way is to move through the experience rather than trying to avoid it.

One image that works well came up in a recent consultation. She recalled an experience of river rafting, and how frightened she was of the upcoming rapids. The river was a perfectly safe one, and her group had an experienced guide, so she realized her fear was not truly necessary. But still, she dreaded the rapids and worried about falling out of the raft. After the group went through a few rapids, she realized she could face this intense experience, and that her anticipation of the fear was actually worse than the experience itself. Even falling out of the raft was not that big of a deal. It was actually refreshing!

This adventure mirrors the experience of facing and releasing intense emotions. We tend to dread the surfacing of old and stored emotion, frantically back paddling and trying to find a way around. But truly, the way through is like navigating the rapids. You may get wet or fall out of your raft, and it is guaranteed to be a ride, but once you have gone through there is peace on the other side and a sense of relief, stillness and completion.

Like going on a river trip, you will want to be well prepared to work with your deepest emotions.

When I work with a client, it may take many months before she is ready to face them. It is worthwhile to remember the benefits of going through this process. Having these stored emotions can result in being truly blocked in life. So much energy is being used to hold them back that there is little left for growth, change, or the fulfillment of dreams and goals. Once these blocks are released, you will be surprised at how much easier life is.

Until you are prepared, lots of nurturing and supportive flower essences are in order to build a foundation of strength. It truly is an organic process, and it becomes clear when there are signs of the emotional rapids are coming up. I let the client know that these emotions are arising to be experienced and released. The first time a client experiences this she tends to be displeased, as she started taking flower essences to feel better, not worse. And this definitely feels worse! Fortunately, I have guided many to navigate these rapids, and can assure her that, while this is an intense experience, coming through the other side will be worth every moment.

I recommend having emergency flower essence formulas around, as a sort of life vest for these emotional rapids.

It is best to continue taking your base formula of whatever essences you are working with at the time as they will help support you as you navigate through this experience. This blend of flower essences is your raft, and has brought you safely to this place, and will help get you through. But you may need a little extra support when things get intense. Here are a few essence formulas I recommend. They can be taken as needed in addition to your regular flower essences. You may even want to take a few drops every ten minutes when you are in the most intense phase of your emotions.

Rescue Remedy (AKA Five-flower Formula) by Bach

This classic formula is popular for a good reason. It has broad application for many types of fear, shock or trauma, and has helped many through tough times. I am rarely without a bottle in my bag – if you don’t need it, you may run into someone who does.

Soul Support by Alaskan Essences

This is an excellent support formula for any transformational experience. I particularly like the Fireweed flowers as a component to help rebuild your energetic system after an emotional clearing.

Crisis-Desert Emergency Formula by Desert Alchemy

This formula is useful when you are feeling overwhelmed by your emotions, and feel as if you may “drown” in them. 

Terra by Bloesem Remedies

I love this combination and recommend it often when the emotional crisis is spiritual, or arises from a karmic or ancestral issue.

Leading Your Horse With Clear Intentions

Elements of Leading with the Tellington TTouch Method – Clarity of Intention

In order to engage your horse and ask for a movement, you want to be very clear about the movement you are asking for. Many times, we are not really clear even in our own heads what we are asking and lack specificity in our directions. This creates a sense of confusion in the horse, and leads to frustration for both of you.

Imagine yourself entering a busy office building without knowing where you are supposed to go. You look around, spot the reception desk and ask. The busy receptionist is juggling a phone, stacks of files and chatting with another staffer. Without making eye contact, he gestures in a direction and says “over there”.

This vague and nonspecific direction leaves you feeling unsure, and you wander roughly in the direction he pointed but feel no certainty whatsoever that you are going to the right place. You walk in a tentative manner, looking around for clues where to go.

This is the feeling I think a lot of horses have when we work with them. They know you are expecting something of them, but aren’t really sure exactly what it is. This lack of clarity will very likely unsettle a nervous horse, put a bored horse on the hunt for some excitement, and cause a quiet horse to check out entirely while he waits for you to ask for something.

If you are like me and most of my clients, you have a busy life. We are a lot like that receptionist, constantly multi-tasking and juggling a variety of distractions. However, when we arrive at the barn we can create a practice of single-tasking when we engage with our horses. This is certainly the best option for safety. When we are fully present with a horse we are much more likely to spot the early signs of trouble. Additionally, being present with your horse will help him know you are there to look out for him so he can relax.

