Study: T-Touch 'Positively Accepted' by Saddle Horses

Most everyone—even our horses—loves a good massage, right? But results from a new study by Italian researchers suggest that horses might like the Tellington method—termed “T-Touch”—even more.

Riding horses undergoing a T-Touch session had improved neck relaxation and fewer aggressive reactions (such as kicking) than riding horses experiencing general massaging or rest, and tended to “autogroom” (meaning that they tried to groom themselves)—all signs of a content horse. According to Barbara Padalino, PhD, researcher at the University of Bari Aldo Moro Veterinary School, in Bari, Italy, this content state of mind could improve equine welfare as well as the horse-human relationship. Padalino presented her findings at the 9th Conference of the International Society for Equitation Science, held July 17-19 at the University of Delaware, in Newark.

“In general our results showed that T-Touch was positively accepted by saddle horses without eliciting any aggressive behavioral responses,” said Padalino.

T-Touch, originally developed by Linda Tellington-Jones, PhD (Hon), is a particular method of applying pressure to animals’ muscles and skin with the fingers, nails, or hand in a counterclockwise, expanding circular motion. Padalino said the T-Touch is theoretically based on “cellular activation,” according to Tellington-Jones.

“It may work on the different organ senses present in the dermis, and that could induce pleasure, as tested already in mice while stroking their fur,” she added. However, science has yet to explain what makes the T-Touch effective on animals, and the technique has not previously been scientifically tested in riding horses despite its 40-year history, she added.

In their study, Padalino and her colleagues, Marcello Siniscalchi, PhD, and Angelo Quaranta, PhD, tested 20 saddle horses in three different situations. Each horse underwent a T-Touch session by a skilled T-Touch instructor, a massage session by a riding instructor, and a rest session of 20 minutes. All of the horses were halter-tied during the experimental sessions in approximately the same area: in front of their stalls where they were usually saddled.

The researchers observed the horses during the sessions to complete an ethogram—a behavior chart—noting the occurrence of positive behaviors (autogrooming, deep breathing, neck relaxation, lower lip relaxation), negative behaviors (kicking, biting), and other typical equine behaviors (pawing, movements, head rising, head tossing, licking).

They determined that horses receiving the T-Touch treatment had the highest levels of autogrooming and neck and lower lip relaxation, Padalino said. The horses in the T-Touch group even tried to groom their handlers. Had they not been tied up, their actions might have been even more significant, she noted.

Horses in the massage group showed the most kicking and the least deep breathing of all three groups. Horses reacted most aggressively to being massaged in the abdominal area and the legs, Padalino said, and also tended to move more, both backwards and side-to-side, than during T-Touch sessions.

Meanwhile, pawing (probably from boredom, Padalino added) occurred most in the resting group.

“Further studies are needed to more deeply understand the effects of T-Touch on endocrinal and physiological parameters,” Padalino said.

Disclaimer: Seek the advice of a qualified veterinarian before proceeding with any diagnosis, treatment, or therapy.

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