by Tom Beckett, DVM
Publish Date: 2001-05-18
Upon encountering TT.E.A.M. I knew only that the acronym stood for “Tellington Touch Equine Awareness Method”. I knew something of Linda Tellington-Jones’ Pacific Coast Equestrian Research Farm of years past and also had her book which was a standard text on endurance and competitive trail riding. Watching horses being TTEAMed, I saw only a myriad of strange, fussy, insignificant looking activities. I did not relate too well to the explanations offered. Then I noticed I was extremely drowsy and slightly hungry. (The stuff increases even watchers’ body awareness!) Thankfully I persisted past this typical beginning.
Having worked with horses all my life my mind was only semi open at best but I have managed to expand it enough to see the value and understand some of the concepts of TTEAM. For me, it has become a part of what we veterinarians call our “therapeutic armamentarium” and colors just about my every approach to animals. Even though I use TTEAM I still know less about it than I do know about it. Nonetheless, I will now endeavor to explain a little of what TTEAM and TTouch are about as I understand them. This is done with the hope someone may more quickly get to the basis behind all the activities and explanations or at least be encouraged to hang in there long enough to give TTEAM a chance.
First, TTEAM starts with the premise that failure of human animal interaction is caused by such factors as lack of understanding, fear or pain, with the activation of habitual or instinctive responses. Then it uses techniques to gently break through the automatic reaction patterns these factors usually evoke. The first technique is body work, a collection of specific “touches” Linda had developed. These are collectively called the TTouch. These are not massage, acupressure, nor invasive. Included in body work are various gentle manipulation of body parts. The second technique is ground work which involves guiding the animal through movement exercises in non habitual ways. A third technique for horses is “riding with awareness” which carry the work through under saddle. Linda’s experience and creativity have led to modifications and applications appropriate to many species and countless situations.
The techniques used are designed to create a calm, attentive, focused state of consciousness. Then through touch, manipulation and guiding the animal through non habitual activities they bring feelings, habitual responses and bodily states of awareness. In this state the animal can use its mental and physical resources to reorganize its “programming” and develop more appropriate patterns and responses. By feedback through the “mind body loop” the animal’s general physiology moves towards a healthier state. Further, because it has dealt successfully with new challenges in a thinking way it seems to have “learned to learn” and tends to meet future strange situations with thinking rather than with automatic instinctive reactions.
Linda Tellington-Jones (R) applying TTouches during a class demonstration. The Tellington Touch Equine Awareness Method, or TTEAM, is quickly learned and can be used by novices to get remarkable results in a short time.
If you think the foregoing sounds as if I am explaining something I do not understand, you are more than a little right. If, like me, you are a conservative horseman and scientifically trained citizen of the 20th century, you may be skeptical. I was, and blasphemously so. As my exposure to TTEAM increased, several surprising but inescapable observations evolved.
- It works. Linda and other TTEAM Trainers can make dramatic changes in an animal’s attitude and behavior in a remarkably short time. Dramatic changes also in its way of moving and in pathophysiological processes. I have heard an overfast heartbeat slow dramatically during 10-15 seconds while I am trying to ascertain the heart rate.
- The effects are lasting. The animals develop new capacities which they tend to utilize subsequently.
- It can be taught. After very brief instruction, others can begin to achieve results.
- Doing TTEAM affects the doer. Working the TTouch and TEAM elicit changes in the person analogous to those in the animal. The person becomes more aware, focused and clear in his dealing with the animal. Interaction starts from a place of acceptance and respect for the integrity for the specieshood and individuality of the animal. The sick extremes of bonding — either humanization and brutalization — are avoided.
- Changes in the doer carry over. Relating to animals with the TTEAM approach seems to instill a tendency to relate to self, other people and life situations in a confident aware manner with more emphasis on working through with acceptance and connectedness and with less automatic habitual reacting.
As a veterinarian I am better grounded in the physical and biological sciences than in the behavioral ones. I reject the dichotomy implied by the labels “holistic” and “nonholistic” medicine as though these were rival clubs to arbitrarily choose. Obviously the appropriate paradigm for the next century is not either/or, but a paradigm large enough to embrace the truths from both present orientations. Not so much paradigm shift as paradigm expansion. TTEAM is one of the things which stretched my paradigm.
Linda and Romantico in the TTEAM labyrinth.
It should go without saying that veterinarians who employ alternative/complementary medicine modalities such as acupuncture and chiropractic can find that TTEAM is synergistic with their other modalities. Because Linda’s methods are right brained, intuitive and their proofs largely empirical and anecdotal, TTEAM encounters resistance with those who equate science with graphs, tables, isolated variables, in vitro and statistical analysis. It offends equally those traditional horseman and animal handlers who consider training to be a matter of force, endless repetition and domination.
The truth is that as Linda has synthesized eclectically and added creative leaps of her own, she has evaluated her methods and results critically and sought as much objective outside validation as possible. The work rests on a base extrapolated from human mind/body workers, notably Moshe Feldenkrais. Data on electroencephalographic changes has been obtained. The anecdotal evidence is massive, and while some of it may be equivocal because of misinterpretations by over-enthusiastic TTEAM users, a large body remains irrefutable.
For me the most telling proof of TTEAM’s efficacy is personal. Marnie Reeder, who usually assists me while treating horses, is a TTEAM Practitioner. My drug bill for chemical restraint agents is negligible and I haven’t used my twitch in so long I have forgotten where I left it. In addition to specific benefits to the animals, TTEAM saves my back and builds my practice because horses love it and owners appreciate how gently and calmly treatments, etc., are accomplished.
Dr. Tom Beckett has been practicing veterinary medicine since 1960, and owns Camino Viejo Animal Clinic in Austin, Texas. His assistant, Marnie Reeder is a TTEAM Practitioner who has been a professional in the horse business for many years. Marnie organized the syndicate who purchased the 1984 Olympic dressage horse Romantico, ridden by Robert Dover. Dr. Beckett was Romantico’s veterinarian.