One of the tools we use in the Tellington TTouch Method is the wand. This stiff white dressage whip has many functions, one of which is for communication. I use my wand as a tool to clarify my intention to the horse, creating a clear intended line of travel. Depending on the distance I hold from the horse, either the button end or the tip will create an imaginary line for the nose of the horse to follow.

Many times, new students of the Method will be skeptical of this idea at first. However, a horse quickly learns to watch and follow the wand, and most horses find it very interesting to engage with you in this exercise. Give it a try and see how your horse appreciates the clear direction from you.

One of the things that will help you develop this skill will be to set up an obstacle or two from the Playground for Higher Learning. Not everyone can have a full Playground set up all the time, but you can become very creative with random objects you might have around the barn. Even a trash can or a single pole can used as an obstacle to walk around. You can come up with a pattern of travel in relationship with almost anything. As long as you create a clear plan in your mind, then communicate it to your horse step by step, you will both be in sync.

Flower Essences to help you be present with your horse

My favorite flower essence formula to help keep my mind from wandering is Mind-Full from the Flower Essence Society. This formula is a mixture of flower essences including Madia for focused thought and Morning Glory for sluggishness. It also has a little essential oil of citrus and mint included for an extra boost. Mist on your tongue and around your head when you get to the barn, and keep the bottle in your pocket as you work. Using the formula 3 or 4 times during a session can really help keep you focused, and if you wish you can spray your palm and offer to your horse to breathe in. Take a moment to breathe together, get present, and then take the next step together.

How To Spot Signs Of Fear In Your Horse

How many times have you heard of a horse exploding in a huge reaction “out of nowhere”? It can happen anytime: a horse out on a ride suddenly bucking, in the crossties pulling back and snapping the halter, or panicking and scrambling in the trailer.

Any experienced horse person can tell you, these things can simply happen out of the blue. But what if you learned to notice the warning signs and could defuse this dangerous situation?

You might think of the last time you went to the dentist. Most people have at least some level of concern when they go, and feel at least a little bit worried that they might experience some pain. Fortunately, dentists and staff have been trained to watch their patients closely, and to regularly check in with them. They ask you as the patient to tell them if you feel any pain, and tell you to raise your hand to ask them to stop.

Imagine yourself in a dentist’s chair, but this time, you are being held down by the assistant while the dentist works in your mouth. No one is noticing you are becoming more and more anxious, and a small amount of pain you feel causes your adrenaline to spike, expecting it to get  much worse. You start to wiggle, and are reprimanded for doing so. What are the chances you would panic and bolt out of the chair and room without further notice?

This scenario reminds me of how horses are often treated. We as the handlers know there is nothing to fear, and there will be no pain or harm caused. But the horse may have very little idea of what to expect, and has no way of asking you to slow down or stop what you are doing. This causes his tension level to rise, and he may over react to a tiny amount of pain or discomfort.

One of the principles of the Tellington TTouch Method is to observe your horse closely, to notice even the smallest sign of discomfort in the horse, and work to alleviate the horse’s concerns. These signs can be very small, and are often mistaken for good behavior. For instance, a horse may become completely still before he explodes in fear. This is a type of response to fear termed freezing, and can be very dangerous for the handler who thinks the horse is just fine with what is going on around him.

Some of the signs of concern we look for when handling or training a horse are:

Breathing – Many horses hold their breath when they are concerned or worried, or take shallow breaths. Look for the ribcage and belly to fill with each breath, and to release easily and completely. Often we only notice a horse has been holding his breath when he exhales deeply.

Mouth – A nervous horse will often hold the mouth very tightly and will have a hard chin. He may also fidget and nibble on ropes or anything nearby as a source of distraction to himself when he is nervous.

Tail – Many worried horses will have a very tight tail, tucked close to the buttocks. It is also a sign of distress for a horse to whip the tail back and forth as opposed to the gentle swish to remove a fly.

There are of course many other signs to notice, but these are some of the most obvious and easy to spot. Next time you tack up your horse in preparation for a ride, you might go a little more slowly and see if you can spot any areas of concern for your horse. Each small concern you can address and release will have a cumulative effect on your horse’s ability to relax and focus on the job.

