These gentle, non-invasive exercises can offer your horse relief from minor digestive issues, improve his digestion, or reduce his discomfort while waiting for the vet in colic situations.
Our equine friends are good examples of size, power, strength and resiliency. Yet they are surprisingly sensitive and sometimes even delicate when it comes to their digestive systems. The Tellington TTouch® Method offers many gentle, non-invasive and effective exercises to reduce the discomfort associated with digestive issues while awaiting veterinary care. They can also help alleviate many common digestive upsets or simply enhance overall digestive function.
Whether it’s a case of gassiness and slight lethargy, or a full blown colic, the TTouch Ear Slides are one of the most effective and fast acting exercises you can use to help balance your horse’s digestive upsets. Ear Slides are a great tool to use when travelling to help stimulate appetite and encourage water consumption.
Doing Ear Slides is easy. To prepare the horse to be touched around and on the ear, begin by gently moving the skin around the poll and ears in a small circular motion – the pressure should be as light as you would comfortably press on your own eyelid. If your horse is concerned about having his ears touched, begin by making the circles with the back of your hand, near the ears but where he is still comfortable, and work your way towards the more sensitive area.
Once you have given your horse a chance to relax with your hand around his ears and poll, you can start the Ear Slides. Begin by facing the horse and standing slightly off to the side you will be working on. Gently place your hand over the top of one ear with your thumb pointing towards the poll, and stroke the ear outward and slightly forward, base to tip. Your opposite hand may want to stabilize the motion by resting gently on the noseband of the halter. Make several stroking motions on one ear, then switch to the other, alternating until the horse becomes more alert, or veterinary assistance arrives.
If you find your horse does not immediately drink when the temperature changes or when traveling to new places, TTouch mouth work can be a very useful exercise.
The mouth is closely associated with the limbic system, the part of the brain that controls emotion and the parasympathetic nervous system. Refusing to drink can often be a result of emotional imbalance, a change in location, or the stress of travel. Activating the limbic system helps to steady a horse that is feeling emotional — this will speed up his adjustment to a new situation.
Begin by making large circular motions around your horse’s nostril and muzzle with the flat of your hand while standing to the side of him. As with the ears, start with the back of your hand if your horse is unsure about being touched here. Once he is comfortable being touched around the mouth, steady the noseband of the halter with your hand closest to the horse. With your free hand, flatten out your palm with your fingers pressed together while your thumb points upward. With the side of your index finger, separate your horse’s lips and slide your fingers underneath the upper lip, pressing against the gums. It is important to keep all your fingers together and your thumb out of the mouth. Use a slight upward pressure to keep your fingers in contact with where the gums and upper lip meet. Rub your hand back and forth a couple of times and then remove your hand.
It is not uncommon for horses to raise their heads or seem surprised by this technique at first. Always introduce this technique in small steps, only rubbing the gums a couple of times before removing your hand and then repeating the process. Most horses enjoy this once they have an idea of what to expect. Very few pleasant things are associated with working around a horse’s mouth, besides feeding him, so this exercise can come as a pleasant surprise.
One of the most direct ways you can support your horse’s digestive health is through Belly Lifts. These are a great tool to use for cases of colic, mild gas discomfort or bloating, and any time your horse seems a bit “off his feed”. Like Ear Slides, Belly Lifts are ideal for use while awaiting veterinary care.
Belly Lifts can be done with a girth, folded up towel, old sheet, surcingle, or even your hands. In a pinch you can even use a shirt. A second person can make this exercise easier, but it is also very doable on your own.
If you have a second person, stand on either side of your horse, at the elbow. Take the girth or towel and pass it under the horse’s belly so that each person has an end. (If you are on your own, use a large bath towel or sheet, folded into an 8” to 12” wide section. Hold one end steadied at the withers while the other hand holds the end coming up from the belly.) Starting at the heart girth, slowly begin to lift to the count of four, hold for a few seconds, and then slowly release for a count of six to eight. It is very important to watch your horse. It is best to go lighter and more slowly than you think you should, and always remember to pause for a moment before slowly releasing down.
Continue this sequence of lift, pause, and slow release along the length of the barrel until you get near the flank. As you move further back, be sure to stand towards the shoulder so you are not in a kick zone. For many horses, discomfort will increase the further back you go, so lighten the lifting pressure as you move back. Repeat several times as necessary. In cases of colic or serious distress, while awaiting veterinary care, alternate between Ear Slides and Belly Lifts.
Belly Lifts will often illicit a release of gas or even the passing of manure. They are great to do if your horse seems to be a bit uncomfortable in his belly or flank area or if he is lacking gut sounds. Like all TTouch work, they should never be done in lieu of veterinary care.
Adding these simple exercises to your toolbox can go a long way to helping your equine partner stay happy, comfortable and healthy. They will also strengthen your relationship and build trust between you, whether in times of sickness or health.
Mandy Pretty is a certified Tellington TTouch and Connected Riding® practitioner based in Vernon, British Columbia. She teaches lesson and workshops throughout the year.mttouch.ca
Note: None of these techniques are designed to replace veterinary care. They are tools to use while awaiting veterinary assistance in serious cases, and to enhance the well-being of your horse by supporting digestive function.