You love to get away from it all. Trekking into the backcountry on a good horse is one of the most satisfying ways to spend time with like-minded friends.
While being away from the hustle and bustle of your everyday life is heavenly, you can’t escape the fact that when you’re miles down the trail, you’re also far from veterinary help. In the event of an equine emergency, will you know how to respond?
Linda Tellington-Jones is perhaps best known for her revolutionary Tellington Method, which uses bodywork known as TTouch (pronounced “tee-touch”) to influence the horse’s behavior, performance, and ability to learn.
“I see TTouch as jump-starting the communication network between the cells so the healing potential of the body is reactivated,” Tellington-Jones explains.
Tellington-Jones is also an avid trail rider. With six Tevis Cup completions and years of competitive trail rides under her belt, she’s familiar with the kind of emergencies that can crop up miles from home.
Here, Tellington-Jones explains how TTouch can literally be lifesaving on a trail ride when you and your horse are far from veterinary assistance.
First, we’ll describe four common emergency scenarios — colic, tying up syndrome, exhaustion/fatigue, and shock — and give you recommended touches for each one. Then we’ll describe how to perform each touch, in detail (page 46). Along the way, we’ll tell you why it’s important for you to know your horse’s normal vital signs (page 44).
Important note: If your horse suffers from a serious condition, call your veterinarian immediately, or as soon as you have a phone connection. Bring an equine first-aid kit on every ride, and know first-aid basics. The following suggestions are presented as supplementary and temporary measures only.
Trail Emergency #1: Colic
About colic: Colic, a digestive disorder, is the No. 1 killer of horses. “One of the most common problems on the trail is colic,” notes Tellington-Jones. “It happens so often for one reason or another and seems to happen more when people are camping out.
Typically, the first sign of colic is when a horse loses interest in eating or totally goes off his feed, accompanied by a lack of or diminished gut sounds. The more obvious symptoms of kicking or biting at his sides, sweating, rolling, and pawing usually come later.
Regularly check your horse’s feed intake when you’re camping out or traveling. Catching a colic episode in the early stage will allow you to treat him immediately, often with faster and better results than if the colic has reached more advanced stages.
Recommended TTouches: Ear TTouches and Belly Lifts are the recommended TTouch treatment for colic. If you’re dealing with gas colic, you may also want to use TTouch on the acupressure gas point under the root of the tail. (See sidebar on page 46 for step-by-step instructions on TTouches.)
Ear work helps reduce pain and shock, supports the immune system, and helps regulate temperature, as well as pulse and respiration rates, says Tellington-Jones. These sliding and circular touches also calm and soothe an anxious or fearful horse.
Belly lifts help relieve spasms and ease the tension of cramped abdominal muscles, while stimulating normal gut action. Belly lifts activate the peristaltic action (the gut’s wavelike muscle contractions that move feed through the digestive system) to relieve pain.
“With the ear TTouches and the slow belly lifts, you’ll often start to see the horse getting some relief and becoming more comfortable within 20 to 30 minutes in the case of a mild colic,” Tellington-Jones notes. “If the horse is still showing signs of pain, I continue doing ear work and belly lifts while waiting for veterinary help. We’ve found this to be more helpful than just walking the horse.”
Note: As you perform the TTouches, check on your horse’s progress by taking his vital signs, then comparing them to the norm. (For more on vital signs, see “Know What’s Normal” on page 44.) Gut sounds are particularly important, as they indicate digestive movement, which can resolve a colic episode.
“My experience has been that if the horse isn’t okay and recovering within an hour, it’s important that you get your vet,” notes Tellington-Jones. “We have hundreds of cases where TTouch has worked, but if you don’t get satisfactory results with the horse’s pulse and respiration returned to normal, this is a sign of continued pain and stress. You need to get to a vet.”
Trail Emergency #2: Tying-Up Syndrome
About tying-up syndrome: Tying-up syndrome (technically known as azoturia, exertional rhabdomyolysis, or myositis) can occur when a horse isn’t adequately conditioned for exertion. Causes are physical overexertion, dehydration, emotional stress, a diet high in grain, a lack of exercise, or a combination of these factors.
Signs include knotted muscles, profuse sweating, and a reluctance to move. Your horse may stop suddenly because his hindquarter and loin muscles are so tight he simply can’t continue. (You can actually feel the heat radiating off these “tied-up’’ muscles, which are extremely tight and hard when palpated.) This can be terrifying, especially if you’re far from your trailer.
