Scottsdale, Ariz., was the setting in November 2006 for a tribute to one of the horse industry’s most acclaimed ambassadors: Linda Tellington-Jones, a healer, trainer, inventor, teacher, mentor, author, Renaissance woman. The event celebrated the 30th anniversary of her world-renowned Tellington Method–a unique system for working with horses–with an educational conference and four-day training attended by nearly 200 people. It also provided an opportunity to reflect on the life of the woman who has dedicated herself to improving horses’ lives through a philosophy that emphasizes compassion and understanding.
Horses of All Sorts Linda Hood was the kid who got on the tough horses after they bucked off their riders. From the time she was 11, she would ride her pony, Ginger, home from school, and then head to Briarcrest Stables in Edmonton, Alberta, to ride three or four horses every day until dark.
“I was fortunate to ride for five years under the tutelage of Alice Greaves Metheral, a leading hunter-jumper trainer of the day,” says Tellington-Jones. “My other good fortune was that during the winter we had education classes, where we learned details from the British Horse Society about training, breeding, judging, conformation, tack and breeds. It was a wonderful foundation when I became a U.S. Pony Clubs instructor and opened my own school for riding instructors.”
Even as a child Tellington-Jones saw many horses buck early in their training, and she was dumped numerous times by animals who had had tumultuous starts. She reasoned there must be a better way, so she began ground-driving youngsters before saddling them. “I started my first horse when I was 12, with no bucking,” she says.
At age 13, Tellington-Jones was teaching riding lessons and showing. By 15 she had retired the prestigious Calgary Herald Challenge Equitation Trophy after winning it three times. Stepping in for an injured rider that year, she earned the coveted Knock-Down-and-Out jumping championship at the Edmonton Spring Horse Show, clearing obstacles taller than 5 feet 2 inches.
From there, Tellington-Jones went on to compete in a remarkable variety of disciplines. She has won top-level competitions in endurance riding, eventing, dressage, Western events, jumping, steeplechasing and more. She completed her first of five Tevis Cup 100-mile rides in 1960, with her Arabian mare, Bint Gulida.
Guiding Lights Tellington-Jones’s grandfather, Will Caywood, had a profound influence on her. “He was a gifted horseman, and I grew up with the idea of hands-on with horses,” she says. “My grandfather believed in letting a horse get used to you in his own time to develop a common trust.” Caywood hummed, sang and whistled to horses to calm them and develop a relationship with them. He also introduced his granddaughter to the idea of using massage to improve their performance.
An equally positive force was Tellington-Jones’s first husband, Wentworth Tellington. Before graduating in 1956 as an officer in the last U.S. Cavalry class in Norwich, Vt., he competed at Madison Square Garden on the U.S. Cavalry team. It was standard procedure for the officers to work their horses in the company of others, often making their way around obstacles as cannons were fired. The men also rode the horses out of the arena in a straight line.
Their techniques became the precursor of the Tellington Method’s Playground for Higher Learning, a training course of obstacles that teaches confidence and cooperation. “When I began developing ground exercises,” Tellington-Jones says, “I found that horses learned much faster when worked through a maze of six 10-foot ground poles that we call the Labyrinth.”
An Emphasis on Education In 1961, at the dawn of the era of the backyard pleasure horse, the Tellingtons established the Pacific Coast Equestrian Research Farm and School of Horsemanship, a nine-month residential school for riding instructors, in Badger, Calif. The students were required to show in Western pleasure and hunter classes, achieve at least a 50 percent score in a First Level dressage test, complete a 50-mile endurance ride and start a young horse without bucking.
“In 1964, Went and I realized there was a growing need to find a method for teaching adult beginner riders,” says Tellington-Jones. “At that time, adults joined junior riders in classes, and this was very frustrating, because few adults have the natural coordination and ability that many juniors have. That’s what made us decide to concentrate on equine adult education.” Putting the concept into action, Tellington-Jones taught a series of eight-week evening classes for adult riders in the early 1970s at the University of California-Santa Cruz.