Techniques to help alleviate your horse’s fears

Acupressure on Conception Vessel 17

This point is a powerful calming point that will both settle the horse and help him to relax and breathe fully and deeply. The point is located on the ventral midline, just behind the line of the horse’s elbows. There is usually a depression or soft spot here about the size of a quarter. Apply your fingertips gently to this spot, hold and take deep slow belly breaths as you wait to see the horse’s response. Most horses will start to relax, lower their heads, and start to breathe deeply.

TTouch Tail Work

There are a number of techniques from TTouch to help soften a tight tail and help a horse relax. One of the ones recommended is to do Tail Circles. First, check to see if the tail is not too tight – if it is completely clamped, start with some Hair Slides and TTouch circles on the dock itself. Once the tail has relaxed a little, reach with your hand up under the dock and lift it firmly skyward. With your other hand, grasp the lower part of the dock and arch the tail in a rainbow shape. Holding this angle, circle the tail as if winding up the horse. This movement will help the horse relieve tension and soften the tail.

Mimulus Flower Essence for fear

One of Dr Bach’s original flower essences, Mimulus, is an excellent choice to ease your horse’s fears. It is specific to “known” fears, fears that are clearly defined to the horse. For instance, your horse may be frightened of needles, or blankets, or the wash rack. Mimulus will help ease these specific fears and help him relax. Give two drops on a cookie twice daily for at least a few weeks to make a lasting change.

Helping Your Horse Overcome His Fear – Part Two

In Part One, I discussed a method of desensitization intended to help a horse overcome fear. This process is problematic as it often causes dulling and dissociation in the horse, rather than helping him overcome his fear. I’d like to show you some other ways to help the horse become less fearful and more confident. These techniques work with the horse to encourage his inherent curiosity and help him stay calm and present, thinking through a challenge rather than rushing through fearfully. The best part is once a horse has had a few positive experiences of working through a new situation with your assistance, he will be more likely to trust you as he is presented with the next one.

Helping a horse overcome fear with Tellington TTouch Training

The Tellington TTouch Method incorporates a broad variety of techniques and tools that can be applied individually or layered together. There are no fixed recipes and you are encouraged to use your creativity to figure out a way to work with an individual horse on any given day. There are many great resources to learn the Method, but I’d like to show you one way we might work with a specific fear – that of walking on a new surface.

It is common for horses to be nervous to step onto an unfamiliar surface. He may refuse to load in a trailer because of the feel of the floor, or stop at a water crossing, or simply shy at a shadow on the ground. We can help a horse overcome these types of fears by using plastic tarps.

You will need 2 plastic tarps and a still day (wind is not your friend in this process!). Take your tarps and fold them lengthwise into strips. Depending on the type of tarp you might end up with a 10’ length and a 12-18” width. Lay the tarps on the ground in a very wide “V” shape. Depending on your horse, you may need to start out with the narrowest part 6’ apart (no part of the two strips are touching each other). This shape allows the horse to enter at the wide part of the “V”, walk through without touching or coming close to the plastic itself. Your goal is to let the horse take a good look before approaching the opening, then walk through calmly.

Monitor your horse closely for any sign of nervousness or concern, and make sure he has really seen the tarps before you enter the space between. Allow him to turn his head and raise or lower it so he can really see and process the tarps on both sides. You don’t want him to paw or grab the tarp with his teeth at this point as he could frighten himself and set the process back. You always want to give him the choice to say “I can’t” as you invite him to walk through. You can always make the obstacle easier by widening and taking it slower. When he feels heard, and can trust you to listen to his concerns he will develop more confidence in you and be more willing to try.

As he shows you he is comfortable walking through the opening between the tarps, you can gradually narrow the space between them. Be aware of where your footsteps land, as you don’t want to frighten him by the noise of your boots suddenly scrunching on the tarp. I recommend letting him watch you as you move the tarps around so you can notice if the sound is concerning to him. If so, go slowly, and avoid startling him with a big noise. You may find that a head wrap and a body wrap will help a nervous and sound-sensitive horse. The wanding technique I discuss in Part One will be very useful to you as you help him overcome fear of the noise.

