Touch exercises are enormously important in handling and training horses but unfortunately, most of the time they are not done often enough. Their value is often underestimated. In Horsefulness Training touch is an important part and a lot of time is spent on it.
Goal of touch exercises
– The horse learns to trust when touching sensitive body parts.
– The horse learns to handle “scary” objects around/on his body (touching with foreign objects).
– Preparation for daily care like cleaning and scratching out hoofs.
– Preparation for touching and treatment by vet and dentist.
– Preparation to start a horse.
– To give the horse a greater body awareness.
– Bonding: because horses are social animals and they use touch to show affection. As humans we can also touch a horse for that reason. When a horse can enjoy these touches from his human friend a bond can be created.
– To let the horse enjoy
– To calm the horse: when you regularly stroke or groom a horse you teach the horse to recognise these moments as rest time and after a while the horse will calm when you do this.
There are 2 basic touch exercises, viz. stroking and grooming
With this you stroke the horse over his whole body with both hands. A lot of attention is given to the sensitive body parts like the inguinal, the tummy, the sheath, the nipples, the ears, the mouth, the eyes, the tail, and under the tail. You can also stroke the horse with a small whip, a stick, a little bag, a piece of cloth.
This way the horse gains confidence in these objects and learns to deal with noises etc. on his body, like a rustling plastic bag. This way you can let a horse that is scared by the whip (because it once has been hit with it) also regain confidence in the whip by doing touching exercises with it. The horse experiences that a whip isn’t something to be afraid of but that it is just an extension of your arm which can be trusted (again).
Stroking can also be done to calm the horse. Especially when you stroke the legs with your hands from top to bottom, this gives a grounding effect which makes the horse calmer. This doesn’t always happen during the first couple of sessions. It could be necessary to repeat it a couple of times before the horse experiences a calming and grounded feeling with it.
With this you scratch and rub places the horse visibly enjoys. Most of the time this is around the withers and in the manes. With many horses this is also around the tail set, on the shoulders, and on the loins. Horses groom each other to show affection and to care. Horses most often groom with their pair-bond (= their best friend to whom they are most attached to).
It has been proven that mutual grooming lowers the heart rate, it therefore works calming. Grooming your horse has the main goal to show your friendship for the horse and to build a bond. But in some cases it can also be used as reward, or to calm your horse.
Other touch exercises
These are all forms of massage, like relaxation massage, shiatsu, ttouch, intuitive touch/massage…
When you would like to do these forms of touching, make sure your horse accepts stroking. This means that the horse isn’t scared of your touch all over his body and stays still, calm and relaxed, even when you stroke sensitive body parts.
Touch exercises can also be subdivided in
– body work: all possible touches on the body of the horse (bow, flanks, withers, tummy, back).
– tail work: all possible touches at the tail (around the tail set, the tail itself)
– leg work: all possible touches to the legs (from the top all the way down to the hoof)
– head work: all possible touches at the height of the head (neck, ears, eyes, jaws, nose, mouth)
Inner peace with horse and human
It is important that during the touching exercises you
– stay well grounded
– breath calmly through your tummy
– relax your body (so your knees aren’t locked, your shoulders hang down loosely)
– work with good intention
– don’t rush things
– stay in good contact with your hands and “feel” instead of “palpation”
– Have inner peace
Horses are very sensitive animals. How you feel, how you touch, and with what intention makes a huge difference. This is noticeable when 2 persons do the same touch exercise with a horse but where the horse becomes tense with one person and doesn’t want to stand still and even becomes a bit defensive, but when the other person takes over the horse quickly calms down, does stands still and starts to enjoy the touching.
Touching exercises are therefore also a good way to become more aware of yourself and to learn how you can be/stay calm inwardly.