Recent Article from
TTEAM® Connections Newsletter
The Tellington Method for Sport Horses
by Linda Tellington-Jones
TTEAM Connections Newsletter Volume 13 Issue 3 July-September 2011
Linda, Anke Recktenwald, Belli Balkenhol on Dublino and Klaus Balkenhol
It may help to explain our success in the sport horse world to know the foundation of the TTouch Method. Until I began working with pleasure horses and riders in Europe in the 70’s I was a sport horse competitor and trainer, competing extensively in Evening, 100 Mile-in-one-day Endurance Riding, and hunter, jumper and pleasure classes. I was a dressage rider in the developing years of the sport in the U.S.; a founding member of the California Dressage Society in the 1960’s; an NATRC (North American Trail Ride Conference) judge for Competitive Trail Riding; and an AHSA (American Horse Show Association) recognized judge of Hunters, jumpers and Western Pleasure horses.
My sister, Robyn Hood, who has been so instrumental in the development of the work, was a very successful hunter/jumper competitor before she began focusing on breeding and training Icelandic Horses as an ideal family pleasure horse.
The inclusion of bodywork for sport horses began in 1961 with the following influences:
- My Grandfather, William Caywood, in 1961 introduced us to his form of equine massage which he learned from Russian gypsies. He was named Trainer of the Year at the Moscow Racetrack in 1905 and attributed his success to the daily “rub down” each horse received;
- The genius and classical cavalry background of my first husband, Wentworth Tellington shared my grandfather’s knowledge in the publication of our book, “Massage and Physical Therapy for the Athletic Horse” in 1965. We used this form of massage to help with recovery of our horses competing in endurance, eventing and horseshows;
- My four year study of the human bodywork with Dr. Moshe Feldenkrais at the Humanistic Psychology Institute in San Francisco from 1975-1978. This brilliant work with the nervous system took our bodywork with horses to a new level, effecting not only performance, but developing willingness and ability to learn without stress;
- In 1976 I began to integrate the concept of communication at the cellular level inspired by the work of Nobel Prize recipient Sir Charles Sherrington, who taught that “every cell in the body knows its function in the body”.
- In the 21st the availability of the emerging Quantum Physics theory and cell communication has kept me inspired and is validating many of the concepts I intuited in the 70’s that have been so effective for improving the performance of sport horses.
I’ve chosen a few sport horse stories from across the years that include horses competing in endurance, eventing, jumping, and dressage.
Tellington TTouch Training Tools, Techniques and Tips for Sport Horses
Our philosophy is to teach a horse to learn to think rather than react - to build trust - and to connect with our heart, our head, and our hands. Our Techniques include the bodywork called Tellington TTouch, special ground work we call The Playground for Higher Learning and Intention.
- Some of the special equipment we use to help a sport horse develop mental, physical and emotional balance in a remarkably short time include: The Balance Rein, Promise Wrap and Rope, Liberty Ring and the Tellington Training Bit. These tools can often change a horse’s performance in a few sessions, and sometimes in as little as one session.
- The TTouch bodywork is invaluable for improving confidence and athletic ability. Most commonly used TTouches include Head Lowering; the TTouch on the Ears, Mouth, Nostrils and Tail; Lick of the Cow’s Tongue and the grounding TTouches on the Legs.
- The Playground for Higher Learning has a profound influence on a horse’s willingness to learn, ability to trust and cooperate with the rider and physical, emotional and mental balance.
- Holding the intention of ideal performance, combined with the philosophy that when you “Change Your Mind, You Can Change Your Horse”, paves the way for successful competition.
- Further tips for success with sport horses include the understanding that pain, fear and stress restrict performance; knowing the importance of saddle fit, shoeing, teeth care, and realizing how the influence of grooming techniques can contribute to a horse’s success before the rider is in the saddle.
- Riding with an open heart, a positive attitude and a smile on your lips can have a great influence on an equine athlete. Treat your horse as though s/he can understand you, because s/he can.