As you work through the process of narrowing, then eliminating the gap between the tarps, you can also widen out the folded tarps as well, creating a larger surface to walk between. Eventually, your horse will be completely comfortable stepping over the tarp. This may happen in one session, but don’t push your horse. Watch for little steps of improvement, and make sure it is easy for him to be successful. These positive experiences will build and he will develop greater and greater trust in you as you progress.

This experience of safely and bravely stepping on tarps will help your horse with many new footing and surface challenges. You can also give your horse different experiences by doing this exercise with pieces of cardboard, plywood, carpet, or rubber matting. Be creative with whatever you have around the barn and keep your horse interested to see what you have up your sleeve for the next work session.

Calm your horses fears with Acupressure

One of my favorite points to teach my clients is Governing Vessel 24. This is an excellent choice to calm a horse and help him focus. It eases anxiety and busy minds (and busy mouths).

This is an easy point to find, and safe to use for any horse where you can touch the head.

The point is located on the central midline of the forehead, directly under the forelock. Hold the halter while standing off to one side of the head, and apply a fingertip to the area directly under the forelock. Your horse many respond well to a gentle steady contact, or prefer a light circular rubbing motion. Whichever technique you use, allow a few minutes to let the horse experience the acupressure and relax. When introducing acupressure to your horse, he may more easily accept a few seconds at a time, building to a few minutes as he becomes accustomed to the sensation. Regular acupressure on this point before or after training sessions will help him be calmer and able to think more clearly.

Flower Essence for confidence

Sometimes a horse may be needing a boost in confidence, rather than being particularly fearful. He is just a bit timid, and doesn’t dive into new things like his herdmates. In this case, try Larch flower essence. This is one of the Bach flower essences, and is useful in any circumstance where a horse (or dog, or person…) is nervous about trying something new, and is afraid to fail or be embarrassed. It shifts the perspective into a sense of excitement and possibility and an eagerness to learn and try new things.

Offer a few drops on a cookie before sessions and see if your horse finds a new sense of courage. You may find it useful to take a few drops yourself before a lesson or a class.

Helping Your Horse Overcome His Fear – Part One

Part One: Why desensitization doesn’t do what you think

Your new horse is perfect – except he is terrified of his new blanket. You picked it out for him, thinking it was very stylish and would keep him warm and clean, but he absolutely hates it. It’s not the fit, you have checked and nothing seems wrong there. He is just afraid of it. What should you do?

Most horse people are familiar with a technique called desensitization. This can be applied in a few ways, but the classic cowboy method is called “sacking out”. A young horse is tied tightly to a solid post, and the cowboy approaches with a blanket. He then rubs the blanket all over the horse’s body. The horse may struggle and try to pull away, but is held firm by the post. This process continues until the horse stops struggling and accepts the situation.

What is it like to be Desensitized?

I’d like to take a moment to put ourselves in the horse’s place, and check into what is going on during desensitization. (I will put in a trigger warning here for arachnophobes in the audience)

Perhaps you have a fear of spiders, and would like to overcome your fear. You set up an appointment with a professional who claims he can desensitize you to your fear of spiders and you set up a session.

You walk in the office, the door shuts and you are invited to take a seat in the chair. He starts by telling you that spiders are quite harmless and there is no danger to you at all. At this point he opens a small aquarium and picks up a tarantula. He walks over to you, grasps your arm firmly to keep you from moving, and proceeds to touch you all over with the tarantula.

Take a quick check in with yourself now – are you holding your breath? is your heart rate up a little? are you feeling anxious and unsettled?

If a brief imagination exercise can cause this response, an actual desensitization session will clearly cause a much greater response. This type of situation is more accurately called “flooding”. When you are forcefully held while exposed to a stimulus your amygdala (the fear center in the brain) is activated, you experience profound fear, and the mind shuts down awareness of the body in order to survive an overwhelming situation. This dissociation, a disconnection between mind and body, is what happens in a traumatic event. 

I think you can imagine how this technique is an unpleasant way to overcome a phobia, to say the least. I question if the phobia has really been overcome. It seems more likely that you have created or reinforced a dissociation pathway – the animal is not less afraid of the object, merely has learned the coping strategy more effectively, and can access it quickly. The fear remains, but the animal has dulled to it and is not mentally present.