Recommended TTouches: “If your horse starts acting abnormally and can’t move, ear work is very valuable,” says Tellington-Jones. “Make a circle at the base of the ear, and stroke firmly to the tip. Do one ear at a time, and alternate ears. If your horse is in extreme pain, be very careful. You can get hurt, because he won’t be thinking about anything but the pain.”
Belly Lifts are also recommended, because when your horse’s loins become tight, his abdominal muscles will also tighten up.
Trail Emergency #3: Exhaustion/Muscle Fatigue
About exhaustion/muscle fatigue: Exhaustion and muscle fatigue may occur if your horse isn’t properly conditioned to exertion. They’re signs that you’ve asked too much of him on your ride. Signs are a temporary loss of strength and energy. The horse might also be sweaty and dehydrated.
“Trembling, combined with elevated respiration and pulse, is a sign of muscle fatigue and exhaustion,” says Tellington-Jones. “Make sure your horse is properly conditioned, and watch the weather. Humidity can really increase the stress on a horse, especially if he’s not in condition. Heat combined with humidity can be a double whammy.”
If you see these signs in your horse, immediately dismount, remove the saddle, find shade, and offer him water. (Carry a collapsible bucket on your saddle so you’ll be able to transport water from a nearby stream or lake.)
Recommended TTouches: After your horse drinks, start performing Ear TTouches and gentle Tail Pulls. Tail pulls relax his neck and back, activate the cranial-sacral fluid that runs through his spine, and help release tight muscles in his hindquarters. The Coiled Python Lift can also help, as it reduces muscle tension and spasms in the back.
Trail Emergency #4: Shock
About shock: If your horse becomes injured on the trail, shock is often not far behind. Shock is a serious and sometimes fatal condition. A horse’s circulatory system shuts down, depriving his body of oxygen. This can lead to organ failure, and ultimately, death. Signs include rapid breathing, shaking, a weak pulse, pale membranes, and cold limbs/ears.
Shock can occur if your horse slips and falls off the trail, sustains a fracture, becomes seriously chilled, or suffers from a colic episode. Your injured horse can also lose enough blood to induce shock. (Obviously, if your horse is bleeding, your first priority is to stop the blood flow.)
Recommended TTouches: Start Ear TTouches, as this can prevent shock, or help bring your horse out of shock. Work both ears at the same time, then alternate, using firm strokes. This will help promote normal system function and reduce pain, as well as bring the pulse and respiration to normal rates.
“If your horse has a lowered body temperature (his ear tips will be ice cold), work his ears vigorously,” advises Tellington-Jones. “Wrap a towel around his ears and poll to warm his head as you stroke his ears under it, or wrap a blanket around his neck. This will warm his jugular veins to help warm up his body more quickly.”
If possible, keep your horse’s body warm with blankets or towels. Stuff dry hay between your horse and the blanket to help warm him.
If your horse is down and can’t get up, send for assistance, and continue working on his ears until help arrives, while remaining calm. “You want your actions to be soothing and supporting, and not add to the distress,” says Tellington-Jones.
Know What’s Normal
Linda Tellington-Jones emphasizes the importance of knowing your horse’s normal vital signs — gut sounds, pulse, respiration, and temperature.
“Take the time to get to know your horse, and really pay attention to his appetite, his energy level, and learn what’s normal for him,” she advises. “Be well-acquainted with your horse at home, at rest, and under different circumstances so you know what’s normal before you head off on a long trail ride or go camping overnight.”
Normal pulse for horses is 36 to 40 beats per minute; normal respiration, 8 to 16 breaths per minute; and normal temperature, 99 to 101.5 degrees Fahrenheit.
However, you need to take your horse’s vital signs regularly so you know what’s normal for him. (To learn how to monitor vital signs, visit www.myhorse.com, and enter “vital signs” into the search engine.) If you don’t have a baseline, it may take you longer to realize he’s in pain or stress.
For example, pulse doesn’t always increase in the early stages of colic. If your horse’s pulse is elevated, this usually means he’s been in pain for at least a little while.
Different situations will directly affect your horse. For example, his normal respiration at home at rest might be 10 breaths per minute, but it wouldn’t be at all unusual for that to rise into the low 20s when he’s away from home riding with a group of strange horses, even when he isn’t exerting himself.
“Be aware that a 28-breath-per-minute respiration is normal if your horse is camping or with a group of horses,” says Tellington-Jones. “I’ve discovered many horses in the first stages of colic with a 40 respiration at rest. That’s my warning sign when they stop eating.”
How to Perform TTouches
Here’s how to perform the TTouches mentioned in the article. Note that for Belly Lifts, you’ll need a large towel, so keep one in your saddlebag, just in case.
