The Equine Touch is a hands-on system of bodywork proven to be beneficial in many ways. Equine Touch can help to release tense muscles, reduce the pain spiral, assist in detoxification and lymphatic drainage by increasing circulation.
Babette Littlemore, an Equine Touch practitioner and instructor chats with us about what Equine Touch is, and how it benefits your horse. We will also find out what to expect if you go into an Equine Touch session, and how it may help your equine partnership.
Q. How did you learn about equine Touch?
I've always been a huge horse lover; I got my first horse when I was 14, and he was nine, a lovely Bay called Sunny, who's still with me now at the age of 32. He had some physical issues that got me interested in learning more about Equine Touch. Originally, I was only thinking of doing it to help him. Then I discovered how addictive it was and how much horses loved it. I went on to train to become a practitioner, and subsequently, to be an instructor.
Q. How do you learn Equine Touch? Is it a continuous program of learning?
There's a mix of refreshing and increasing your Equine Touch knowledge following the initial program. We also look very strongly at the circle of influence, so we are always learning more about anatomy, physiology, saddle fit, dentistry, hoof balance... It's a long list of things that can influence the horse for better or worse.
Q. How does Equine Touch help your horse?
Equine Touch is a bodywork modality, and it works on the soft tissue called fascia which is the connective tissue; it wraps around all the muscles, ligaments, joints, bones and organs in the body. If you have ever looked at a raw chicken breast, it is that thin layer that almost looks like cling film.
The fascia should slide easily across each other in a healthy horse or human, allowing for the full range of movement. However, due to bad posture, injury, wear and tear, minor adhesions and abrasions that can build up, this restricts the body's ability to flow optimally. So, when Equine Touch goes in, it helps the equine body to release some of that constriction, to get it back into a state of balance and harmony. Equine Touch is a modality that looks very much at the whole horse - nose to tail.
Q. What kind of issues can Equine Touch Help?
Many people think of Equine Touch because there is a particular issue with their horse; it could be a sore back after a poorly fitting saddle or rehab after a specific injury. It can help as a ‘reset’ to get the body feeling strong and re-energised. I also think it can be hugely powerful as a maintenance modality. For example, if you do dressage, you're more likely to overload the hindquarters; a showjumper impacts the front limbs. So, even if there's no big issue, Equine Touch sessions help the whole horse cope with minor niggles as they appear, before they become a big problem.
Q. Do people usually discover Equine Touch following an injury?
Many people discover Equine Touch because they've had that horse in their life, who they've struggled to get right. With myself and Sunny, it was very much the case that he had an ongoing sacroiliac sprain, and I'd done the traditional vet and physio route in which I saw a few improvements but nothing long-lasting. So, I got in touch with an excellent Equine Touch practitioner. I watched her work; it was so subtle that I didn't think it would help, and I was surprised by the impact it very obviously had on him the next day. I could see that positive change lasting. Having experienced that and realising I could learn the modality myself, I signed up for my first ET course.
However, I would say all horses can benefit. For instance, say you have a young horse, you might think a young horse shouldn't have issues, but every horse is born with a lack of symmetry just from how it is laying in the womb, or how it holds its legs to reach for the grass. It's also a lovely way of introducing human touch; there's always that emotional aspect and bonding aspect of the modality I love. Also, it can help to allow the body to stand square and more symmetrical, rather than starting to build up all these compensatory patterns that then cause problems later.
Q. As an owner, what should I expect when I book an Equine Touch session?
We always start by taking the full history and looking at what's gone before. An issue that we see today may have come about because of things that have happened in the past. Then we introduce ourselves to the horse. It's essential that the horse realises that we're there to help them, so there's a strong focus on intent and integrity to make sure the environment is calm and there are no distractions. Then we start by feeling all the major muscle groups, to identify if there are any areas that the horse isn't happy for us to be in, we completely respect that very much, working with the horse's body.
Next, we would start with what's called the basic body balance - that's the set sequence of Equine Touch routes that covers all the major muscle groups. This gives us an initial sense of where the horse is at and what areas are reactive. We often look for licking and chewing as a sign of release. Then after that, there's also the area of concern procedure moves. So, depending on what we've discovered, we might then address a particular area and make sure not to overload the body because there's a significant detoxification element.