Two Basic Emotional States

Temple Grandin, PhD and professor at Colorado State University, writes about two basic emotional states – fear and seeking. Fear is more or less self explanatory; seeking is the state of curiosity, exploration and learning. These states are independent and do not operate at the same time, therefore when one is active the other is not. 

She has written extensively on animal behavior, and been instrumental in the creation of more humane animal management systems. In her book, Animals Make Us Human, she states:

“When you’re working with animals, novelty can be attractive or scary depending on how it’s presented. The single most important factor determining whether a new thing is more interesting than scary is whether the animal has control over whether to approach the object. Animals are terrified by forced novelty.”

So, now we know what not to do, how do we help our horse overcome his fear?

Options for overcoming fear

Fortunately, there are a lot of great options to help your horse overcome his fears by stimulating his inherent curiosity and desire to learn. The Tellington TTouch Method employs many techniques, but the underlying theory of the work is to “chunk down” each exercise and introduce each element separately, constantly watching the horse for any sign of discomfort or concern. Remember, fear and seeking are separate states and do not operate at the same time, so if you see any sign of fear back up a little in the exercise and help your horse find his sense of safety and curiosity again.

As Temple Grandin says, animals are terrified by forced novelty. Allow your horse to explore, encourage him to check out whatever is concerning him at his own pace and in his own time. So, in the case of the terrifying blanket above, you might consider placing the blanket on the fence of the paddock and allowing him to explore it on his own (with your supervision of course). It may be less threatening if it is folded and on the ground. It may be more interesting with a carrot on top. Starting very slowly, and staying well under his fear response, you can gradually introduce him to this fascinating object that may or may not have carrots hidden in it (just an idea – nothing activates the seeking response like the possibility of snacks!). The path to him being perfectly calm when you place the blanket over his back may have a thousand steps, or you may be able to do it in one session. You simply have to follow the horse’s lead, allow him to feel safe and curious, and give him confidence in your attention to his safety.

One of the techniques we use in TTouch is to use the wand to stroke down the base of the neck, front of the chest, and down the front legs to the hooves. This has a great calming effect on a concerned horse. After a few (or many) calm and deliberate strokes, the horse will begin to breathe again, lower the head and release the tension in the neck, and start to come back into themselves. Once they have come out of the fear state, they can now access the seeking response and you can continue.

I will be sharing more strategies and techniques for overcoming fears in upcoming posts. Stay tuned!

Restoring Shen – Helping The Shut Down Horse

Have you ever seen a horse plodding around an arena, complying with his rider’s wishes, but somehow lifeless? His eyes are dull, he shows no interest in his surroundings, no joy in his work. He tires easily, and his rider must work hard to keep him moving.

Many horses have undergone harsh training practices that frighten them into shutting down. If he misbehaved by jumping around he may have been shanked or smacked. Many horses are frightened and confused by punishment and learn to hold still to avoid pain. A horse may freeze, becoming rigid and holding his breath, or shut off his awareness so he does not notice frightening things going on around him. 

These practices do not help a horse cope with domestic life well, as he will always be surrounded by unnatural and possibly frightening things. He has never learned to think, to safely investigate, and then to recognize the item as non-threatening.

Instead, he develops a coping strategy to his stressful life. Anytime he feels frightened he will shut down and become dulled to what is going on around him. Many horses spend a lot of their lives in this shut down place, unaware of the world around them.

This state has unfortunate impacts for the physical health of the horse, as well as the obvious negative mental impact. In Chinese Medicine, the body cannot be healthy without the guidance of the Shen. The Shen can be loosely translated as spirit, and can become disconnected from the body by shock, trauma, or stress. The Shen guides all the systems of the body to create resilient health; when the Shen has been disturbed the body is prone to disease or injury and does not heal easily. 

Fortunately, there are strategies you can use to help your horse recover and learn to feel safe in his world. A word of warning, however – a horse who has lived his whole life this way may begin to act like an untrained horse. He may have never spooked in the arena before because he never noticed all the possibly scary objects, shadows or noises before. As he comes back into awareness, he may need support and patient retraining to overcome his fears.


