What are we really doing when we touch a horse?
Some touch is purely mechanical. We groom, often brushing the living daylights out of them to get off the crusted dirt. We detangle mane and tail in a businesslike manner, because we’ve got better things to do–ride.
Some touch is not mechanical. There is clear intention. Intention is perceived by the receiver of the touch. It isn’t always interpreted 100% correctly, but is is received, often in the spirit with which it is offered. In this sense, touch with intention is actually communication: interspecies communication between human and horse.
That’s why it’s important that every time we touch a horse we do it with the intent to communicate comfort, affection and gratitude.
I used to chatter brightly to my horses, never noticing that my tone and rate of speaking influenced the more sensitive ones in a negative way. It did not seem to matter that I was speaking about how glad I was to see them, or telling them how much I loved them. My touch and my voice were equally frenetic.
Prep-time at the barn for my little Quarter Horse Brego must have been pure torture. It wasn’t until my instructor one day said, “Shut up! Just shut up. The rest of this week, you have to be with him without saying a single word. See if you can do it” that I began to understand that body language and touch matter much more to a horse than how you say what you say.
I found I slowed down in everything I did. No longer in a hurry to get on and ride, I’d arrive at the barn even earlier than usual to groom him. We took our sweet time with first a good finger-currying, like a mini-massage, before moving on to brushing. Separating his tangles with my fingers seemed to soothe him. He stood patiently, leaning against me as I combed his tail.
What was the difference? Not only was it that I shut my mouth, but also that I had changed my intention. “Let me tell you what a good boy you are” and “Hurry up and get out the door,” became, “let me show you what a good boy you are” and “let’s spend some time together.” That was the “micro” change. But on a “macro” level, touch between Brego and me became communication. He learned to read intention in my touch as I learned that each touch communicates it.
There are those who believe that a different kid of communication is possible. The folks over at Animal Whispers have this to say:
Animal Communication isn’t about reading body language or making behavioral observations. It’s sending and receiving thoughts, images, and sensations telepathically. It can be equated to “listening between the lines” to create a heart-to-heart connection. The most difficult part of this work is that it requires us to stop our thinking long enough to make the connection and not interpret the results with our “all-knowing” mind.
I can identify with at lest part of that statement. “Listening between the lines,” in my situation, means shutting up and being still long enough to fell what is going on with the horse. To do this, it is necessary to still the mind, eliminate discursive thought, and be open to the sensations and impressions you receive from the horse. I cannot grasp the sending and receiving of thoughts, images and sensations telepathically. I just don’t have the skill.
What he has are his hands, closely allied with his heart, and its listening ears, the mindful state of awareness (without discursive thought or speech), entered into when touching a horse. Which brings me back to my original point:
You don’t have to be Dr. Doolittle to communicate with your horse using your most convenient god-given tools, your bare hands. You don’t have to rely on a professional. Taking advantage of the time and effort you put into communicating with the horse yields trust and increases bonding. All safely from the ground. That’s not to say that I don’t visit Janet Roper, Animal Communicator almost every day to learn what she has to teach. I do. There’s a lot to learn there. It’s fascinating. I like learning from people who have cool skills.
One of the foundation concepts of Tellington TTouch® is the communication between human and animal. More specifically, touching as a means to communicate safety and openness to learning. Whatever it is we wish to teach an animal, the primary focus should be emotional safety. Whether it’s the safety to learn new skills, to be a pet or simply to reveal what hurts. For an example of this concept, one has only to think of the Michael Vick dogs. Once shown that they are safe from harm by humans or other dogs, most actually learn how to be real dogs as opposed to terrified machines bent only on self-defense through violence. Take a look:
The above video shows mostly outdoor action, but there is much unseen touch work. The oft-cited power of touch, can be just as powerful without verbal communication. Feeling is just as emotional, if not more emotional than hearing, which leads us into the emotion of nonverbal communication.
TTouch changes brain waves. Not only are the brain waves of the recipient positively affected, but the brain waves of the person performing the touch are also affected. What do I mean by that? Simple: Touch is communication between neurons.
Not practical, you say? Won’t get me to my goals faster? Oh, yes it will.
I learn so much from communicating with horses this way.
I find sore spots and impending lameness.
I know when there’s something wrong with their teeth.
I know that when they’re having an “off day,” that I can often discover what the problem is.
I understand that mares are not just “witchy.”
I know that not all horses are looking to take advantage of me. Often there’s a reason for bad behavior.
I know that “personality defects” are not permanent character flaws, and that they can be changed with communication and attention. I know that “once a biter,” not forever a biter.
And best of all, I know that horses are not stupid.
Taking a few minutes to communicate affection, gratitude and to give comfort to a horse yields results.
Just go ask your horse.
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