We know how effective the Tellington TTouch® Training can be for enhancing
behavior, performance, and well-being, as well as developing a really special
connection between horses and humans. For over 30 years we have received
countless success stories from horse folks from around the world which have been
recorded in the TTEAM Connections Newsletter published quarterly by my sister,
Robyn Hood. But a question that comes up from time to time is: Why is TTouch
and the method so effective. Last year Robyn published this report by Danish
veterinarian Dr. Rikke Schultz which sheds some light on that question.
TTOUCH – Ahead of Its Time
By Rikke Schultz, DVM Denmark
In 1989 I saw three women doing “strange” things to an Icelandic horse at the World
Championship for Icelandic Horses in Denmark. I had heard TTOUCH mentioned and
realized that it was Linda, Robyn and Susan doing TTouch on their horses before the
competition. That was my introduction to this fabulous technique. I have since spent time
at Robyn’s farm in Canada and had Robyn and Mandy give a clinic in Denmark.
As an equine vet working only with acupuncture, osteopathy and cranio-sacral therapy
for many years I am still astonished by how well the Tellington Method fits into
explanatory models about the body and mind appearing in humans and animals. It is
fantastic what Linda seems to have understood over 30 years ago, what is only being
realized on a larger scale within the past ten years.
The Rolfer and massage therapist Thomas Myers’ explanations of the muscular chains
that he has named “Anatomy Trains” and his realization of the importance of connective
tissue and fascias really explains why the circular TTouches and skin rolling have such
a huge effect on large areas of the body. The TTouches work directly on the fascias in
different layers, depending on the finger positions. It explains why the lifts, that also
release the subcutaneous tissue so well and give space for the blood vessel function, can
have an impact on the pulse and respiration in endurance horses. I also believe that the
fascias surrounding the carpal joint and the hock restrict the joints and releasing those
will bring better joint mobility and maybe decrease some cases of lameness.
It should be mentioned that in 2012 the third bi-annual human congress about the
importance and newest research of fascia will be held in Canada. That is how short a time
the important of fascias has been widely accepted in the human research world.
Cranio-sacral system (C-S system)
When we look at ear and tail work together with cranio-sacral therapy the huge effect of these exercises can be understood. The inner most center of the entire body is the central nervous system, CNS – the brain and the spinal cord. It is surrounded by different layers. One very close called pia mater and another one also surrounding the spinal fluid called dura mater. The last one is very hard, not at all elastic and it is attached to the inside of the cranium, the first cervical vertebra (atlas) and the sacrum. All the peripheral nerves leaving the spinal cord go through the dura. A static dysfunction of the skull, atlas orsacrum, but also the other vertebra can result in a pull on the dura influencing nerve roots, spinal fluid flow, the mentioned bones and craniosacral rhythm.
Doing circles with the tail can release the sacrum and pulling gently on the tail will
stretch the whole spine but also affect the dura. I think this is why the horses often
shake their heads when it is done. They can feel it in the atlas and the cranium. This also
emphasizes why a gentle pull and SLOW release is so important.
Doing ear-work not only effects the acupuncture points in the area but also the tentorium which is the membrane that separates the cerebrum from the cerebellum, that is also a part of the dura. This “tent” like membrane is attached to the medial side of the inner ear bone that is part of the temporal bone. The wrong tension in it can affect the whole C-S system. Below and medial to the inner ear bone is a big hole in the cranium where three of the so called brain nerves (vagus, assesory and hypoglossus nerves), the biggest arteries for the brain and the jugular vein passes through. A dysfunction of the temporal bone can decrease the volume of this hole and thereby create malfunction of one or more of these structures. The vagal nerve has connections to most of the inner organs and a dysfunction can therefore affect the heart, digestion, respiration and more. The assesory nerve innervates among other structures some of the muscles around the shoulder blade and a dysfunction can have huge impact on the front leg movement. It is easy to imagine how impaired blood flow to and from the brain will have a huge impact on the horse.
