So many times in my training in natural horsemanship, I heard emphasis on gaining respect. 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.
The stock answer to “why?” was that each individual has to develop a relationship with the horse that engenders respect. 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.
On Saturday at the Ride With Pride Clinic, 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).
After demonstrating one of the most effective T.T.E.A.M leading positions and allowing trainees to try it out on the horses, the 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.
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. 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.
How is this accomplished? TTouch is used in conjunction with ground exercises to train the horse’s mind. I’ve written 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 natural horsemanship my problem right away!
In the context of a therapeutic riding program, it is important for the horses to respond similarly to the same cues from many different handlers 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.
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.