How do I discourage herd-bound behavior?
Q. I have been training an 8-year-old Quarter Horse/Arabian gelding for a couple of months, but before I began working with him, he had very little human contact although he had been backed and was rideable. He is very reliant on his pasture buddies, which in turn, causes him to always be tense. Whenever I get him out, he is always looking for them; if he sees them he stares at them and pays no attention to me at all. He would even rather stare at them than have treats. How can I get him to be more reliant on me and be less tense?
A. This is exactly the kind of scenario that encouraged me to develop the TTouch® (Tellingon TTouch) methods decades ago. I found that, by releasing tension and increasing body awareness, certain types of gentle touches establish a deeper trust between animals and humans. Learning to do these TTouches, which I’ll describe below, will help you to create a new relationship with your horse, teaching him to want to be with you and to overcome his powerful herd instinct.
At first, try doing these TTouches when your horse is in the company of one of his buddies. Bring the other horse into the arena with him and either tie the horses near each other or turn your horse loose to hang out while you work with the buddy. (Assuming of course that they really are friends and are safe.) Begin the TTouches on the other horse. This will demonstrate to your horse how safe and enjoyable the methods are, while also piquing his curiosity, bringing him close enough for you to do the same TTouches on him.
Start with Ear TTouches, which activate an acupressure point running the Triple Heater Meridian that runs from the ear, across the shoulder and down the front leg to the hoof. These have an incredibly remarkable calming effect on horses, reduce tension and stress during times of pain and stress. and develop a trust between horse and human in a surprisingly short time. Ear TTouches are thought to effect the Limbic System that controls emotions. This could account for the calming effect. Here’s how to do them:
1. I THINK YOU SHOULD INCLUDE FIRST STEPS AS SHOWN IN THE ULTIMATE BOOK IF THE HORSE IS HIGH-HEADED OR RESISTANT. Standing in front of your horse, lower his head by pulling gently down on the noseband of his halter until it is about level with your chest. (If he won’t lower his head this far at first, be content with getting it low enough for you to reach his ears).
2. Stroke his forelock hairs lightly from the roots to the tips.
3. When he appears relaxed, smoothly slide your hand from the middle of his poll to the base of one ear, then over the ear to its tip. As you glide your hand off of the ear, be careful not to allow the ear to flip through your fingers and make sure you slide over the tip of the ear gently twist the tip between with your thumb and fingers.
4. Continue stroking both ears this way, one at a time, until he seems comfortable. Then experiment with different ear touches. If he’s not overly sensitivif your horse allows it, slide your thumb along the inside of the ear as you stroke the outside. Also try folding the ear together lengthwise as you run your hand from the base to the tip.
5. Next, holding the noseband on one side of your horse’s face, slide your other hand along the ear on the opposite side, from the base to the tip, gently pulling the ear straight out to the side of his head. Apply pressure a light signal sideways on the noseband to counterbalance the slight sideways pull of the ear. Repeat with the other ear, holding the noseband on the opposite side.
6. THIS SHOULD COME FIRST IF THE HORSE RESISTS CONTACT WITH THE EARS.
Finally, holding the front of the noseband again, ask your horse to maintain his lowered head while you smoothly stroke across his ear from front to back, this time with the back of your hand. Start on his forehead, stroke over his ear, then finish on his neck. Repeat this several times before doing it with the other hand and ear.
Modulate your pressure in the above touches however your horse seems to enjoy it most. Some horses, for example, tolerate only light strokes on their ears. You’ll know if your horse is enjoying the ear work if he lowers his head, makes chewing motions with his jaw and/or takes deep breath sighs.
[Tip: If your horse doesn’t like having his ears touched, make small, light circles with the back of your hand across his forehead and ears. If he still seems unsure or worried, use a piece of sheepskin to gently press his ear back against his neck. Or, alternatively, stroke his ears backward with your forearm, instead of your hands. With quiet repetition, he should eventually learn to enjoy the ear TTouches.]
In addition to working the ears, try making basic TTouches—small circular motions with your fingertips—on your horse’s face and over the rest of his body. Unlike massaging or stroking, these circular touches communicate with the horse at a different level, encouraging him to trust you and let go of his herd instinct.
Also experiment with “skin rolling” or “Tarantulas” that reduce stress and tension:”
1. Place your thumb and fingers of one hand upon your horse’s neck, back or belly, with your fingers curved, thumb straight, and wrist held several inches above his skin. “Walk” your forefinger and middle finger along his skin in one-inch steps by rolling your fingernails over, dragging your thumb behind them. (Think of the Yellow Pages image and slogan, “Let your fingers do the walking.”)
2. When you get the hang of this motion, try placing both hands side-by-side on your horse, with the thumbs about an inch apart. Then, moving in the direction of the hair growth, walk your fingers forward, allowing the thumbs to follow behind, pushing a light furrow of skin ahead of them, like a plow.
Do these skin rolls over your horse’s entire body. [LINDA – DO WE NEED TO ADD ANY CAUTIONS ABOUT AREAS WHERE HORSES MIGHT BE SENSITIVE? FOR LESS EXPERIENCED HORSE PEOPLE, ARE THERE CERTAIN “SAFE” AREAS TO CONCENTRATE ON UNTIL THE HORSE APPEARS RELAXED AND ACCEPTING?] EXCELLENT IDEA. THERFE ARE A LOT OF BEGINNERS OUT THERE. Where the skin is not loose enough to roll—such as on the legs—allow your thumbs to scrape gently over the surface. ALWAYS MAY SURE YOUR HORSE IS ACCEPTING OF EVERY NEW TTOUCH. STAY SAFE AND IF YOUR HORSE STEPS AWAY OR RAISES THE HEAD OR IS NERVOUS, FIND A PLACE TO WORK ON THE BODY THAT IS ACCETABLE. GENERALLY THE SHOULDERS AND LOWER NECK ARE A GOOD PLACE TO BEGIN.
Even a few minutes sessions of the above methods should begin to reshape your relationship with your horse. As he learns to want to be with you more, try bringing him into the barn to eat his meals separately from the others. While he’s alone in his stall, practice skin rolls and TTouches all over his body. This will deepen your connection even more.
In the meantime, when you ride in the arena, bring one of his buddies into the arena (tie him to the fence or, if he’s quiet, turn him loose) until he no longer seems to depend on the company of his “herd.” As your connection with him strengthens, you’ll be amazed at how quickly he learns to rely on you instead of his equine friends.
For more information, visit TTouch.com.