Tellington TTouch Success: Don Diego

I am so fortunate to receive accounts of Tellington TTouch® at work from some talented and dedicated horse professionals around the world.

Swiss horse trainer Brigitte Schworer has been a TTouch practitioner for horses for almost two decades. She recently sent me this TTouch success story from Switzerland. It demonstrates how patience, understanding and Tellington TTouch can save a horse’s life. After Equitana in Essen, Germany, Brigitte sent the following email.

The horse: Don Diego, Oldenburger gelding born 1/6/2005, currently 170 cm. Born a twin but his brother died at birth.
Sire: Don Vino, Donnerhall, Consul
Sire’s sire : Cor de la Bruyere, Marduk

In May 2008, Beate Meyer introduced Diego to our TTEAM online group, asking if there were someone who lived close by to help him. I saw the email and said to myself “not me.” But in August 2008, I received an email from his owner Gila Rogers (friend of Roger Russel) with the request to contact her since all other options to help with Diego’s education had been exhausted.

I told Mrs Rogers that I was busy until late fall and also did not have room for another horse. Still, after I called her I drove to her place to see the horse.

The circumstances Diego were living in were not ideal for a 3-year-old horse. He had a large box stall with paddock, but the groom said that he was rarely let out to pasture as most of the staff had trouble leading him out. If he was allowed in the pasture, he had to be alone because owners of the other horses were afraid of him.

I spent two and a half hours with the horse. I saw him run free in the indoor arena, and contemplated and contemplated, trying to decide if he was too much for me. I knew that if I took him on, I had to be strong enough and fight for him even if others at the stable would be negative towards him, something I was sure would happen. If Diego stayed there, he would end up at the slaughter house quite quickly. In spite of his excellent pedigree, he would not be able to find a suitable buyer.

When he was younger, Diego had a epiphysitis and it left him with a front leg that turns inward at the knee. The owner said it had healed completely, but it left a change in the bone which cannot be fixed. The only suitable buyer would be a pleasure rider not interested in showing. But for those riders he has to be easy.

My decision was final. At the end of those two and a half hours of thinking, I knew he could come to my place. I did not really want to, but Diego picked me.

Diego’s history:
Mrs. Rogers took Diego’s mother in when she was very sick. The mare was moved from the south to the north of Germany. There the owners saw that she had really good papers and asked to have her bred. Mrs Rogers agreed and a stallion was chosen. Diego and his brother were born a year later, but his brother died at birth. The breeder was vey disappointed because the wanted a filly. Nobody took care of Diego.
When he was 5 months old, Diego’s mother died and he was placed with a Haflinger mare. He was alone without other foals or other horses. I cannot understand how careless people can be. The Halfinger mare left shortly afterwards and Diego was placed with a very disagreeable mare. She chased him away from his food and all over the pasture. Soon afterwards it was getting difficult to touch Diego. Since there were no other young horses to play with, he changed his character and started to become aggressive with people.
Diego’s owner checked up on him occasionally, but never went to see him. One time she did visit him and noticed that one front leg was not straight. She called for a vet and discovered he was suffering from epiphysitis. At this point, it was too late for surgery and Diego would be deformed for the rest of his life.
Everybody was afraid of the young horse, so he was gelded when he was a year old. Nobody wanted to enter his pasture and food was thrown over the fence.
When he was 2 years old he was taken to the farrier for the first time. He kicked several times and the farrier hit him in the belly with an iron bar, which resulted in a torn muscle.
When she visited him again, Mrs. Rogers noticed that Diego was extremely thin. He was just skin and bones. The vet found an infection in his gums, which caused him to stop eating. The caretakers had not noticed it.
Mrs Rogers had Diego moved from the north of Germany to Bavaria. There Diego gained his weight back in the spring of ’08. The owners of the new stable promised that he would be rideable in 3 months and that they could sell him. However, nothing was done with him, which may be a good thing.
Mrs. Rogers brought several prospective buyers to see Diego. He showed his bad side every time: reared when being led, was difficult to lead and would not longe. He attacked the woman trying to longe him by rearing and kicking.

Diego’s training with TTEAM:
He came to me on September 22nd. He was polite leaving the trailer and went into the paddock where he could have a look around. I could approach him without problems, but I was careful because he had been described as a dangerous killer.

We spent 2 days becoming friends. I asked a former riding instructor to help me. On day 5 Diego showed his bad side for the first time. He reared in the pen facing different people and was very aggressive. He did not show this reaction to me or Iris.

It was not advisable to enter Diego’s stall when he was eating grain. He would flip out and bite at everyone, so we started feeding him his grain outside in the paddock. With the gate open so I could retreat, I stroked him with the wand and inched closer with my hand. After first rejecting me, he got to a point where he enjoyed being touched. Two days later I stood beside him in his paddock. Diego was eating and I was TTouching his left side while Iris was TTouching his right side.

Diego grew used to being TTouched in the paddock, but the stress was too great for him when we tried doing it in his stall. He was very agitated and needed much more time.