This understanding makes one realize the power of ear work but also why it has to be gentle, why one should NEVER pull hard on the ears and why some horses, who are really ear shy, can have a good reason for it.
The poll (The atlanto-occipital joint)
The joint between the skull and atlas is very important, of course in a biomechanical
sense for flexing, extending and turning the head but also because there are a lot of nerve
sensors (propioception) in the joint capsule and muscles around it, which are responsible
for the brain’s sense of the body-ground relationship – how the body is orientated in
space. The same goes for the TMJs.
This is also the area where the brainstem transforms into the spinal cord. Other VERY
important structures in the area are the vertebral arteries that are running through holes
in the cervical vertebrae and supply the brainstem with blood. When the atlas is rotated
(or the other cervical vertebrae) a pull on these arteries can occur. In short the atlanto-
occipital area is VERY important.
When there is a dysfunction in this joint, more often contractions in the extensor muscles
uni- or bilateral extending the joint and making it hard for the horse to flex the neck
correctly are the reason. This is VERY common. Flexed lesions where the horse can flex
but have a hard time extending the poll are less common or less realized, because that is
what we want the horse to do. Doing forelock circles helps to release the soft tissue on
top of the joint.
Neck releases where the head is stretched brings the joint in a “position of ease” used in
the osteopathic very gentle and effective “functional indirect technique” F.I.T. The soft
tissues around a joint are brought to relaxation and the brain is given time to figure out
what the normal tension in the tissue should be. This brings the normal function back
to the joint. This technique moves the lesion as opposed to direct techniques in manual
medicine (chiropractic, osteopathy and more) that goes into the lesion with the risk of
increase the pain at the moment it is done.
Fight and flight reflexes
Linda has always spoken about the importance of bringing the head down in order
to overcome the fight, flight or freeze reflexes and increase the learning ability. This
happens because the parasympathetic (relaxation) nervous system is activated or one can
also say that the sympathetic (stress) nervous system is deactivated. Authors like Steven
Porges and Peter Levine write about this subject in humans now in relation to stress
syndromes and depression. When a person is balanced between the two systems in the
autonomic nervous system, it is referred to as being in a state of “social engagement”.
I think TTOUCH can bring the horses very much into a parasympathetic state and the
ground work into social engagement. The more I work with complementary medicine I
realize how much “deeper” the treatments work when it is possible to bring the horse in a
parasympathetic state. TTOUCH, acupuncture and cranio-sacral therapy are some of the
methods that can do that.
It also happens with the mouth and nostril work by releasing the facial fascias which
according to Thomas Myers are connected to the toes in humans!!
When the horse is playing with the jaw during the mouth work it brings about a release of
the TMJ, osteopathy has a similar treatment for those joints.
The rib releases can normalize rib- and diaphragm tension and dysfunction. These are commonly overlooked problems in a lot of horses, especially the later, both in western medicine and chiropractic. It also stretches the lumbar area together with back lifts. These exercises bring the back into flexion which is good because most lesions in the spine are extended lesions where the horse tries to avoid using the back in flexion which is, what we want it to.
My “learning journey” over the years has given me a better understanding of the
anatomical and physiological effects of Tellington TTouch Method and how much Linda has been
ahead of her time with her method.
All together TTOUCH/TTEAM has lots of options to treat the inner core – the C-S
system and the outer “case” – the fascias together with a big effect on the autonomic
nervous system and thereby having the ability to release a lot of problems in horses in a gentle way both physically and mentally.
With respect for great work,
Rikke Schultz, DVM
Levine, P. “ Waking the Tiger – Healing Trauma”
Myers, T. “Anatomy Trains”
Porges, S. “Polyvagal theory”
Evrard, P. “ Introduction à l’Osteopathie crânio-sacrée appliqué au cheval”
© 2012, Linda Tellington-Jones. All rights reserved.