One of the very first techniques I use with any frightened horse is to help them regain a sense of where their body is in space. The tool I use is the TTouch Wand (a white dressage whip). With calm, smooth, intentional movements, I stroke the entire body firmly (to avoid tickling or annoying the horse), making sure to stroke down each leg all the way to the ground. For a horse who is frozen or dissociated this can be an important technique to help them come back into an awareness of their bodies. One of the great advantages of using the Wand is that it is safe for you, keeping your hand and body out of harm’s way. It is also generally well accepted by the horse, as it is not as threatening as a hand touching or possibly grabbing them. I have encountered horses who have been treated harshly by whips, and view my Wand as a threat. If this is the case, I demonstrate to the horse my intentions by stroking my own legs and the legs of their person as well. Keeping the Wand down, making slow and deliberate movements, and approaching slowly is also helpful.

Clicker Training

An excellent way of rehabbing shut down horses is to teach games with Clicker Training. I recommend reading up on the basic theory of reinforcement and training with the clicker (as, of course, there is no magic to the tool itself) and start playing with your horse. When you see the spark of recognition in your horse’s eyes, and see his excitement from offering you new behaviors, you will be hooked. This type of positive reinforcement training gives your horse a completely new experience, a sense of agency and choice, and can be the start of a new type of partnership. 


The shut down horse is often prone to shallow breathing, or simply holds his breath if he is uncertain or frightened. Acupressure on Conception Vessel 17 (CV17) is indicated to help him relax his ribcage and diaphragm and breathe more deeply. This point also helps to calm the Shen, so will help ease his fear and anxiety.

CV17 is located on the ventral midline (the center line running from between the front legs on the belly), just behind the area of the points of the elbows. Often this is where the girth will be (and this is a great point to use for a girthy horse). This point is easy to find by standing at your horse’s shoulder facing the head, reach under the girth area and find the hollow on the midline right behind the elbows.

Flower Essences

Mimulus (Bach) is a flower essence I reach for often to work with frightened horses. It is the essence to ease known fears, such as of dogs, or tarps, or trailers. It can help your horse overcome specific concerns and learn to access his innate courage.

Star of Bethlehem (Bach) flower essence is a remedy to help overcome trauma, helping the Shen come back to rest in the body. Even if the trauma is long in the past, it is helpful to use this essence to restore an animal’s sense of peace and calm.

Yulan Magnolia (Flora of Asia) flower essence helps to restore natural, calm breath pattern when it has been disrupted by fearful events or trauma. This essence is a useful remedy to help restore the Shen.

There are many strategies that can help your horse stay aware and learn to overcome his fears. Much of the Tellington Method and TTouch is useful in these cases, particularly the groundwork exercises. By helping your horse learn to move in awareness of his body and take on new challenges successfully, you will help him to become more confident in trying new things in general. The TTouches are also highly beneficial in helping him release the tension in his body created by fear and helping him to breathe more normally.

Signs Of Stress In Your Horse: Mouthing

How many horses in your barn are constantly “busy” when they stand tied? They chew on anything nearby – ropes, blankets, handlers… constantly fooling around. When they cannot reach anything with their mouth, they may paw or walk back and forth to the limits of their tie.

This is very common, but should it be ignored? And, what can you do about it?

Many people have been instructed to correct any of these behaviors by shanking on the halter, or smacking the horse in the neck with a loud “no”. It has not been my experience that this works to stop the behavior, instead becoming more of a cyclical action/reaction that repeats daily while the horse is handled.

These behaviors are usually chalked up to the horse being bored, impatient, or spoiled. If you are certain this is true, you are likely to punish these bad behaviors. But what if your horse is not doing these things to drive you crazy, but instead is acting out of stress?

There are many ways you can help your horse feel less stressed. Many of them are just good horse keeping practices like maximizing turnout, providing hay at all times, and regular exercise.  There are also a number of wellness techniques you can add into your routine to help, creating moments of calm and connection with your horse on a regular basis. I find that problem behaviors such as mouthing and fussing can be reduced or eliminated using stress relieving techniques like TTouch, Acupressure and Flower Essences.

TTouch Mouthwork to relieve your horse’s stress

I do Mouthwork with nearly every horse I work with. This technique is one of the most powerful ways I have found to relax tension and reduce mouthing behavior. Anytime a horse shows mouthing, chewing, licking, or biting I consider it a call for help and a sign of stress, and step right in to help him.

