TTouch for Performance Horses: Finding a Peaceful Place to Quiet the Mind and Allow for Brilliance

In the spring of 2011 the Xenophon Club sponsored a seminar with me at the Balkenhol Stable near Munster, Germany. During the lunch break Klaus Balkenhol introduced me to Dodo Laugks and suggested I find a time to visit with Dodo and her husband, Dieter at their dressage stable, located thirty minutes drive of Munich.  Dodo manages this spectacular facility and a stable full of lovely Warmbloods owned by Toni and Marina Meggle. Dieter splits his time between his law practice in Dusseldorf and training and showing the Meggle Grand Prix horses.

A few weeks after the Xenophon seminar, my husband Roland and I stopped for a one-day visit, and we wound up staying almost a week, thoroughly enjoying working with Dodo and her staff, teaching them TTouch and working with many of the horses.

One of my favorite horses in the Meggle stable is Meggle’s Weltall VA, a very talented Grand Prix horse ridden by Dieter Laugks. Weltall, a 16-year-old Hanoverian, was very hot as a youngster, but big-moving, so he was easily sold at auction and competed at Grand Prix by the time he was eight years old. His piaffe, passage, and trot extensions were world-class, and he was a member of the German dressage team for the Athens Olympics in 2004. The team won the gold medal, but Weltall was deeply stressed by the experience, and was eventually sold to the Meggles.

When I met him, Weltall was extremely tense in the stable and so defensive in the cross-ties I was warned that he often attempted to bite or kick when groomed or saddled.

I believe that training and trust begins with the grooming and saddling.  Because of the extreme reaction in the saddling area, I began by working Weltall free in his stall with no halter and very light TTouches over every inch of his body. The goal was to gain his trust, to relax him, to get him to feel his body in a positive sense and come into mental and emotional balance. I began by going over every inch of his body with the light, careful Lying Leopard TTouches so he felt the warmth of my hand. He stood very still and if I was too fast, or I used too much pressure he would flash his ears back, but otherwise he stood still as though listening. By the second session the next day Dodo and I could work on Weltall at the same time – with no restraint, and by the third day Dodo and Dieter and I could all TTouch Weltall at the same time.  He enjoyed Ear TTouch, but I had to be slow and respectful with the Lick of the Cow’s Tongue. He learned very quickly that if he pinned his ears I would stop the TTouch I was using and find a TTouch and pressure he liked. Although he was very expressive but never attempted to bite or kick when he was free in the stall. After a few session and Back Lifts he clearly enjoyed the attention. We did lots of Tail TTouch —and on his legs, Coiled Python TTouch , and Octopus TTouch . Weltall is also the inspiration for a new TTouch I call the Tantalizing Tiger Troika —he loved this light pressure, drifting TTouches with the fingernails, especially on his face. Since last spring Weltall is only groomed and saddled in his stall and continues to enjoy the human contact.

The TTouch body work was not all we did. The work in hand also played an important role in stress reduction and trust building. The first day when I attempted to lead Weltall into the covered arena with just a lead chain over the noseband of the halter, it was impossible. Seeing himself in the mirror created panic and I had to take him back into barn isle where I stroked him all over with the Tellington “wand”.  For the first few minutes he was agitated when I stroked his front legs but very shortly he settled and accepted the contact. I was able to stroke his back with the wand and tap him lightly on the croup to go forward (the Dingo) and after several steps tap him on the chest three times lightly to stop – combining this tapping with a clear “and Whoa” and a light “ask and release” signal on the leadshank.

The second day I was able to lead him into the arena between two of us in “the Homing Pigeon” and make it through the labyrinth. This got him bending, thinking, listening. We brought a black rubber stall mat into the arena to give him a sense of the ground under his feet. He was very skeptical at first but after several sessions began to accept it.

 In his first competition after my visit, Weltall placed second in two Grand Prix classes, and in the following two shows, he won four Grand Prix classes with really excellent scores. “Weltall is enjoying his TTouches a lot,” said Dieter in a note following the competition, “and I really want to say thank you from the bottom of my heart. Last weekend we did our first competition after an 11-month break. Weltall was fantastic—very relaxed and not nervous at all. He placed second in the Grand Prix and second in the Grand Prix Freestyle with almost 75 %.  But much more important than this is that you have completely changed his life. His whole body is much softer and for the first time since I’ve known this horse, I feel he has started to relax in his stall.”

These performances qualified him for the 2011 CDI Milan in September, an international dressage competition and a qualifying event for the 2012 Olympics in London, England.

I had the pleasure of TTouching Weltall several times a day before his performances and he loved the work. He was brilliant in the Grand Prix Freestyle in Milan, placing fifth. One of the judges who has known Weltall since before he competed in the 2004 Olympics said he had never seen the horse move so well over his back—Weltall gave the impression of being totally engaged and really enjoying performing. In addition, to see him in Milan with his head hanging over the door, gently nuzzling the hair of one of the grooms sitting on the ground outside stall, you would find it hard to believe how much he used to distrust humans. Since Milan in September, Weltall gets his daily session of TTouch and continues to improve. In his latest Grand Prix completion in November he won with scores in the 70’s.

Just this week I received an email from Deiter while he was awaiting to ride a Grand Prix Freestyle on Weltall.  He shared that in his last competitions in November and December 2011, he won four Grand Prix and Grand Prix Special with Scores up to 77%.

All of the TTouch techniques I used on Weltall are described in my “Ultimate Horse Behavior and Training Book”, available through most booksellers or www.ttouch.com.

© 2012, Linda Tellington-Jones. All rights reserved.

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