“Went encouraged me to share knowledge,” Tellington-Jones recalls. “We coauthored the first book on equine massage and physical therapy in 1965. We also published a quarterly newsletter and wrote a monthly magazine column. I was inspired by his desire to make a difference in the world.”
A Journey of Discovery Despite her success in many disciplines, by the mid-1970s burnout was looming, and Tellington-Jones was considering a hiatus from horses. “I was disturbed by the lack of respect for the horse as an individual,” she says. “So many people seemed to treat the horse as a vehicle, with no recognition of his value as one of God’s precious creations.”
Expecting to spend a couple of years traveling the world and learning, “I sold 60 horses and equipment and vans, and headed for Europe,” Tellington-Jones says. She also sensed that she had a mission in the world of animals, to raise awareness of their importance in people’s lives as teachers and friends. “I didn’t buy into the concept that man has dominion over the animals,” she explains.
In Germany, Tellington-Jones’s friend, Ursula Bruns, publisher of Freizeit Im Sattelz, the country’s leading pleasure horse magazine, asked her to prepare a presentation for Equitana, the world’s largest equine trade fair and exhibition. In response, Tellington-Jones and three riders she trained jumped obstacles and performed drill maneuvers while mounted on horses wearing neither bridles nor saddles. It was a first for a European audience–and a big hit.
In the weeks and months that followed, Tellington-Jones was invited to venues throughout Germany, Austria and Switzerland to teach clinics. When she began working with adult beginners in Germany in 1975, she realized the need for a weekend experience that emphasized fun and stress-free learning. The first Tellington trainings (then known as TTEAM or Tellington Equine Awareness Method) were born.
A five-week clinic with 20 problem horses in Reken, Germany, recorded and photographed by Bruns, became the basis for Tellington-Jones’s first book, An Introduction to the Tellington-Jones Equine Awareness Method. “We have discovered over 25 years that we can educate horses with a combination of bodywork to bring awareness, ground exercises to develop new levels of coordination and cooperation, and exercises under saddle that give the rider new tools to improve performance without repetition,” she says.
An “Aha” Moment In the mid-1970s, Tellington-Jones had perhaps her greatest epiphany. After studying the learning theory of Israeli physicist Moshe Feldenkrais, she realized that his concept of reeducating the nervous system without fear or force could be applied to horses and other animals to overcome resistance, stress and tension and improve coordination and learning ability.
“This was my first big ‘aha’ moment,” Tellington-Jones recalls. “I saw horses with new eyes. Feldenkrais offered the possibility of finding new ways to teach equine learning by using nonhabitual movements to activate unused neural pathways to the brain.”
Tellington-Jones proposed the then revolutionary concept that behavior in horses is often related to back or neck pain. “Who thought about checking a back or neck in relation to undesirable behavior?” she says. “If a horse refused to do something, you just got after him harder with a whip or spur. Today, we check the body to see where there may be areas of soreness or memory of past trauma or injury-holding patterns of tension that can be the cause of resistance or behavior problems.”
It was clear to Tellington-Jones that much of the resistance and poor performance she saw was related to stress, but there was scant research available at the time and very little awareness of it in the horse world.
In 1985, she taught a 10-day training session to a group of eight veterinarians in Moscow. They were practicing the Tellington Method, including TTouches, ground exercises and ridden work, on 10 sport horses to observe the training system’s effects on reducing stress-related injuries and improving performance.
Each day blood was drawn from the study horses as well as a control group of 10 dressage and jumping horses who received no TTouches or other Tellington Method work. Analysis of the cortisol level in the blood samples indicated a significant reduction in the stress hormone in the TTouched horses from the first day of the study to the last.
The First Circles Tellington-Jones’s work with horses took another quantum leap in 1983. She’d been called to see a Thoroughbred mare who turned grouchy when she was groomed and saddled, pinning her ears, swishing her tail and sometimes kicking. Using subtle hand movements, Tellington-Jones began to work on the mare’s body, and she immediately started to relax, lowering her head, softening her eyes and standing quietly. The mare’s owner could hardly believe her eyes. “What are you doing?” she asked. “What’s your secret?”