Q. What are you looking for as you work all over? What areas typically present themselves as needing more focus?
Does any area feel restricted? Are there any big muscle twitches? Are there areas that feel hot or cold to the touch? We pick up all four legs to feel if one leg is weighted more than the other, is there a side to side imbalance and look at diagonal tendencies. For example, you might discover an issue with the left hind, and that's led the right fore to be overloaded as it's trying to take the strain. We're thinking about how the equine body works together.
Q. I'm trying to frame Equine Touch with what I already know, but it's not physio, and it's not equine massage. It's something else?
That's right; it's neither of those things. However, it does work on soft tissue, which massage does too. Equine Touch sends a vibration into the fascia as a way of releasing and getting that lovely flow through the body. Whereas physio is adjustments and moves over the body, and in massage, it's working deeply into the muscle. Equine Touch is a very distinctive three-part move working particularly on this fascial layer.
Q. Would you ever use Equine Touch in conjunction with those other therapies?
It depends on the case. Indeed, it works well with chiropractic, acupressure, and other modalities. If you're doing other soft tissue equine bodywork, I will leave a long enough gap though, not to confuse the body.
Q. How do horse owners find practitioners?
Equine Touch is an international modality, and there are practitioners in England, Scotland, Ireland, and Wales; you can find practitioners on the Equine Touch website. There's also an excellent annual conference where all the practitioners get together.
Q. You mentioned that anyone could learn Equine Touch; what does the training involve?
There are practical hands-on courses; you can do those either if you want to learn the modality to help your own horse or if you want to start on the practitioner route.
First is the foundation level, and if you're doing it for your horse, you can take this home and practise, and perhaps, progress to the intermediate level course.
There's a theory paper and case studies to complete and a practical assessment if you want to be a practitioner. For each level, there's more intensive study. The actual hands-on learning aspect will be the same whether you're on the horse owner route or the practitioner route.
Q. How would you use Equine Touch as a horse owner? Is it something you build into your daily pre or post-ride routine, or would you set dedicated time aside?
You can do a set sequence of gentle moves just across the horse's back which would be nice to do as a standalone before you tack up, to get the blood circulation going or after a strenuous ride. There's an area on the face that is great before or after dentistry. On the whole, you would do this once a week or once every ten days or so.
Q. What is it, do you think, that makes Equine Touch so powerful?
I think it's because it addresses both the physical and the emotional. Horses have an inbuilt wish for their bodies to be working very well. One of the challenges is that they will try their utmost not to show that something's wrong because they are prey animals. The horse that shows weakness gets picked off by the wolves first. So, by the time you see a lameness or soreness, it's probably built up over time, unless it's a sudden injury. The horse will be feeling emotionally vulnerable because it's not quite right in its body. It is helping a horse to feel comfortable in its body, helping it physically and emotionally.
It can be a way of showing a horse, that perhaps has been traumatised in the past, that humans can be a good thing. One of my favourite Equine Touch clients is a beautiful black Friesian mare. I first met her when she was recently out of a riding school and was very locked down in herself – a clear case of learned helplessness. There was a minimal reaction in her body; she just didn't interact with me at all. In the second session, we did a sequence of moves, which she found hugely powerful, and which led to a significant shift in her body. It was like this little light came on behind her eyes. The owners reported it was the first time they ever saw her lie down and roll in the field. The next day, it was the first time that the horse came up to them, rather than them going over to the horse. It was a turning point in that particular partnership with the horse.
Q. As a horse owner, can Equine Touch give you the tools to spot potential issues early?
Yes, and you can spot the improvements as well. If you had some tightness or stiffness, you might notice that now when making moves at the pole or around the wither, everything's just flowing, and the horse is more relaxed. By being aware of your horse, if you spot something that isn't quite normal, you can bring in the right help. For example, you might notice that your horse's reaction when you work around the jaw, and you would get the dentist out. It's keeping this two-way communication up, which is very beneficial.
Q. What else would you like to tell anyone who wants to know more about Equine Touch?
You might be interested to know that there's also a human and dog version. Equine Touch was a modality originally started by Ivana Ruddock-Lange and Jock (John) Ruddock.
It's a very supportive modality, and we have great Facebook groups where you can ask questions; everybody's welcome. You are encouraged to stay connected with the community; you don't just do some training, and then you're left to your own devices. You never stop learning. There are conferences, articles and mentoring to support you.
To learn more about Equine Touch visit their website: www.equinetouchuk.com