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Dressage with Mind Body & Soul, by Linda Tellington-Jones with Rebecca Didier


2014/02/02


Book Review by Nancy Brannon, Ph.D.

While Tellington-Jones’ book is explicitly oriented toward dressage, her insight into communication with and understanding how the horse responds is essential to any equestrian discipline. Even the simplest human cues, “how your attitude affects performance,” (p.79) produce effects in the horse that we may not even realize.

The book is divided into two parts. Part One is a summary of Tellington-Jones’ theories about learning and teaching dressage, plus a general description of the Tellington Method and how it works. In Part Two she provides practical steps about how to incorporate the Tellington Method in everyday interaction with your horse. Chapter 9 addresses a number of “common issues,” like anxiety, nervousness, high-headedness, strung out, hollow-backed, trailering issues, and provides examples and methods for solving them. Her methods, like TTouches, Ground Exercises, and Ridden Work, are described and utilized to solve problems with some of the top riders and horses in the world. Throughout the book, photographs of Ingrid Klimke, daughter of renowned rider Reiner Klimke, provide perfect illustrations of these techniques.

The book begins with a brief history of Linda’s involvement with dressage, and the premise of her book: she intends to teach the reader a new way to learn and teach, and thus increase ability to use that knowledge in training the horse. Her method is meant to give the horse as much enjoyment as it gives the rider; to involve both left and right brain in developing skills. Ultimately, she intends to meld proven techniques and methods, the “science” with the spiritual – the “feel” and belief in something greater existing between the rider and horse. “Dressage employs both logic and feeling, left brain, and right brain…” she writes.

“Feel” involves both physical sensations and emotions, both inextricably linked. The correct mechanics of riding are integral, yet “without feel, mechanics are just a series of movements and gestures, the horse a puppet and the rider a puppeteer,” she explains. “Feel is closely related to the other necessary element for truly syncopated dressage, and that is what I call heART.” The term “heART” comes from Cecelia Wendler’s book TTouch for Healthcare, and Telllington-Jones uses it here “to remind you that the art of dressage is an aesthetic representation of your relationship with yourself and with your horse.” She continues: “Riding with ‘heART’ is the idea that art – self expression illustrated in an interesting or beautiful way, and inspiring a physical, intellectual, or emotional response from both you and your horse – is meant to provide a device to help you ‘become one’ with your horse.”

The spiritual aspects of riding, often forgotten today, include: Thanksgiving: the horse deserves thanks when he performs well, when the horse does as the rider bids, controlling his innate impulses to fight, flee, or freeze. Tolerance and forgiveness: the rider learns to tolerate his own and his horse’s learning curves, forgive mistakes, and look forward to the next – improved – attempt. Compassion: it is not difficult to make the horse suffer and to coerce him into submission with bits and devices that torment him. But the rider needs to feel for the horse, to tune in to the horse to know when he is afraid or hurting. Understanding: constantly remind yourself that your horse is not only dependent on you for food, water, and shelter, but also for direction and clear means of communication. Also understand yourself, and in many instances horses provide the means to knowing yourself better.

Next, Tellington-Jones adopts the rider-trainer-animal behaviorist tone and goes into detail about her method and how it works. “With a change in the way you think about your horse” and a specified time of specialized work each day, “you can improve your horse’s attitude, performance, and way of going in degrees that no amount of repetitive longeing and lateral work or whip and spur can match.” The Tellington Method engages both the left and right brain of the rider and horse, resulting in an “awakened” state, wherein both are better prepared to learn and perform.

Here she explains the specialty functions of each hemisphere of the brain and how the optimal learning experience involves both hemispheres. The “awakened mind” can actually be measured by the electrical frequencies of brainwaves: beta, alpha, theta, and delta. Beta waves indicate the normal thinking state. Alpha waves indicate detached awareness, visualization, sensory imagery. Theta waves indicate the subconscious mind. Delta waves indicate the unconscious mind, sleep state.

In her research on the Awakened Mind, Anna Wise found that brainwave patterns during moments of high performance and creativity were the same as those found in experienced meditators’ Awakened Mind state. In her book The High Performance Mind (1997), Wise explains the Awakened Mind as that “Ah-ha” moment, an exhilarated state in which you have a sense of understanding on all levels. Wise’s conclusions are that the “high performance mind” is the optimum trainable state.

All this leads Tellington-Jones to conclude: “Practicing TTouch on your horse allows you to function in an Awakened Mind state, and prepares you to ride free from stress, with confidence, and in connection with your horse.”

TTouchis not just a form of equine massage. It is applied in a way that does not cause the horse to resist or react in pain. The goal is to develop trust in the horse. TTouch, rather than simply addressing the musculoskeletal system, communicates with the body at the cellular level, supporting the healing potential of the body.

One of the most important contributions Tellington-Jones makes in this book is adding a “new foundation” to the modern training scale/ pyramid. The traditional scale begins with rhythm and moves upward to suppleness, contact, impulsion, straightness, and ultimately collection. She makes a major addition at the pyramid’s base: Balance. She explains that her concept of balance goes beyond “simply physical stability and equal weight distribution; I am talking about equipoise (a state of equilibrium) between interacting elements within both horse and rider. And I’m talking about mental and emotional steadiness. When I say Balance, I mean mental, physical, and emotional well-being.” In the relationship between horse and rider, you can’t get more complete than that.

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