Suppling Effects of the Tellington Training Bit for an Event Horse
As I was sitting at the computer considering which horse to begin this article with, the phone rang. Tom Angle, the co-owner of Goose Down Farm in Galisteo, New Mexico was on the line with exciting news. He had just returned from the Flagstaff, Arizona Horse Trials where his 11-year old grey gelding, Viking, an Irish Sport Horse, (Draft/Thoroughbred cross) had received his highest marks to date in the dressage phase of the Combined Training Event. Tom is a very seasoned Three-Day event rider and with his wife, Jeffrey Ryding, own and manage one of the largest Combined Training Event stables in the U.S. Tom attributed his success at the Arizona event to TTouch and the Tellington Training bit, which he had been using since attending my weekend training a few weeks earlier in June. At that training Viking, who was back in work after recovering from a collateral ligament injury, was slightly stiff and tended to be short-strided.
In the ensuing weeks since my training Tom reported that Viking had been moving much freer and was no longer sore or reactive to pressure on the third cervical vertebrae. Tom has been riding with the Tellington bit several times a week and expressed amazement at “how seamlessly” the horse went from the training bit to his normal snaffle for the competition.
At the event Viking jumped a clear round and received scores of 7’s and 8’s throughout his dressage test and a 6 on the free walk where he normally scores a 3 because of tension. This was a huge improvement and Tom was especially delighted about the gelding’s change in attitude which was so obvious that the show photographer, who knows Viking from other Combined Training Events, remarked about the happy expression he observed in the horse’s eye.
Tom Angle jumping his horse, Viking, in the rollerbit.
This newfound sense of well-being and happy attitude is something I believe comes from a new level of mental, emotional and physical balance that often results from TTouch on the body. And the Tellington bit often allows for the possibility of a new relationship between horse and rider as the horse is able to move in a way the rider had always hoped for but could only dream about.
I had the pleasure of working with Claus Erhorn and Justyn Tyme for my Kosmos video for jumping horses. Claus had been on the gold medal winning German Three Day Event team and was interested to see how TTouch could support the performance of this equine athlete.
Claus was impressed by the suppleness he felt after riding Justyn Tyme with the “Liberty Ring” and jumping him cross-country with nothing but the lariat ring around his neck. He also felt the benefit the Training Bit had on releasing the horse’s back and freeing up his neck. He rode with the Training Bit several times a week during the next weeks before one of Europe’s toughest Three Day Events in Burghley, England and for the first time in his successful career he won the dressage phase of one of the world’s toughest Three Day Events.
Every successful human athlete gets sport massage and mental training to reduce stress, improve performance, and prevent injury. Many riders are now realizing the importance of bodywork for horses but there is one major difference between Tellington TTouch bodywork and the accepted standard for equine massage. TTouch is applied so that the horse does not resist or react in pain. I mention this because some massage methods are so painful that the horse will defend itself by kicking or attempting to bite.
I’ve worked on world-class dressage horses in three countries who have been massaged so painfully that they are dangerous. One of the most famous equine massage therapists wrote twenty years ago that “if you are planning to massage horses, know that being kicked by a horse is to be expected. It’s just a question of when.”
Because our goal is to develop trust in the horse, the pressure you apply with TTouch should be chosen to develop confidence as well as support a sense of well-being. The combination of bodywork with the specialized ground exercises allows the horse to integrate the new feeling, and the special equipment we ride with helps the horse to find a new balance and way of moving with the rider in the saddle.
I think one of the most unusual aspects of this Method is that there’s no “recipe for success”. You just do the various TTouches; lead through the labyrinth, walk under wands or over a platform, and maybe ride with the Balance Rein or other piece of Tellington equipment. As a result you will find your horse becomes more willing and interested when ridden, more supple and engaged mentally as well as physically.
