These simple Tellington TTouch tips can be added to any rehabilitation program!
TTouch for Rehabilitation
You can achieve a great feeling of empowerment when you become actively involved in bringing your horse back into work through slow and mindful rehabilitation.
Tellington TTouch techniques are simple and non-invasive, and can help reduce healing time, maintain mental and emotional well being, and properly bring the animal back into healthy function. Tellington TTouch techniques are gentle enough to be used without creating discomfort in sensitive areas. They help increase and maintain circulation and functional posture. Remember that TTouch is not massage. Rather than attempting to influence the muscles, TTouch works with the nervous system and uses small, non-habitual movements to re-educate and remind the body of its potential function. It also works to change postural habits and tension patterns in the body that may contribute to reoccurring injuries or result from compensation during periods of pain or discomfort.
The Python Lift
Horses on long term stall rest are at an elevated risk of developing laminitis due to the lack of blood flow to the hoof. “Python Lifts” can be done on all four legs and are excellent in promoting circulation through the entire leg. They are equally useful for horses that seem fatigued, whether due to an injury, long trailer haul, endurance ride, or other physical exertion.
To do a Python Lift, begin by assessing how comfortable your horse is with having his legs touched. Place both hands on either side of the leg just below the elbow, and firmly but mindfully stroke down to the hoof. If the horse is initially hesitant or concerned with this, break down the exercise by using one hand or the back of your hands. Once he seems comfortable with this, you may begin the lifts.
Start with both hands cupping the leg, again just above the elbow. Inhale, and as you begin to exhale start to gently carry the tissue upward away from the pull of gravity. Pause, and then slowly start carrying the tissue back down to the starting point. Slide your hands down one hand width, and continue the lifts and releases all the way down the leg to the ground.
The point is not to move the tissue as much as you can but to non-habitually move the tissue in an unfamiliar way. Initially, people often feel their horses do not like Python Lifts. Generally, once it is demonstrated on their own arms, they realize they used too much pressure and inadvertently squeezed the leg while lifting (it’s called the Python Lift, not the Boa Constrictor!).
This Lift can be done one-handed on any part of the body and is especially good around large joints such as the shoulder or along the vertebrae of the neck. It is also a great way to help swollen areas heal more quickly, as long as it is done very lightly and gently.
As you start to bring your horse back into work, whether it’s handwalking or ridden work, “Leg Circles” (done carefully) can be an excellent way to begin opening the shoulder and releasing the pelvis and sacral area. Remember that Leg Circles are not meant to stretch out more movement, but to allow movement.
Think about showing your horse where his body can move rather than where its limitations are, which is essentially what happens when we really stretch. It is also imperative you realize that stretching yourself is very different from having someone else stretch your body for you, because you know how much is too much.
For Leg Circles on a foreleg, pick up the leg, supporting the fetlock joint with your inside hand and placing your outside hand on the wall of the hoof, keeping the pastern soft and the toe pointed down. Fold through your hips and bend your knees so your outside elbow can rest on your outside knee. From your feet begin to circle the leg well within its comfortable range of movement, spiraling the leg in both directions to the ground.
For hind limbs, simply support the leg just below the hock with your inside hand, cup the hoof with your outside hand, and repeat the steps you used for the front leg.
One of the most important things to consider when bringing a horse through rehabilitation is fostering a healthy, functional posture – something that can be done any time you are interacting with him. Bodywork is incredibly useful, but unless you carry the relaxation and release into your horse’s movements, bracing patterns and postural habits will likely reoccur and negate much of its benefits.
Most people simply lead their horses without considering how they are affecting posture, and in turn, tension patterns. Whenever you find yourself at the end of a lead, be sure to watch how you give your horse a signal and practice “mindful leading”.
Walk, stop and turn your horse in both directions a few times, noticing head carriage, ease of movement, and footfall pattern. Next time, take a moment to pause before asking your horse to walk forward. Many horses raise their heads slightly as they are signaled forward, which tightens the base of the neck, back and poll and puts them more on the forehand. Generally, when we give a signal to a horse, we do not consider the slight lag time needed for him to process the request and we inadvertently pull on him, unnecessarily triggering the “opposition reflex” and creating a bracing pattern. Remember that the signal has to travel from your brain, to your body, to the horse’s body, to his brain, and back to his body…so any time you give a signal, exhale and pause a moment before asking again. Given a slight pause, your horse will often respond to a single signal in the time it took you to previously give him multiple signals.
Stop and Go
If you have a flat halter and lead rope with a light snap, try clipping the lead to the side hardware on the halter rather than underneath. A signal from the side of the halter will often reduce the amount of jamming through the poll and encourage the head to lower.
• When asking for a walk, allow your hands to slide a few inches down the rope instead of keeping your hand tight to signal. This subtle slide will create a softer feel, reduce any bracing in the horse and encourage a lowering of the head.
• To turn the horse towards you, try this same slide along the rope and rotate with your entire body rather than just pulling with your arm. Notice whether your horse is better able to bend through his entire body rather than just falling to the inside.
• To turn your horse away, keep your body parallel to his nose, rather than the neck or shoulder. This may be further ahead than you are used to being but it will allow you to guide him with your body language rather than having to push him over.
• For a halt, think about exhaling and signaling gently on the halter as you make a slight quarter turn towards the horse. Try to walk into the halt rather than just stopping your feet abruptly so you can help keep the horse straight instead of inadvertently bending him towards you and creating crookedness. For some horses, a dressage whip brought slowly towards the chest as you halt will encourage a rebalance through the entire body and allow a release through the topline instead of a retraction of the head and neck. Be sure your hand closest to the horse does not pull back constantly. Many handlers accidentally pull out of habit, which actually puts horses more on the forehand, triggering the opposition reflex. If you use an “ask, release”, or a more upward signal to stop, you may have a better response with less brace. A
Advancing Your Rehab Program
Once you have mastered mindfully leading so your horse can seamlessly transition back and forth without going into a bracing posture, you may choose to add simple poles to walk over, cones to bend around, or hand walk him up and down slight inclines as he improves. Another useful tool would be the addition of a TTouch BodyWrap, as described in the July/ August 2012 issue of Equine Wellness.
These are only a few of the dozens of TTouch exercises suitable for rehabilitation.
Linda Tellington-Jones’ Ultimate Horse Behavior and Training describes all these methods in detail, with photos, and is available through ttouch.ca. Rehabilitation takes time, but these simple exercises can increase healing time and gently and effectively improve physical function. Being aware of your horse’s patterns of tension and movement will help you become better able to assess and influence his progress back into work, and sustain function to prevent future injuries.
Amanda Pretty is a Tellington TTouch P3 and Connected Riding Practitioner. She teaches workshops and trains horses at The Icelandic Horse Farm. intouchwithyourhorse.com