• Ear TTouch. Slide your hand from the middle of your horse’s poll over the base of his ear to the very tip. As you slide your hand off his ear, emphasize contact with the tip between your thumb and fingers. If your horse allows, fold the ear together.
• Belly Lifts. Fold a large towel lengthwise so it’s about six to eight inches wide. If there are two people, you can also use a girth or surcingle. If none of these is available, two people can lock hands under your horse’s belly.
Two-person lifts: With one person on each side of the horse, hold the towel/girth/your arms under your horse. Start just behind his front legs. Hold the towel steady, and slowly lift until you can’t lift any more. Hold about 10 seconds, then slowly release the pressure. It’s important to release slowly — ideally, the release should be twice as long as the lift.
Move the towel four to six inches toward your horse’s hindquarters, and repeat. Continue the Belly Lifts until you’re as close to the flank as your horse will allow. Repeat the lifting cycle three or four times, starting behind his elbow each time.
In cases of extreme abdominal pain, keep the lifts and holds shorter. If your horse can’t accept the lifts, leave out the holding period at the top of the lift. Counting out loud seems to relieve many horses. For example, say “Lift, 1, 2, 3, 4. Release, 1, 2, 3, 4.”
One-person lift: Drop the folded towel over your horse’s back, and catch it under his belly. Hold one end a few inches below his spine on your side. The other end of the towel should come up from under his belly. Proceed with lifts as described above, holding steady with one hand and lifting with the other.
• Tail TTouch. Make deliberate press-and-release circles, moving in one-eighth-inch increments on the acupressure gas point just above the anus and under the root of the tail.
• Tail Pull. Taking care to be safe, stand slightly to the side of your horse's hindquarters. Stand sideways, with one foot in front of the other. Hold his raised tailbone firmly in both hands. Shift your weight from your leading foot to your back foot, while applying a steady pull without bending your elbows. Hold for a few seconds, then slowly shift your weight back to your front foot to release the pull. Repeat two or three times.
• Coiled Python Lift. Begin at the top of your horse’s leg. (For exhaustion/muscle fatigue, work on the inside of his thighs.) Using the flat of your hand, lightly move the skin in a circle with one hand, then lift the skin upward with both hands. Hold for four seconds, supporting the skin as it goes back down. As you make circles on his thigh, give a slight lift to the muscles.
Note: Descriptions of TTouches are taken from Linda Tellington-Jones’ book, The Ultimate Horse Behavior and Training Book by Linda Tellington-Jones (Trafalgar Square Publishing; to order, visit www.ttouch.com).
About Linda Tellington-Jones
Linda Tellington-Jones’ vast equestrian background covers seven decades. As a child, she rode her horse to school in rural Canada. By the age of 11, she was competing in nine-day horse shows in Calgary and Edmonton, Alberta. By age 13, she was teaching riding lessons at Briercrest Stables in Edmonton.
This dedicated horsewoman would go on to compete extensively in combined training, hunter/jumper, and dressage events. She also completed six of seven Western States Trails Foundation 100-Miles-in-One-Day Trail Rides (known as the Tevis Cup).
In the 1950s and 1960s, Tellington-Jones was a United States Pony Club instructor and an American Horse Show Association judge, as well as a judge and competitor in the North American Trail Ride conference events.
In 1961, Tellington-Jones won the Jim Shoulders 100-Mile Endurance Ride in Oklahoma, an astonishing six hours and 30 minutes ahead of the second place rider. Her Arabian mare, Bint Gulida, received the Best Condition award in the event. That same year, she rode the mare to a Tevis top-10 completion, something unheard of in that era.
A founding member of the California Dressage Society, she also owned and operated the Pacific Coast School of Horsemanship and Research Farm with then-husband Wentworth Tellington, a former Cavalry officer. She’s been an official member of the veterinary team for the U.S. Endurance Team in several world-championship competitions.
Today, Tellington-Jones may be best known for creating the Tellington Method. She describes this method as “a holistic system of training horses that deepens mutual trust, overrides common resistances, and strengthens the horse-human bond.”
Tellington-Jones continues to teach, write, and work with horses around the world, including a number of Olympic horses and riders. When not on the road presenting clinics and demonstrations, she and her husband, Roland Kleger, reside on the Big Island of Hawaii. (For more information and clinic dates, visit www.ttouch.com.)
Cynthia McFarland is a full-time freelance writer who writes regularly for a number of national equine publications and is the author of six books. The Florida horsewoman enjoys trail riding on her Paint Horse, Ben.