Mandy Zimmerman and Heart Breaker
A good example of the change that can happen under saddle as a result of The Playground and TTouch is a talented six-year old grey gelding named Heart Breaker, owned by Mandy Zimmerman. Mandy is a full-time student of Klaus Balkenhol. Her horse was one of the horses selected for the Xenophon Seminar I taught in Germany at the Balkenhol Stable in April this year.
For you readers who are not acquainted with the sport horse world, it may be helpful to know that Klaus Balkenhold is an Olympic Gold Medal winner and was the German coach of our American dressage team for several years. I add this because the training Heart Breaker has received has been the very best classical dressage training.
It’s in cases like this that the value of this Method really becomes obvious. Adding the aspects of Tellington TTouch Training teaches a horse how to think, overcoming fear that is stored in the cells as well as in the mind. This approach offers new solutions for issues that are common in sport horses and can take years to overcome when addressed only from the saddle.
It would make this article too long to give the details of all we did in the 90 minutes we worked on the day before the seminar, but I will list them, and you can look them up in my Ultimate Behavior and Training Book.
(Because I’ve seen the effects a name can have on a horse energetically, I’m going to refer to horse here as HB) HB was interesting as a subject for the seminar because he was fearful of spectator clapping and there were about 170 people enrolled for Saturday, plenty to show his normal reaction during competition. When Mandy rode the horse for me on the day before the seminar it only took three of us clapping, in chorus with a wooden “clapper” that makes the sound of an audience, to cause the horse to clamp his tail and bolt forward in panic.
However, on the day before the seminar, after observing the fear issue the horse had under saddle, I focused on his resistance to trailer loading, a problem that can be daunting to the career of a sport horse. Apparently HB had been easy to load the first couple of times Mandy took him to a show, but had become more resistant each time he was loaded up to trailer to a competition or seminar.
The horse was described as “dominant” and resistant to trailer loading, but it’s my experience, and opinion, that stress and mental, emotional as well as physical stress can cause this “change of heart” in horses. They can lose their courage and trust and desire to do their best. Teaching riders to “see their horses with new eyes” has been one of my primary objectives for as long as I can remember and is one of the gifts of the Tellington Method.
So rather than “making the outside of a trailer more uncomfortable than the inside”, which is often done by forcing a horse to “submit”, our approach is to work with exercises that not only teach horses to load safely and without injury, but in the process develop trust, cooperation and balance.
We discovered that HB showed hesitation and concern about stepping on the trailer ramp. So we moved him away from the trailer and found he was also hesitant to step on rubber mats in the arena, or a wooden platform. Thirty years ago I would have gotten after him a little and forced him onto the platform. I’ve learned, in the meantime, that a minute or so of holding a clear intention (picture in my mind) of what I’m asking the horse to do, staying in “Heart Coherence”, stroking the horse’s legs, lowering his head, and “chunking down” the exercises, pave the way to make him successful. This opens new pathways to learning, and deepens trust and the horse’s willingness to cooperate.
Such simple tips as running the lead up the side of the halter and laying poles beside a wooden platform – using our brains instead of our muscles – sets us up for success with HB. Added to that was the Tail TTouch, Ear TTouch, Neck Rocking and the Dingo Dance Step in the labyrinth. You can see these exercises in the photos.
The following day we demonstrated these TTouch techniques during the seminar and Mandy was able to ride HB at the canter with rhythm and cadence, without bolting, while 170 people clapped.
When a horse is resistant, we have a choice. We can use dominance and attempt to force the horse into submission, or we can realize there may be physical or emotional reasons behind the behavior and explore ways to come to an understanding so that the horse can do what we are asking to the best of his ability. This approach can result in cooperation, understanding and ultimately, improved performance.
What can you do with a “Lazy” Horse you had hoped to compete with?
The story of Merrylyn and her mare Holly may give you hope.
