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.

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.

Separation Anxiety in Animals

As a flower essence practitioner, I work with a lot of animals who suffer from separation anxiety. Dogs can show anxiety when their people leave the house or put them in another room. They may bark, whine, or even destroy items in their need to be back with their person. Horses can become excessively attached to their herdmates and be unwilling to leave them, or panic and run home when separated from companions. These are just some of the expressions of separation anxiety.

Behavioral Modification

Behavioral modification techniques can be very helpful in reducing or eliminating separation anxiety. Whenever I work with a client, I recommend implementing this approach in addition to using flower essences. There are many resources available from which to learn about behavioral modification techniques. To learn more about these techniques and dog behavior, I highly recommend the books of Patricia McConnell.

Why do animals develop separation anxiety?

There are a number of theories about how separation anxiety develops. I find that animals who have it often have had stressful early lives. The mother of the animal who develops separation anxiety may have been under stress through her gestation and birth (such as a homeless and starving stray or a puppy mill dog), or the animal may have been weaned too early or in a stressful manner. These early stresses have profound and long lasting effects on a developing animal.

Flower Essences for Separation Anxiety

Fortunately, flower essences can go a long way to helping animals recover from separation anxiety. When I work one on one with a client, I develop a formula based on the precise needs of the animal at the time. However, there are essences I can recommend that can help your animal. Learn more about how to give flower essences to your dog, cat, horse or bird here.

Northern Lady Slipper, Alaskan Essences

This essence is one of my favorites. I use it for many situations, but it is especially healing for early traumas. It is a gentle and enfolding essence that helps release the trauma related to stressful gestation or infancy.

Star of Bethlehem, Bach Flower Essences

The Star of Bethlehem flower essence is a primary choice for healing any kind of trauma. It soothes the spirit and helps the animal feel safe in their bodies and in their homes.

Grove Sandwort, Alaskan Essences

This essence is excellent in cases where the bonding process between mother and infant was disturbed and the infant did not receive the nurturing they needed. It helps to establish grounding and a connection to other forms of support to feel loved and cared for.

I am happy to offer consultation and custom essence formula creation over the telephone or Skype for you and your pet! Please get in touch and we can discuss your needs.

How to give flower essences to horses

Horses respond very well to flower essences.  Typically they do not mind the taste or smell of the alcohol used as a preservative in stock flower essences.  As such large animals, the small amount of alcohol in a dose of a few drops is generally regarded as insignificant.

Recommended ways to offer flower essences to your horse:

  • Put a few drops on a horse cookie, apple slice, or other favored treat
  • Put a few drops on a handful of grain and offer to the horse
  • Add drops to the water bucket
  • Add drops to a misting bottle filled with water and mist around the horse

I recommend giving flower essences separately from the excitement of mealtimes.  It is better for the horse to have a chance to quietly experience the essences and relax.

I am happy to offer consultation and custom essence formula creation over the telephone or Skype for you and your horse! Please get in touch and we can discuss your needs.

A few flower essence suggestions for horses:

Pineapple Weed flower essence (Alaskan Flower Essence Project) helps a horse connect to his feet and to the ground, aiding horses who trip or stumble frequently, as well as young horses who may be just growing into their bodies and having an awkward stage.

Wild Rose flower essence (Bach) helps the horse who has lost spirit and enthusiasm for life, whether through illness, moving away from his herd, or after a harsh living situation. It can help restart a sense of hope and a desire to go on.

Chamomile flower essence (Flower Essence Society) is very helpful for horses develop digestive troubles when nervous or upset. It helps calm and soothe, easing tension in the gut.

Star of Bethlehem flower essence (Bach) is a wonderfully soothing and grounding essence, beneficial after any kind of shock or stress. It gently helps a horse calm down after a fright, fall or stressful trailer incident.

Flower Essence Combinations For Horses

One of the best known flower essence combinations, Five Flower Formula, is very helpful in many types of situations. Five Flower Formula, also known as Rescue Remedy, was developed by Dr. Edward Bach, an English physician and homeopath, in the 1930’s. He created a new system of healing called flower essences that works primarily on mental and emotional conditions. He developed Five Flower Formula as an emergency remedy to treat stress and trauma. It is recommended for any crisis situation to help calm and ease confusion and panic. This formula, like all flower essences, can be used with complete safety and without any side effects by anyone, including animals.

How to give flower essences to your horse

Flower essences are easy to administer and impossible to overdose. In urgent situations, give 2 drops by mouth as often as needed. For instance, give every few minutes when you are waiting for the vet. For more stable or chronic situations, give 2 drops twice daily. Drops can be given on grain or treats, or placed in drinking water. You can also pet them into the coat or add drops to a misting bottle of water and spray around your horse. Of course, flower essences cannot substitute for appropriate veterinary care, but they can be a very supportive adjunct as there are no contraindications with any other types of treatments.

Flower Essence Combinations for your horse

Many other essences have been developed since Dr Bach’s system was created over 80 years ago. There are hundreds if not thousands of essences available and it can be quite challenging to decide which to choose for any given situation. Fortunately, several systems have developed essence combinations for specific circumstances, like Five Flower Formula, to make flower essences easier to use. The Alaskan Flower Essence Project makes essences in the pristine Alaskan wilderness, and several of the combinations in this line are particularly helpful for horses and their owners.

Animal Care was designed by a veterinarian specifically for animal rescue situations. It is helpful for horses that are being moved to new homes or those coming out of abusive or neglectful situations.

