DESERT HORSE EQUESTRIAN SERVICES
Invite Your Horse Into Self-Carriage
The TTEAM Bodywrap

 

When my 25-year-old gelding got some deep scrapes on his back playing a bit too exuberantly with his turnout buddies, I had to take a couple of weeks off riding him to let them heal. But he's an old guy with a long back, and it takes consistent work to keep his back up and his joints limber so he stays sound and supple for his student riders.

   
 

Here's my gelding longeing at liberty and cheating at the trot, hollowing his back, bracing his neck and generally avoiding anything that resembles self-carriage. I add the simple figure-eight bodywrap, created with two fleece polo wraps, and see how he chooses to lift his center of balance, drop and telescope his neck and step through much better.

When I ride him, I concentrate on lifting his back and asking him to step under and push. To continue this, I needed to be able to entice him into some version of self-carriage while riding wasn't an option. Longing, on the line and at liberty, promotes circulation and gets the joints moving, but he is pretty adept at managing to keep from really lifting his back and carrying himself. I didn't want to have to resort to one of the restrictive training aids that many people incorporate into their longeing work.

   
     
   
 

This horse's postural habit under saddle is head high/hollow-backed. She dumps onto her forehand and disengages behind. At liberty in the bodywrap, however, she chooses to lift her back, drop her head and step through.

 

In my experience, most of these gadgets actually impede the engagement of the muscles needed for self-carriage and instead strengthen the opposing muscle groups. That puts the horse in a bad position -- literally and figuratively. If he complies with what the hardware actually requires of his body, he's doing the opposite the handler is asking for. To appear to comply, he has to figure out what body position will earn him respite from the impossible biomechanics. If he resists it, he probably buys himself more time wearing it until eventually his muscles reach fatigue and he just gives in. That can look like compliance, but functionally it's not near the same.

The last thing I want to do when I'm working with a horse is to incite him to revisit any posture and movement habits that lead to a braced topline, shortened strides, heaviness on the forehand -- the common balance problems that impede performance and eventually cause unsoundness. That's why I like the bodywrap, created by Linda Tellington-Jones, for the type of work my gelding needed while he was unrideable.

Most horses have had no prior experience with this simple device, so they have no associated evasions or habits. And because the bodywrap in no way restricts the horse, especially in the balance-critical movement of the head and neck, there's absolutely nothing against which to strain, brace or lean. All the bodywrap really does is to bring awareness to specific body parts so the horse can make a decision about how to engage those areas.

In the basic figure-eight arrangement, the bodywrap focuses attention at the base of the neck and the hindquarter, asking whether the horse would like to do something with his body just where we want him to lift and to engage. Add a section at the girth area, and the suggestion to lift at the base of the neck includes a request for more engagement of the abdominal muscles to lift the back.

   
 

This horse cantering on the left lead at liberty makes several small adjustments to his posture when the bodywrap is put on. See how he strides slightly farther under his body with the left hind. And the slightly lower head tells us his back is lifting just a bit more and his topline has gotten somewhat longer.

As he experiments with the answers to these questions, the soft, elastic wraps mean there is nothing to get in his way -- no restriction, no tightening, no punishment. He is completely free to move his body any way that occurs to him. And what is he likely to choose? The posture that makes him feel comfortable, that allows his body to find balance and stability easily.

See this in motion, as my gelding lifts his head (but not his back) in the walk/trot transition without the bodywrap, but moves more correctly with some soft pursuasion. You'll see essentially the same thing at the canter. He's pretty committed to bracing on the forehand in the transition and throughout the canter work when he's left to his own devices. In the bodywrap, you see his head position changing as he goes, dropping down and telescoping out enough that you can tell he's thinking about engaging himself a bit more in the trot, the canter and the transition between.    (You'll need Windows Media Player to watch the video clips. Get it for Internet Explorer or Mozilla Firefox)

If you're going to try the TTEAM bodywrap on your horse, first be sure he is comforable being touched all over his body, including under his tail and on his back legs. If not, you have some desensitization to do. When you put the first polo wrap on around the neck, be sure to use a knot that won't slip and get tighter as the horse works. Experiment with different adjustments of this loop -- you can tie it so it rides at the front of the withers, the base of the withers, or anywhere in between. Likewise, experiment with the tension of the second wrap (or pair of wraps if your horse is large or long-bodied). A snug fit just where the butt ties into the hind legs has a different effect than a looser loop that floats along at the top of the hocks. Just be careful that the horse can't get a foot caught in the larger loop. In case I need a quick release, I use the hook-and-loop fasteners when possible and tie slipknots for the rest of my connections.

For more information, you can't go wrong with the original source. Here's a link to an article about the bodywrap written by its inventor. I didn't find many other illustrated sources online, but here are a couple of articles:

The Power of Balance
Body Wraps for Horses

There seems to be a lot more information about about use of the bodywrap for dogs. These contain information that could also apply to other species:

Body Wraps: From a Sensory Perspective
The Tellington TTOUCH Body Wrap for Dogs
How to apply the TTouch Body Wrap

And this article gives both a good explanation of WHY the bodywrap works, but it illustrates a whole bunch of variations in how to use it for dogs and other animals.

I also incorporated the bodywrap into the rehab work of Doc, a 20-year-old gelding whose postural habits caused him some serious soundness problems. You'll be able to see more photos and video of this interesting tool at work.  Stacey Kollman

© 2009 Desert Horse Services/Stacey Kollman



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