“My Irish Warmblood mare moves like a cart horse” was the frustrated comment of Merrylyn R at my weekend training in New Mexico last month. Four years ago she bought the Irish Sport Horse, Holly, and has been taking dressage lessons regularly. She was hopeful that this weekend would provide some new possibility for performance that had eluded her so far. The problem was that Holly had to be urged with every single stride, and the spurs Merrylyn was wearing had little effect.
It’s often easier to slow down a horse that has too much forward impulsion than to convince a sluggish horse to be more energetic. That was certain true for Holly.
I watched Merrylyn at the walk, trot and canter and then asked if I could ride the mare to evaluate the problem from the saddle. Holly has a long stride so she was actually covering more ground than it felt like from the saddle, but she was not fun to ride, and it certainly didn’t look like the mare was having fun either.
I don’t ride with spurs. I’d rather teach a horse to respond to a flutter or press/release signals from my lower leg. Holly responded readily to my leg aids by lengthening her stride, but the second I stopped asking for forward motion, she would slow down.
I could understand why Merrylyn had made the statement about the cart-horse pace. It was indeed frustrating and hard work for the rider!
I decided to put a Promise Wrap on Holly – a tool we have used for many years and found useful for horses who are strung out or spooky. Our standard version is a four inch Ace wrap attached to the girth or billet straps on an English saddle or the rear-rigging “D” on a western saddle.
Holly responded with a little more forward motion, but not enough to make much difference. So I then put on the Promise Rope that encourages forward motion by brushing the gaskins with every stride. This can have a miraculous effect of increasing length of stride and tempo without the rider having to work at it. And Wow! There was indeed more impulsion, but not an increase in suppleness through the back but not the impulsion that I had hoped for.
So I dismounted and put the Tellington Training Bit on the mare. I let her get acquainted with the feeling in her mouth by leading her from the ground for a few minutes. Then I mounted and asked her to trot on a long loose rein – and yippee – she responded with a lightness and willingness to move that was a pleasure to ride.
Merrylyn said she had never seen her mare move with such rhythm and balance, giving the impression that Holly was enjoying the feeling as much as I was.
When Merrylyn climbed back into the saddle, picked up the reins and trotted off, she said the feeling was what she had hoped for and dreamed of since she had bought the mare.
I’m convinced that the particular balance of this bit, the raised roller, and the angle of the port and shanks, create this change in suppleness that gives a horse a completely new possibility for movement.
There is a downside to the Tellington Training bit. You cannot achieve the suppleness and impulsion I describe with Holly unless you are able and willing to ride with “fine motor control” using subtle movements of your finger joints. If you ride with a closed fist – fingertips touching the palm of your hands – or with your wrist dropped inward – or with a closed contact on the bit – the horse cannot move forward.
Rein width and length also play an important role. The two reins must be the same length. The top rein should be approximately 1 1/2 centimeters (5/8ths of an inch) wide and the curb rein approximately 1 centimeter (half an inch) wide. That little bit of difference makes it possible to tell when you have more influence on the snaffle or curb (top or bottom of the bit).
With a feather-light contact the bit can give a horse a totally new sense of suppleness and freedom of movement, but if the fingers are not open the horse cannot move forward and will not achieve the brilliance we have seen possible. It really takes someone on the ground encouraging the rider – even a very experienced rider – to insure that the rider gives the horse rein to encourage the lengthening of the neck and freedom to achieve the elasticity of movement possible with this bit.
In considering which sport horse to include, Olympic dressage rider Nicole Uphoff popped into my mind. I worked with her marvelous Warmblood gelding, Rembrandt, winner of two Olympic gold medals, when he was 18 years old. He was one of the horses chosen for my video, TTouch for Dressage Horses.
Nicole told me that Rembrandt had always been resistant to having his ears handled and she did not believe it would be possible for me to demonstrate the work on the ears for the video. His resistance to having his ears groomed or touched in any way was interesting to me because of his reputation and tendency to be very “playful” when first mounted.