Guardian can be used to help a horse feel more secure when in busy or unfamiliar surroundings, such as shows, traveling or moving. It can help horses who are over-reactive to stimuli such as strange noises or new situations.

Travel Ease was created to address the stresses of air travel, but helps in any travel situation. It helps counter the stress of confinement and crowding and the enervating effects of noise and vibration.

Pregnancy Support is helpful for all phases of pregnancy – from creating a supportive environment for conception, to a healthy birth for mare and foal. It assists in the healthy bonding process and is highly recommended for first time mothers.

Easy Learning strengthens mental focus and helps a horse pay attention during a training session. It enhances the ability to process and learn new skills.

There are many other excellent combinations available, but the ones listed above can provide help in a broad range of situations. FIve Flower Formula is widely available as Rescue Remedy in many health food stores; other essence lines are less widely distributed but are readily available online.

Flower Essences for Horses

Horses naturally graze on a wide variety of plants, not simply grasses. They selectively eat herbs of many types, meeting nutritional needs or perhaps addressing imbalances. The use of herbs to treat physical conditions in domestic horses has become mainstream, and they naturally enjoy consuming this type of medicine. Flower Essences are less commonly used but, in my experience, horses respond very well to these remedies and show significant improvements in behavior and temperament.

Flower essences to help the aging horse

Tawni is a 23 year old Arabian mare who has Cushing’s disease, an autoimmune disorder which is common in aging horses. The disease manifests in a variety of problems, of which founder is one of the most severe. Founder causes a great deal of pain in Tawni’s hooves, and is truly debilitating. The pain has made it impossible for her to be ridden and has kept her from her favorite pastime, spending time on the trails with her person, Melanie. Tawni was having a hard time adjusting to the loss of her trail riding job so Melanie called me to see if I could help Tawni with Flower Essences. Melanie and Tawni have always had a close relationship fostered by the many hours spent together exploring nature.  Tawni took pride in her status as riding horse and the two made a beautiful pair. During our consultation, I recommended the essences Laceflower and Gold. The Laceflower essence helps her feel inner worth when she is no longer able to do the work she has always done. Gold is the perfect Gem Elixir counterpart to Laceflower, buoying self-esteem and providing a sense of inner value. Melanie reports that Tawni has regained her natural confidence and outgoing personality and is much more cheerful. This combination of essences would be helpful for any animal (or person!) who is no longer able to participate in work or activities due to age or injury. Life transitions can be damaging to self-esteem. Laceflower and Gold both help individuals find their identity beyond their job and realize that there is still life to be enjoyed while finding the inherent beauty and value in being themselves.

Flower essences for recovery from illness

Cheney, a 12 year old Paint gelding, had once had emergency surgery for intestinal impaction. There were numerous post-surgical complications and by the time he regained his physical health he had developed severe anxiety about being handled. He became very worried about routine things, like going on a walk or being in the arena. When he became nervous he would strike with his legs and try to run away – dangerous behavior for both him and his handler alike. Eileen had known him for 3 years and hoped Flower Essences could help him recover his old, fun-loving self.  She described him as always sort of clumsy and accident-prone, not completely aware of his body in space. Eileen noted that Cheney had always been very aware of how other horses are treated. She told me that he had a strong sense of what’s fair and would become upset when he saw other horses being mistreated. The first time I met Cheney and Eileen, I was moved by the commitment and determination Eileen showed for Cheney to get well. She had explored many avenues to help him and it was clearly a challenge to work with him because of his fears. After discussing his situation and history with Eileen, I created an essence formula for him. The essence Pineapple Weed helped him to get more in touch with his body and legs. When horses become afraid, they often lose awareness of their legs and hooves. This is valuable for a wild horse, enabling him to be able to react quickly and escape a predator, but it is dangerous for a handler who may inadvertently be stepped on or knocked down. Cheney, who already had a weak connection to his body, became even more out of touch when frightened. The Pineapple Weed helped ground him so he could feel safer in his body and environment. Tundra Twayblade, an essence used to release trauma from the body, was another important component to his formula. He had severe emotional “scar tissue” from the medical procedures that had saved his life. The Tundra Twayblade helped him release his fears about being handled and worked with. A few weeks after starting his Flower Essence formula the massage therapist who had been working with him for some time remarked how much more present he was and able to accept bodywork.

While nonviolent methods of training horses are becoming more popular, traditional methods relying on force, pain or dominance are still very much in use. An Australian veterinarian who specializes in equine behavior, Dr. Paul McGreevy, postulates that some horses are like “canaries in coal mines” and show the stresses that affect all the horses in an environment. Eileen feels Cheney may be one such horse. The Tundra Twayblade essence addressed the karmic issue of abuse, in this case, the abuse of horses as witnessed by Cheney. It has helped him release the trauma he stored in his own body and mind, and hopefully has also helped heal some small part of the karma of the abuse of horses by people. Cheney is now much improved, and has moved to a less stressful environment where he spends most of his time grazing with friends.

The system of Alaskan essences is deep with potential to help our animal companions, and they are thankful for all the help we can give them. Modern life for horses can be as stressful and unnatural as it is for humans and it is up to us, their caretakers, to assist them in any way we can. They will thank us for their improved health and quality of life, and in turn, enrich our lives immensely.

Article originally published in the Alaskan Flower Essence Project Newsletter, March 2010.

Learn more about how to give flower essences to your horse and flower essences for horses.