If a safe, adventurous ride is what you want — and who doesn't? — one of the most valuable things you can do is to build trust with your horse. Linda Tellington-Jones, creator of TTouch, explains how.
This bond of trust flows both ways. When you build trust with your horse and the horse trusts your leadership, he becomes a willing partner that gives 100 percent.
When you trust your horse, you give him the direction and guidance he needs to feel confident and perform to the best of his ability. When you build trust with your horse, your confidence builds too. Trust becomes an endless circle that builds on itself and becomes stronger over time.
"I once read about Native Americans training their horses at night, because it develops ultimate trust between human and horse," notes Linda-Tellington-Jones, creator of TTouch.
"I trained my great endurance mare, Bint Gulida, at night and we had a connection that was truly deep. She trusted me in every situation, including winning the Jim Shoulders 100 Mile Endurance Ride in 1961 when we finished almost six hours before the second-place finisher.
"There was absolutely no moon during that competition, so we totally trusted each other to find our way to the end of the ride. I think that trust lends a solid base to ultimate performance."
We tend to overlook the fact that confidence in your horse is linked to physical aspects. By using TTouch, you create neural connections that enhance his coordination and body awareness.
You can help your horse reach his highest potential and develop a meaningful bond of trust simply by using the tool of TTouch.
"It's amazing how these gentle TTouch movements can create a connection between horse and human based on trust," says Tellington-Jones. "That trust can literally save your life out on the trail when you're in a challenging, even dangerous, situation.
"And believe me, I've faced a few!" she adds with a laugh.
"TTouch organize the body by rebalancing the cells, leading to the ultimate physical and mental well-being of the horse," Tellington-Jones continues. "When we realize that the cells hold emotions, it just makes sense that TTouching a horse will help connect us to the animal in a trusting way."
Be aware of your own body position when doing TTouch on your horse. Unlock your knees. Stand with your feet slightly apart. Lift your heels so that your weight is centered over the balls. This stance allows you to move quickly, should your horse move abruptly.
Here, we'll give you a TTouch you can do to build trust in your horse. (For more trust-building T Touch, see The Joy of Riding, The Trail Rider, March '12.) Then we'll tell you how your mind-set can affect your horse's outlook and behavior on the trail.
The powerful ability to create change can happen by using the tool of your mind. Obviously, training itself is an essential part of having a trusting, confident trail horse, but you can enhance your horse's physical and mental abilities by taking charge of your thoughts.
"One of the most important aspects of training is paying attention to the pictures you make in your mind," says Tellington-Jones.
The mental images you create have a powerful influence on your horse's actions. If you're
uncertain or apprehensive, your horse senses this immediately. Likewise, if you visualize your horse proceeding smoothly along the trail or negotiating an obstacle calmly and successfully, he picks up on those mental pictures.
"Years ago I campaigned a marvelous Hungarian stallion named Hungarian Brado for Countess Margit Bessenyey," recalls Tellington-Jones. "He was a 6-year-old when I got him from Virginia. He was an incredible athlete and had been considered for the U.S. Jumping Team, but he simply would not jump ditches; he wouldn't even go near them.
"Three weeks after he arrived for training, I was scheduled to compete in a three-day event at Pebble Beach, California — and Pebble Beach has lots of ditches!
"I took Brado out onto the cross-country course a few days before the competition, riding areas that weren't part of the competitive course. We were walking along and about 70 feet from a ditch, Brado stopped dead in his tracks.
"When you're riding a stallion and they stop like that, they make themselves as solid and stiff as a brick wall. I knew that this horse had been ridden by a number of really good riders who could not get him over a ditch. In spite of much effort no rider had been successful.
"I used a very different approach. The moment Brado stopped dead, instead of attempting to urge him forward, I sat absolutely still and quieted my mind completely. I held a clear mental picture of Brado moving forward. In my mind, I gave him no option to go left, no option to go right, no option to go backward.
"I sat there in the saddle, fixing my sight beyond the ditch, holding the possibility of Brado making the choice to change his mind and walk forward and jump the ditch. I must have sat there for a full five minutes. But I wasn't sitting passively; I was sitting ‘actively still' and holding that possibility and vision.
"Then without any prompting from me, Brado lowered his head, walked forward, and jumped over the three-foot ditch on his own. I didn't urge him. I just sat there. And I never had him stop at a ditch again. I campaigned that stallion for five years, including earning a Tevis buckle on him.
"What I did intuitively back then was hold a ‘clear intention.' This concept is now researched extensively. I simply held a mental image of the possibility of something I wanted to happen without a doubt.
"When I was sitting on Brado, I visualized my head as clear as an empty gourd, with the exception of holding this one possibility of him moving forward. There were boundaries left, right and back; the only open space was forward.
"I've used this method for years, but it takes practice. You can't think ‘what if' thoughts or picture negative images. Horses tune into our ‘mental pictures,' regardless of what they are.
"Choosing a positive image of what you want takes practice, but can reap miraculous benefits to help you create the perfect, safe companion on the trail."
Linda Tellington-Jones (www.ttouch.com) is internationally renowned for creating the Tellington Method a holistic system of training horses that deepens mutual trust, overrides common resistances, and strengthens the horse-human bond. Her riding style incorporates a sense of athletics, freedom, cooperation, and joy.
Tellington-Jones has completed six 100-mile Western States Trail Foundation Tevis Cup endurance rides and held a world record in endurance riding by winning the Jim Shoulders 100. She's been a member of the veterinary team for the United States Endurance Team, and a judge and competitor in North American Trail Ride Conference events.