To be successful at the grand-prix level of dressage, a winning performance depends upon power and brilliance and high energy. There is a downside to working off excess energy in the warm-up arena. But one “bobble” or playful jump to the side can lose a championship.
On my video Nicole points out exactly such a playful jump to the side that could be avoided with a few minutes of quiet ear TTouch in the stall to focus a horse before mounting up to perform.
I am grateful that we filmed almost the entire TTouch session on “Remmy” because he was such a beloved champion. For the first 40 minutes of work on his body, I made no attempt to handle his head. Instead I focused on basic TTouches all over his body, followed by leg circles. Only at the end of the session did I ask Rembrandt to lower his head which he did with ease and complete trust.
I was able to do TTouch on both ears and much to Nicole’s amazement, she could do the same. She then rode him to see if she could feel a difference. She remarks on the video that from the very first moments in the saddle, Rembrandt felt as though he’d had 30 minutes of warm-up. He was supple, cooperative, and did not pull any of his usual little “fun leaps” to the side that he was famous for.
Therein is one of the many gifts of TTouch. Time spent with TTouch on the body can shorten the warm-up time and bring the mind of the horse into a relaxed and cooperative state.
Another successful “TTouch Tale” was the work with Gracioso owned by Klaus Balkenhol at the time I worked with him for my dressage video. Klaus said this horse was one of the most talented horses he had ever owned, but he was extremely lacking in confidence in spite of many hours Klaus had spent sitting in the stall with the horse to make a connection.
In spite of much patience and many hours Gracioso had not developed in a way that was conducive to a winning performance horse. He was one of the most challenging horses I have every worked with. The first time I lead him out of the stall he stuck his nose straight up in the air as he left the safety of the stable. Without a rider in the saddle, he was totally tense and the slightest noise spooked him.
When I worked him in hand in the covered arena he was spooked by the small group of people standing quietly on the side of the indoor arena observing. Fortunately we already had a labyrinth laid out with a pan of grain ready that he could stick his nose into. This allowed me to get him into the labyrinth. The boundary of the poles gave him a sense of containment and focus. In just two times going through, stopping between each turn, I was able to calm him. He then stood in the middle of the labyrinth for TTouch all over his body. After about 15 minutes of body-work, I could lead him around the edge of the arena where we had the observers giving him nibbles of grain. He finished the session relatively relaxed with his head lowered.
The following day I brought Gracioso into the outdoor arena and worked him with the saddle and a body wrap, through the labyrinth. Klaus Balkenhol rode him and he spooked in one corner of the arena, as was his habit. I had a person stand in that scary spot with grain to calm him and give the horse confidence. (The spookiness and subsequent feeding from a tub is shown on the video.)
There are many people who would say we were encouraging the spooking by feeding a horse in an area where he shies. However, anyone who believes this does not understand the role of food and the effect on the sympathetic nervous system. It’s helpful to know that when a horse is in a state of fright or flight the sympathetic nervous system is activated, and when the horse eats, the parasympathic nervous system takes over, eliciting a calming effect.
After two days of working and filming at the Balkenhol stable, I accompanied the horse and rider to a local show to continue the work with Gracioso before the competition. The first time I lead him out of the barn he was again terrified and his nose shot straight up in the air in complete panic. I brought him immediately back into the stable where Judith Balkenhol and I did an hour of work in the stall isle. Gracioso was quiet at the end of the session.
Incredibly, by day four he was relaxed and trusting as I lead him to the side of the outdoor warm-up arena. This time he stood quietly while I TTouched his whole body from nose to tail. The following day he won his dressage class without one bobble.
I had a wonderful experience of accompanying Klaus and Judith Balkenhol to the Stuttgart, Germany dressage event. This was the first indoor show for Gracioso after he had been bought by Nadine Capellmann. The Stuttgart venue was a challenging indoor venue for a horse unaccustomed to a covered stadium.
