many times in my training in natural horsemanship, I heard emphasis on gaining respect. (I still hear it today.) I would watch a "problem" horse behave perfectly for my trainer and then, frustratingly, once I got my
hands on the lead rope, revert back to "disrespectful" or even dangerous behavior with me. This was, of course, all my fault. Now don't get me wrong: students of horsemanship make all kinds of mistakes, and most problems they encounter are
their fault. But something got me thinking, even way back then, that it just wasn't right that no matter who walked up and took the rope, the horse never behaved as well for them as he did for the trainer. Why?
The stock answer to "why?" was that each individual has to develop a relationship with the horse that engenders respect. "I've established that I'm
the leader in this herd of two, now you
have to do it." Body language, technique, and tools all had to be perfectly honed to get that respect and control. I worked hard on it: the split-second timing so necessary when working with stallions and dangerous horses; the hot-potato release; "getting big" when necessary to increase pressure beyond what the rope and halter could provide. All these tools and techniques worked, provided you had the skill, strength and sense of timing. I didn't get any of these things quickly. In fact, I was the laughing stock of the barn for a while.
A few weeks ago at a Ride With Pride
Clinic, Tellington TTouch® practitioner Sandy Rakowitz said something that allowed me finally to understand what is so different between natural horsemanship as it's practiced by some of the big names today and the Tellington TTouch Equine Awareness Method (T.T.E.A.M).
Starting around the head and face, working up to the base of the ear, and the to the ear up to the tip, TTouch takes advantage of the acupuncture points in the Triple Heater meridian to calm and focus the horse
After demonstrating one of the most effective T.T.E.A.M leading positions and allowing trainees to try it out on the horses, folks were asking questions and discussing their successes. Sandy used the term, handler independent
when responding to a question about what makes this method so universally effective.
This horse is wearing a body wrap for confidence and being led through the labyrinth. He is being asked to pay attention to all four feet, placing them carefully, and to the subtle cues of his handlers.
A lightbulb went off in my head. I knew Sandy had nailed the fundamental strength of T.T.E.A.M, and at the same time neatly differentiated it from the natural horsemanship I'd been taught. She had answered my nagging question. They are light years apart.
The term, handler independence indicates that what a horse learns through the T.T.E.A.M leading exercises is independent of the handler. Because the method allows for learning skills rather than learning fear and respect toward an individual handler, it doesn't matter who handles him in the future: a small child, a gruff groom, a skilled rider. What a horse learns can be generalized for use with all handlers.
How is this accomplished? TTouch is used in conjunction with ground exercises to train the horse's mind. In I wrote before
about how TTouch affects the brainwaves to facilitate a natural brain wave state conducive to calm, secure learning. When the horse's brainwaves are aligned for optimal receptiveness and learning while being taught new skills, anxiety levels are low, and he is able to accept new situations and learn new tasks.
Research has shown that skills learned in a state of calm are more easily generalized, or able to be applied over a range of situations. This includes different handlers. This would have solved my natural horsemanship problem right away!
In the context of a therapeutic riding program like Ride With Pride, it is important for the horses to respond similarly to the same cues from many different handlers (with varying skill levels), such as side walkers, lead walkers, physical therapists, and occupational therapists. How hard it would be for all these employees and volunteers to learn rope and halter skills and round pen techniques, or to perfect the concept and application of pressure and release while still doing their jobs with the children! Especially when it's not necessary.
An attendee of a previous training had this to say on the subject: "I am at a barn where several people handle my horse to bring in and take out. Due to limited turnout, he will often act up on the way to the field. Working with Homing Pigeon and working TTEAM with him going to and from the field has made is much easier for everyone else to lead him. He behaves much better for everyone."
Using time-tested techniques of Tellington TTouch and T.T.E.A.M over the course of a few training sessions each year, all participants can learn the skills necessary to maintain a mutually respectful relationship with a calm and confident horse who is capable of doing his heroic job, independent of variations in handler.
If I had only known this back in the day, I wouldn't have been the laughing stock of the stables, and I might have been able to handle my own stallion!