Monday, January 22, 2018

Learning to Be An Observer and to Release Tension In My Horses

My 2018 goal with Leah is helping her to be less reactive.  I blame myself for creating the tension in the first place.

What I did wrong:

1. I only went out to get her when we had something to do.
2. I took weekly lessons away from home which required a lot of trailering away--she started to get stressed in the trailer because the lessons were a lot of work and she didn't want to leave her herd.
3. I gathered the reins inelegantly, every time I went to ask for a transition change.  Now, when I pick up the reins, she automatically transitions when sometimes I'm only trying to get better grip on my reins.
4. I missed the signs of laminitis and continued to train her when she was hurting. (Part of her rehab was being ridden, but it was light work in a sand arena, rather than trails and collection work at lessons)
5. I didn't spend an adequate amount of time stretching, massaging, and TTouching her.

I've been riding Leah a lot this week, sometimes bareback, and I can feel the tension in her back at transition changes.  I could also feel her tense when I went to mount.  It's much easier to create tension than it is to release it, but I'm dedicated to doing just that.


(Video of me practicing TTouch and massage with Leah. I'm doing it much faster than usual because of the video process--and it still took 8 minutes to tape.  I'll make another that shows the actual motion and timing.)

I took a series of private TTouch lessons from a certified practitioner back in 2013, and it did wonders for Cowboy and Old Red.  Last week, I started re-introducing it with massage.

Ttouch, basic grooming, stretching and massage do a number of things:

1. It helps them to give us parts of their body they don't trust us with (ears, mouth, tail, feet, etc.)

2 It teaches them that our hands are okay--more than okay--they are instruments of tenderness and communication,

3 It gives us information about where they may be hurting (and most horses hurt somewhere)

4 It gives us time together, before a ride, to bring our energies together with an emphasis on deep breathing and slow movements.

5. It calms us down before a ride and makes us much more aware of our partner.

6. It helps them release tension and pain in their bodies.

7. Using our touch methods (whatever they may be) in saddle, helps our  horses to relax and remember that we're on their back as a partner.


I had a trainer friend who was the most observant horse person I've ever met.  Sometimes, I thought too observant.  "Hey, your horse is lame."  "Hey, your horse needs wormed."  "Hey, your horse is taking advantage of you."  It was always true, and I was always shocked that I'd missed what was so obvious to her.  I had a deep respect for her observation.

My granddaughters came to visit last weekend and, since it was windy and cold, we did a lot of work in the barn--learning to be observers.  They watched the video I made (above), and they practiced the art of deep grooming, TTouching, stretching, and massage.  I even had them observe as they approached their horses in turnout.  Did they seem happy? Grumpy? Willing to be caught? Did they walk politely at their sides? Did they tune into them?  Other horses?

I asked them to tell  me three good things that their horses did and one thing that they'd need to work on, and I was shocked at how observant they were when pressed. I told them to NEVER doubt their observations.  NEVER do something you don't feel comfortable doing.  TRUST yourself. 

Trust your observations.  Trust yourself.

The granddaughters and I groomed, massaged, TTouched, and stretched our horses for an hour, and it went by fast.  Afterward, they mounted and rode their horses.  I hope they learned that both are equally rewarding.  I hope they take those touches with them and remember them until the next time they get to see Penny and Little Joe.

They say, people don't remember what you say so much as the way you make them feel. 

I hope I become the person that makes all my horses feel good when they see me coming to the barn and when I'm on their backs.


  1. Great video, you do a nice job explaining! I've always been interested in learning more about how to massage horses, just for our own. Our awesome vet that moved out West showed me some things to help Koda. However between my lower back & shoulder, it's hard for me to do these days - especially the stretches. Koda *loves* being massaged, he turns into a bowl of jelly. It's so wonderful how bonding it is!

    1. My massage is a mix of TTouch and what other trainers have shown me. It’s hodgepodge. I really like the softness it gives you afterward. They’re thankful.

  2. One of the jewels I learned with all the groundwork training I've done is how to read Carmen and figure out how to help her relax. I know that my first approach was not the correct one but now it takes very little to calm her (on the ground) and she looks to me when something makes her tense. It's amazing how subtle it could be.

    1. That’s wonderful, and not easy to get without a lot of work—which you’ve done. One of my problems (not listed) is that I started riding Leah so late in her life. She was 9 or 10 when I started her under saddle. We had always done groundwork, so she’s good at that, but being ridden is where I see her get tense. My trainer says it makes sense because she is used to me being with her on the ground. Still, getting the relaxation before our ride—on the ground—taking it as slow as it needs to be—does give me a better ride afterward. I massage her in saddle, too. I hope to see results this year. 🤞

  3. I haven't done TTouch for a while. Have you checked out the Masterson Method? I'm working on teaching myself how to do that.

    1. I’ve seen it, but I haven’t studied it. You should share some video once you learn it.

  4. I’ve never learned the TTouch method. I did learn how to do Reiki from a practitioner who we hosted a clinic for at our barn years ago when we had a business. It was very interesting and it does help to relax the horses and help certain painful points on their bodies. My guess is it all helps when done correctly. And the time spent bonding with the horses is priceless.

    1. Yes, I agree that it all helps. I like to learn whatever I can and use whatever I need. I’ve never heard of Reiki. I’m going to look it up. I didn’t know you had a business either. A horse business? You’ll have to tell me more about that!

    2. I looked it up. Very interesting. Did you see it work on the horses? Did they touch the horses? I watched one video where they didn’t touch the horse, but it’s skin was rippling, which I’d guess was the horse anticipating the touch. TTouch has a lot to do with energy, as well, but they’re also getting massage work. I think of it like a combination of the two. When I took my lessons, I wasn’t nearly as good as the practitioner, but my horses still got a lot of relief. It’s all very fascinating. I’d like to know more about tour experience with Reiki.

  5. I love what you're imparting to your girls; they'll love horses for their lifetimes because of you Linda.


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