It was here that the Ear and Nostril TTouch had such a powerful effect. In the warm-up arena before his first test, Gracioso was suddenly spooked by a group of ponies that entered the ring enmass. His head shot up and he was tense and close to exploding. Fortunately we were standing on the side of the ring where he was passing by and I was able to step in and with Nadine in the saddle, lowered Gracioso’s head and worked on his ears. In a very few minutes the horse relaxed, took a deep breath, and returned to his former state of concentration. Nadine had a very nice ride, with a lovely free walk in spite of a clattering bread cart high up on the upper level of the stadium, and placed fourth in class of much more experienced horses.
Less than a year later Gracioso was chosen as the alternate horse on the German dressage team for the Olympics in Atlanta. In April this year at the lunch break Klaus Balkenhol introduced me to Dodo Laugks and suggested I find a time to visit with Dodo and her husband, Dieter at their dressage stable near Munich. I didn’t see when that would be possible, but I think the horse angels intervened, because only a few weeks later Roland and I stopped by for a one-day visit, and wound up staying almost a week over the next month. This dynamic couple are both successful Grand Prix dressage riders and very experienced horse people. I loved working with them and their staff and spending delightful evenings with Marina and Toni Maggle who own Weltall and many of the other horses I had the pleasure of working with. Weltall is a 16 year old Hanoverian who was very much changed by working him free in his stall with no halter and very light TTouches over every inch of his body. I will write about this special horse at another time because he is the inspiration for a new TTouch I am calling the “Intriguing Tiger Troika”. He loved this one-pressure TTouch with the fingernails.
A few weeks ago I received this letter from Dieter Laugks:
“Weltall is enjoying his “TTouches” a lot and I really want to say thank you from the bottom of my heart. Last weekend we did our first competition after an eleven month break. Weltall was fantastic. Very relaxed and not nervous at all. He placed second in the Grand Prix and second in the Grand Prix Freestyle with almost 75%. But much more important than this is that you have completely changed his life. His whole body is much softer and the first time ever since I know this horse, I have the feeling that he starts to relax in his box.”
Although this method is based on classical horsemanship of the past centuries, we are constantly exploring 21st century solutions for improving performance. In the world of sport horses, where high tech is becoming so prevalent, I believe there is a place where “High TTouch” can create an ” interspecies language” without words that can forge a relationship of trust and understanding to take a horse and rider team to new levels of achievement.
Enhancing the Performance of a Top Equine Athletic – Garcon
It was such a high to have a lesson with Klaus Balkenhol on this marvelous French stallion. Klaus Balkenhol is one of the premier riders, trainers and coaches. I’ve first had the good fortune to work with Klaus Balkenhol since the filming of my “TTouch for Dressage Horses” DVD more than a decade ago. Since then I have been at their farm many times and twice Klaus and Judith Balkenhol have hosted me for a Xenophon Seminar at their beautiful stable.
Klaus Balkenhol has a way with horses that inspires them to want to do their best for him. When I observed him in the saddle with Goldstern he reminded me of a centaur. I became acquainted with Garcon when I accompanied Klaus and Judith Balkenhol to the Stuttgart Dressage Event. I TTouched the stallion each day at 6AM for 30 minutes before Klaus took him out for a light workout. And each day, just before Garcon was saddled for his class I did a five minute “TTouch refresher”. An activating Lick of the Cow’s Tongue, Ear TTouch and Rainbow TTouch on all four legs. Garcon cleaned up at the show! He won the Grand Prix, the Grand Prix Special and the Kur. This was the first time the horse had won so much and it was at one of the most important dressage competitions of the year, where the top German horses gather to compete. There was a sales rep for magnetic blankets at the show, and when Klaus was asked to try one he remarked, “I don’t need a magnetic blanket. I have Linda with TTouch.”
To read more about my experience with sport horses watch for stories on my blog. There I “talk-story” about my travels and connections with remarkable people and animals.