Without thinking, Tellington-Jones replied, “Don’t worry about what I’m doing, just put your hands on your horse and push the skin in a circle.”
Light, single press-and-release circles with the fingertips and hands were not–until that day–a part of her method, but Tellington-Jones realized that something quite special was happening and that she needed to explore these circular touches. She believes the circles release fear at the cellular level, leaving room for a new level of confidence and expression.
Since that moment, Tellington-Jones, her sister and co-instructor, Robyn Hood, and their network of practitioners around the world have developed more than 20 TTouches, each with a specific purpose and all sporting colorful animal names such as Python Lift, Lick of the Cow’s Tongue and Inch Worm.
Changed for the Better As a dedicated group of TTouch practitioners gathered in Scottsdale last November to celebrate the work and learn from each other, they also embraced the chance to reflect on Tellington-Jones’s impact on the horse industry over the last three decades.
“Linda helps people see horses–any animal, really–as unique individuals, valuable in themselves and as they are,” says Shirley Weisz, a Tellington TTouch equine practitioner from Boulder, Colo. “Linda has shown us that horses’ attitudes, talents and states of mind belong to them and are to be respected. We must care for them and care about them.”
“Linda’s most important contribution is simple: She listens to horses, and she teaches others to do this as well,” says Sally Morgan, a Tellington TTouch instructor and physical therapist from Northampton, Mass. “What’s so special about her work is that many, many people have been able to learn it and reproduce her results,” Morgan says.
“Linda pays close attention to the behavior of the horse she is working with, and she makes no assumptions about what that behavior might mean,” Morgan continues. “Rather, she looks more deeply to see the physical components contributing to the behavior. For example, at one of her first demonstrations, she lightly TTouched a point on a horse’s shoulder and he recoiled, suddenly rearing straight up. Linda calmly explained that his extreme reaction was because of pain in his shoulder. She did not reprimand him, but rather showed us how to relieve his pain.”
“Observing Linda at work changed the way I related to horses,” says Frank Bell, a clinician from Ashton, Idaho. “Close to 20 years ago, I watched her transform several hyped-up Arabians into relaxed, trusting creatures in a matter of minutes. I learned that instead of struggling with a horse to get what I wanted, I could establish a partnership. Most importantly, I learned from Linda that there was always a place to retreat-I call it bonding.”
“What opened my eyes is that her work with horses broke down all the cultural, language and political barriers,” says Kate Riordan, an equine journalist from Georgetown, Calif. “Linda took TTEAM to Russia when the Cold War was still going on.
“But as with music and art, our emotional responses to animals are so much a part of our life, and a love of horses is a universal truth,” Riordan continues. “I saw that everywhere I went with Linda. I accompanied her to Japan when she was invited by the Japanese International Racing Association to give seminars to trainers, Olympic riders and veterinarians. In Japan’s racing industry, the only women involved were clerks. There were no women to be seen in any important position, and here comes Linda. She was given tremendous respect. They honored her and translated her book into Japanese because they wanted trainers and grooms to understand her work.”
The Equine Golden Rule At a youthful 68, Tellington-Jones is as energetic and lighthearted as the child galloping through the Canadian plains. Tellington TTouch has taken her to destinations around the globe. She keeps up a worldwide travel schedule, and never stops learning, teaching and laughing. She doesn’t leave a clinic until the last question is answered, the last horse relaxed and happy in his skin.
Tellington-Jones believes that by treating a horse as you would like to be treated–what she calls the Equine Golden Rule–we enhance our relationship with those of our own species. “Seeing horses as our teachers awakens a level of trust, relationship and respect that goes both ways, and in so doing, shifts our relationship to the world,” she says. “This acknowledges and heightens our spiritual relationship with the horse, bringing us home to the same radiance that first drew us to the equine spirit.”
This article originally appeared in the January 2007 issue of EQUUS magazine.