We started with regular leading using the wand and chain. He learned to balance through the labyrinth. We used the Homing Pigeon so we could both be safe. I think he needed us on both sides so he did not feel so alone. Soon the leading worked quite well, but he kept chewing on the chain. I let him because I thought it helped him settle. When I felt it was getting too much I lovingly took the chain out of his mouth and rewarded him with some mouth TTouches, which he greatly enjoyed.

Diego was never able to work more than 15 minutes at a time. He just could not concentrate that long. I TTouched his neck, back and carefully included the belly and front legs with Lying and Clouded Leopard and Abalone TTouch.

Picking up his hooves was only possible from the front as he kicked with great precision, even kicking sideways. He never missed. I stroked him with the wand along his entire body.

Raccoon TTouches on his face were very important. I found the points that really helped him settle and used those often. He was pretty quick to accept the ear work and I printed some information from an acupressure book about the points around the ear and treated those with Racoon TTouches. I found a point in the acupressure book that helps with aggression. I carefully worked with his hind legs, and after two days the horse was not recognizable. I could TTouch his entire body, brush him and do bodywork. I even added Python Lifts on his legs.

Diego was also allowed to run free in the indoor arena. We let him trot and canter, which he loved. He became more trusting and we were careful never to chase him, just asked him to keep moving around us.

We started to longe Diego, starting with Iris on the outside as an anchor, which he was used to from the Homing Pigeon. Diego cooperated quite well right from the start and never tried to attack me. We soon changed to a longing cavesson and longed him in all 3 gaits. He will sometimes turn around when he is going to the right and we have recognized that this is his way of playing with us. However, we don’t allow it and calmly ask him to turn again and continue to the right.

Six weeks later we put a saddle and rider on him. I started by being led at the walk by Iris and we then switched so I led and Iris rode. Soon we are able to ride alone at the walk in the arena. Diego responded nicely to our signals and always did what he was asked. One month later we asked for a trot.


In the beginning of December he was getting quite good with his legs so I asked the farrier to come and trim his feet. I prepared the farrier that Diego might be difficult and that he needed to remain calm. I worked Diego briefly in the indoor arena and then brought him into the aisle with a large bale of hay in front of his nose. I wanted to set up a very relaxed situation, but it was busy at the barn. Two veterinarians were working, there was another horse and one owner and all of us working with Diego. However, he was perfect and did not pull his leg away once. We were very happy with him!

Diego munches calmly while he is being shod

Diego munches calmly while he is being shod

PROUD, I am really proud of him and ourselves!

Pretty good!

Pretty good!

Two weeks later a really good physiotherapist came to the barn. She worked on Diego and opened the left shoulder. I watched and was amazed to see his front leg change during the session. He is now much straighter.

Since the session I can now lift his left front leg much easier and do leg circles and work the shoulder. He is also trusting enough that I can work his tail, hind end and do pelvic tilts.

I don’t really know how the heart coherence works, but I am sure that it is working for us. I am very calm and full of love and compassion for him, even when he is having a bad day. I watch that I regulate my breathing and I am never anxious when I work with him. Diego settles as soon as he hears my voice, even if I am three meters away from his stall. This is necessary when he eats grain and people walk past his stall. He hates fast movement and loud talking if it is done by strangers. He is fine with me and Iris.

Diego is very unsure when people are afraid of him. It makes him aggressive and he threatens. I had a bit of a situation recently. I was brushing him and his stall neighbor’s owner, Jessica, was brushing her horse and rushed to get him a treat. As she ran past us Diego pinned his ears and reared a little bit. I took his halter and pulled him towards me. His ears shot forward and he gave me a gentle push. I talked to Jessica, who said that she is very afraid of Diego. I took her into his stall and asked her to pet his face which he really likes. When she stood in front of him he backed away and was insecure right away. I asked her to place her hand on his halter which caused Diego to take a deep breath. Jessica was amazed when she realized that he had been afraid of her. It was easy for me to be the mediator. Diego kept checking in with me and if I had been nervous or aggressive, he would have done the same.

However, he can also settle me down. Even though he is unsure about strangers, on one occasion he gave me confidence in the saddle in a difficult situation. Some children were playing in the barn while I was riding in the arena and they were making a lot of noise. I got very angry and yelled at them because I was about to ride Diego and did not want him to become upset and throw me. As I mounted I was still agitated and he took a deep breath and started walking and trotting, ignoring my foul mood, changing it immediately. He gave me the idea that I could trust him, even though he was only three and a half years old and had been ridden only six weeks.

I think he can feel my heartbeat, knows that he has a permanent home with us (Iris wants to buy him) and he really knows us. I can yell at him and he does not become aggressive. He acts like a small child who loves his parents.

I don’t know if this is right, but I always tell my students that if they want that an animal or human trusts them they have to trust them first and then they can trust you.

Iris is learning equine therapy for challenged children. My goal is for Diego to become a therapy horse. He has been able to catch up on his youth and is living in a herd of 40 horses. I am sure he will be okay. It may take a lot more time, but we have lots of time for him.

— Brigitte

© Linda Tellington-Jones 2009

© 2009, Linda Tellington-Jones. All rights reserved.

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