Wednesday, February 15, 2012

TTouch Lesson: Part I: Is It All About Fear?

Is every aggressive equine reaction related to fear?

How you answer says a lot about how you will work with horses.

When the TTouch practitioner arrived at my barn on Monday, the first thing she said was how upright and alert Beautiful was as she approached.  It's a fear reaction: head up, ready to fight or flee, adrenaline being pumped, thinking turned off.

She's always like that, I said, When new people come around.  She's like our watch dog.

Well, that's not good for her, she responded.

After 3 1/2 hours of training, I have a lot to write about TTouch, and a lot to learn.  But this is a good starting point, because this is the very heart and soul of the matter.

"One of the main principles of TTEAM work is to teach a horse to override the fight or flight reflex. ...In the learning process, whenever there is pain, fear, or fear of pain, there is a release of a stress hormone called ACTH.  It causes the animal to access the reactive or reflexive part of the brain rather than the thinking part". .....When flight is not an option "some individuals turn their fear into fight or aggressive actions.  These horses may bite, kick, and when pushed to the point of feeling cornered, attack."  Robin Hood, TTEAM Connections, November-December 2001

If you work with horses, you know all of this, but there is one nagging question...

What about the horse who shouldn't have anything to fear but appears to be an alpha and just aggressive and dangerous because they want to be?

That's the horse that always throws our thinking for a loop.  Well, Robin Hood (Linda Tellington-Jones' sister) addresses that in her article about the 5 F's.  She writes that all animals, all living things, have a hierarchy of needs, one of which is to feel safe.  "Perhaps there are some animals who feel 'safer' giving up control than others.  The feeling of safety may come from having a person who you trust be consistent and fair and one who 'listens.'"

She likens it to driving.  When asked if they feel safer driving or being driven, most people will say they prefer driving.  But, if given the chance to have someone drive for them who is a good driver, a safe driver and listens to them if they give them feedback, they would prefer to sit back and relax.

Is it the same for these horses?  Would giving up control to a trusted leader help them give up their aggressive or dangerous actions?

I think, yes.  I've seen it time and time again.  My dear friend who trains and will be taking Cia for me in March is one of those quiet human leaders.  Horses that come in aggressive, some of which are stallions, will walk on a loose line behind her happy and relieved to be in the presence of a real "leader."  She's observant (very tuned into the physical and mental state of her horses), she's consistent, respectful, predictable, competent and confident.  You know that old show Who Wants To Be a Millionaire?  You get the option to phone a friend in time of need?  Well, she would always be my phone a friend in any and all horse dilemmas.  Ironically, she's also the one who originally told me about TTouch...about ten years ago.

The 5 F's of a horse's fear response, according to Robin, are:


They, and others, have seen all 5 responses to fear.

But what do we do about it?

That is what I'm seeking to learn and what I'll be writing about as we go through these posts on TTouch.


  1. Very interesting Linda...I like the different ways horses express fear. It really hits home that Griffin's responses (freezing up, being sticky sometimes) are all fear based, even if he isn't flighty. It gives me a way to approach it, and also a way to know that as I work with him more, and he gains more comfort and trust in me and other people, that his stickiness may go away withouth too much hassle. That's my hope anyway. :)

  2. It's interesting how so many animals (maybe all?) react to the one who assumes complete authority. That element of trust seems to kick right in when they sense the confidence of authority.

  3. @An interesting start. I don't have any aggressive horses but Donnie does have fear issues. This may be a good program for him as we try to bring him along.

    The friend you mention sounds familiar, you could be describing my daughter. There have been stallions, geldings, mares, you name it that people were petrified of and wouldn't even enter their stalls. All she had to do was be herself, calm, kind and understanding and they would be hanging their heads on her shoulder or following her with a loose lead.
    I do believe horses can pick up on personalities and attitudes.

  4. Can you email me contact info for this Ttouch trainer? I'd like to see if we can get her to do a clinic here; our local indoor arena is looking to put on some clinics this year.
    PS- what's with blogger and the new version of word verification? It's a real pain for commenting, lots of blogs have it and it makes me not want to leave comments.

  5. I'm very much enjoying these TTouch posts. I can't wait to read what else you've learned.

  6. I'm really enjoying these posts. I have a mare who is naturally very high headed,she'll be the one whose head goes up in the field when something happens. I always need to exude confidence when I work with her, then she'll relax and come down. I'm looking forward to your next post!

  7. Sorry so late in responding...this is the day I'm in transit to the other side of the state. Ugh.

    Kara, stickiness is a good way to put it. It is definitely a fear reaction that they all do, but some of them more than others. Beautiful has a tendency to do the same. She puts the brakes on pretty quick when something alerts her. "Other people" that's a good point.

  8. Joanne--yes, I think your're right that it happens with all animals, not just horses. The benevolent, all-wise leader is a universal longing.

  9. GHM--Your daughter sounds wonderful. She probably exudes the confidence that puts horses at ease.

  10. Shirley, does my site ask you to do a complicated word verification? I'll have to look into that and change if it, if so. The name of the practitioner is Julie Jene. I think it's best to call her. She doesn't check her email very often. Her phone number is on the site. I'm sure she'd love to put on a clinic. She's been at Ride the West here in Spokane for a clinic...sure she's done many more.

  11. Smaz and Sandra, I'll be working on my new post tomorrow....with a disclaimer that I'm in the learning phase. Honestly, I'm still trying to answer the question I started this blog with. I've been thinking a lot about whether or not every aggressive or dangerous action is fear related. (They're not talking about the inadvertent things, I'm sure, when horses kick it up and have fun and you are accidentally hurt. I think they're talking about the horse who appears to be willfully bucking, balking, kicking, biting, striking, etc.

    Sandra, your horse sounds a lot like Beautiful. I'll make sure to bring her into my next ttouch session with the practitioner.

  12. I think that's exactly how Drifter is - he's somewhat insecure and socially inept (particularly around other horses) so his first reaction is to be aggressive so he can stay in control of what happens. You can't be aggressive back with him as things can escalate, but have to make him feel safe through firm, consistent leadership - just being matter of fact with him goes a long way. I've gotten off track with him after my accident since I've been sending signals of lack of confidence myself - I'm hoping our time with the trainer will help us both out.


Please feel welcome to join our discussion by telling us about your own thoughts and experiences.