There is not a fixed way to do Mouthwork, simply start moving around the skin on the horse’s muzzle, nostrils, lips, and chin. You are likely to find quite a bit of tension and holding in the area. Just keep working away at all the areas of the muzzle, being careful with your hands to avoid being bitten. Always keep a hand on the halter when you are doing this work so you can manage the horse’s head.

Once your horse has relaxed a bit, and you have worked around the exterior surfaces, you may want to work the lips and gums. This is not necessary – skip it if you do not feel safe doing so. You may wish to have an experienced horseperson show you the inside of a horse’s mouth, and teach you where you can put your fingers in on the sides of the mouth to avoid the teeth.

I usually introduce myself to the horse and get them used to the idea of my hands in their mouth by starting with tiny TTouches on the lip surfaces, then put my thumb under the lip while keeping my fingers on the exterior of the mouth. This helps prevent my hand from being pulled in and bitten. 

Once I have worked the lips, I may slide my hand under the surface of the upper lip and rub the gums. Most horses, once they get over the initial reaction of “what is she doing?” relax and enjoy having their gums rubbed. I do this firmly, holding the halter with my other hand for safety.

TTouch Mouthwork is very different from letting a horse mouth you, or play with your hands. A horse can lick or play with hands endlessly. It is more of a distraction behavior, and helps him tune out whatever else is happening to him. Mouthwork actually helps release tension. Doing a few minutes of Mouthwork will help him stand calmly afterwards, and he will be much less inclined to fuss with his mouth.

Acupressure on Pericardium 6 to relieve your horse’s stress

Pericardium 6 (PC6) is a powerful calming point for horses. This acupressure point has many other uses, for instance, it is an important point to relieve digestive problems. But nearly every horse can benefit from the calming effect of acupressure on PC6.

One of the easiest points to find, PC6 is located in front of the chestnut on each front leg. Simply stand at the shoulder and run your hand down the back of the leg on the inside surface. Locate the chestnut and rest your fingers on the skin in front of the chestnut. The point is located just in front of the chestnut, 1/3 to 1/2 way down the length of the chestnut. Gently rest your fingertips, breathe, and watch for signs of relaxation in your horse. Your horse may sigh, blink, chew and drop his head.

Flower Essences to relieve your horse’s stress

I’d love to see a bottle of Rescue Remedy in every first aid box. This combination flower essence formula is a first line remedy for shock and fear. It helps calm the body and mind, so you and your horse can come back to center after a fright. I prefer the Healing Herbs brand, labeled as Five-Flower, with the misting top so I can easily dose myself and my horse. 

You can give flower essences to your horse by misting a cookie and offering, or mist your hand and pet your horse’s muzzle. It is also great to use on your hands as you do Earwork.

Another important flower essence for stressed horses is Cherry Plum (Bach). I use this essence for horses that mouth, bite or fuss while tied. It is specific for mental stress, the fear that you will “lose it” and react in an extreme fashion. With horses, I see this type of fear manifesting in the above behaviors while tied or when otherwise confined, such as while trailering. This flower essence can help dial down the anxiety and help the horse cope with stress better.

Flower Essences for You & Your Pets | Class at Gathering Thyme

Kathleen Aspenns Equine Wellness Practitioner

Pets bring such joy to our lives and homes, but modern life can be as challenging for them as it is for you. Living in noisy urban environments and spending long days alone at home can create stresses that result in behavioral problems. This class is designed to help you support your pet with the safe, gentle, natural healing of Flower Essences.

Class Date:

Sunday, November 10th, 2019 1-4pm $45 pre-registered, $50 at the door

Register Here


Gathering Thyme 1447 4th Street San Rafael, CA 94901

The natural sensitivity of animals offers us an opportunity to watch how quickly energies and patterns can shift, and can help us connect to our own natures as well. Our pets will often mirror us, and quite often flower essences that benefit our animals will be indicated for us as well.

Topics will include:

What does stress look like in an animal?

Learning to spot signs of emotional discomfort before they turn in to problems

Supporting the sensitive animal

Improving communication and the relationship between you and your pet

Flower essences to relieve stress and help you both feel better

Ways to easily integrate flower essences into your life, and your pet’s life