Find out why equine athletes can benefit from Tellington TTouch ® techniques and exercises.
Human athletes use every tool and resource at their disposal to improve performance and maintain physical flexibility and soundness. Our equine athletes deserve the same consideration. The Tellington TTouch ® Method is used by countless world-class equestrians, including Olympians, to help maintain and enhance their horses’ performance and well-being. Regardless of the level of competition or work your horse is in, these simple and effective Tellington TTouch ® Method techniques and exercises will help maintain and enhance his performance and comfort.
1. Leg Exercises
Tellington TTouch ® Leg Exercises can be added to your daily grooming routine. They help open the scapula and can release the shoulder girdle, improve freedom of movement, and extend stride length.
The idea is not to stretch the leg but to show the body new possibilities of movement. When doing any exercise, think about showing the nervous system what it can do, rather than what its limitations are.
- To start, pick up your horse’s near fore (it does not matter which leg you start with, and it’s helpful to change your routine so as not to get into habits). Take your left hand and cradle the fetlock joint. It’s important to keep the pastern angle as “neutral” as possible so as not to put pressure on the joint.
- Fold through your hips and knees so you are not straining your lower back. Allow your toes to be angled approximately 45° towards the horse’s barrel.
- Rest your right elbow on your knee and support the hoof wall in your right hand. The sole of the hoof should be perpendicular to the ground.
- Once you are supporting the leg you can begin the leg circles. Move from your body rather than your arms, and begin to circle the leg, imagining that you are drawing circles on the ground with the horse’s toe. Circles can be in a variety of sizes, in both directions, and at different heights. Look for ease of motion, not how big you can make the movements.
- Ideally, the circles will be round, rather than egg-shaped. To start, make the circles as small as they need to be. If your horse is having difficulty, try changing the size, height and direction until you find a comfortable motion. As the shoulder releases over several sessions, you will find that the range of motion increases dramatically.
The hind leg exercises use the same principles; however, your left hand will support the leg directly under the hock and the right hand will support the hoof. Many people habitually take the hind leg out behind or to the side. If a horse is tight in the SI joint or hamstring, this can create more tension and potential resistance. Keep the hind leg underneath the horse until he has the chance to relax, then slowly take the leg where you would like it.
2. Tail Circles
Like Leg Circles, Tail Circles are a very useful exercise to incorporate into your daily grooming routine, as a way to release the topline, free up the hindquarters and encourage more swing through the barrel. An extension of the spine, they involve gently moving the tail in non-habitual ways to relieve tension all the way to the poll.
While a variety of tail exercises are used in Tellington TTouch ®, the basic Tail Circle is a great one to start with. It is important to feel safe when handling your horse’s hind end and tail. If you have any concerns about how your horse may react to his tail being handled, err on the side of caution.
Most horses really enjoy Tail Circles, especially once they have an idea of what to expect. To be polite, I like to initially approach this exercise in a series of small steps. This ensures your horse is calm and comfortable with the exercise.
- Start at the shoulder and move yourself back so you’re facing the point of the hip with one hand on the croup. Be sure to watch your horse’s response, noting ear, eye, respiration, tail and leg movements. A very still horse, as in frozen or breathing shallowly, or one that begins moving around, is generally not comfortable with where you are touching him.
- If you are on the horse’s near side, take your left hand and place it on the croup, while your right hand moves in a circular or gentle stroking motion all around the haunches and the base of the tail.
- As you move your hand near the tail, notice if the horse tightens or lifts his tail. Gently make small circular motions along the skin, using light pressure. If your horse has a tight tail, he will often start to relax and release the tension. If he was starting to lift his tail anyways, you will probably find he lifts it or even presses into your hand. If this does not start to release the tail, try doing some hair slides by gently sliding the tail hair out to the side, through your fingers. Always watch your horse’s expression and let him dictate how much you do (or not), especially when first introducing any exercise.
- Once your horse is comfortable with having his tail handledm you can start doing Tail Circles. Stand perpendicular to the hindquarters, level with the base of the tail. Assuming you are on the near side, place your left hand underneath the tail, gently lifting it away from the body. Your right hand is placed on top of the tail hairs, near the end of the tail bone. Gently lift so that the tail is in a slight curve, like a “question mark”, and circle the tail. The tail should not twist between your hands. All the motion should be focused on where the tail meets the body.
- Watch your horse’s topline. As you circle the tail in both directions and explore different-sized circles you will see the motion travel all the way up through the pelvis, lumbar, thoracic and cervical areas of the spine. Many horses enjoy this immensely so do not be alarmed if your horse presents his tail the next time you groom them!
The Balance Rein
Tellington TTouch is not only bodywork exercises – it also incorporates a number of tools and techniques under saddle for helping enhance posture and performance. A fantastic tool for all riding horses, the Balance Rein can be an especially amazing asset for higher level work and subtle fine-tuning in performance horses and their riders.
The Balance Rein is essentially a neck strap that sits around the base of the horse’s neck and is long enough for the rider to hold as an extra rein. It has a rope section that sits against the base of the neck, and a rein section that can be easily used by the rider. It’s fantastic for horses that tend to fall on the forehand, rush over fences or through lateral work, or get above the bit or behind the vertical. It can also help accentuate a clear half halt.
To use the Balance Rein, simply pick it up as you would a second rein, or use the index and middle fingers of one hand. As the horse gets heavy and starts to drop through the base of the neck or wither, simply use an upward pulsing motion to help encourage him to shift his weight up and back.
It is important not to hang or pull steadily on the Balance Rein. A steady pressure will usually elicit the opposite response and encourage the horse to lean. A pulsing or elastic signal will encourage more lightness and responsiveness.
Adding a few simple Tellington TTouch ® exercises to your daily routine can go a long way to promoting long term function, improving overall performance, and enhancing the relationship and trust enjoyed between you and your equine partner.
Mandy Pretty is a Tellington TTouch ® Practitioner and certified Connected Riding Teacher. She teaches lessons, clinics and seminars across North America. For more information about the Tellington TTouch® Method, visit ttouch.ca or ttouch.com.