Tellington Touch Tames the Old West at Bitterroot Ranch

–An article by Marion Shearer, TTEAM Practitioner Level 3, Ontario, Canada

AppleMarkIt was my first trip to Wyoming and I was looking forward to attending a TTEAM (Tellington-Touch Equine Awareness Method) Clinic with Linda Tellington-Jones to be held at the Bitterroot Ranch. Landing at the Old West town of Jackson Hole, nestled at the base of the Teton Mountains, it was exciting to join other clinic participants with whom I was to share transportation to the ranch. Leaving the airport we traveled through a variety of terrain, from the spectacular Absaroka Mountains to high desert with scant vegetation. Turning after 2 hours onto the narrow ranch road and bumping over the first of many cattle guards, the lane twisted through patches of rustling aspen trees. What a surprise then as we rounded a corner to suddenly see the Wind River mountain range rising majestically before us.

Arriving at the ranch house, my first impression was how clean the air smelled and how calming were the sounds of the soft breeze sighing through the huge pine trees and the rippling of the river nearby. After checking in, I found our sleeping accommodations to be lovely log cabins along the river containing all the luxuries of comfortable beds, individual thermostats, immaculate showers and the thoughtful addition of coffee makers. Later in the dining room there was the added bonus of delicious food. All this made me look forward with anticipation to a week of relaxing, enjoying the company of other participants and, the main reason for my trip, getting a first-hand opportunity to learn more about the art of starting young horses.

Staying at Bitterroot Guest Ranch is like taking a journey back into the old west. It’s like a scene you’d expect after reading the book,”My Friend Flicka“. In addition to 160 head of horses, busy guinea hens, colorful peacocks and friendly geese flock about in the corral area. Ranch owners Bayard and Mel Fox have owned the ranch for 3 decades and breed purebred Arabian horses to supplement their guest string.

Mel chooses her stallions noted for their excellent dispositions as well as sound conformation. Riding these horses turned out to be such fun, that whether you liked to lope over the mountainside or preferred to ride slowly taking in the scenery, it was hard not to want to take a horse home with you.

A decade ago Mel heard about TTEAM Training and asked Linda if she would consider holding a clinic at the ranch to start her Arabian horses under saddle with a gentle method, after a bad experience she had with a trainer “breaking” her young horses.

Linda brought a group of people together to learn and practice TTEAM Training in the process of gentling and teaching the horses to trust and enjoy contact with people. Because students work in teams of 3 for each horse, there is great support and fun and safety in learning. Student experience ranges from professionals who want to learn the TTEAM method of starting young horses, to relatively inexperienced horse people wishing to improve their skills and understanding of horses in general. A basic premise of TTEAM is respect for the development of body, mind and spirit of the horses, and also of the people. And safety and enjoyment are essential to the process.

Except for such things as routine inoculations, these horses receive very little handling after they are weaned. Much like the old west, they run free on the almost 2000 acres in natural herds for the first four years of their lives. This means they grow up to be exceptionally sure-footed but also have a lot to learn before taking up their positions in the ‘guest string’. A new crop of youngsters need training each year and the clinic experience has proved so successful it has become an annual tradition for more than ten years.

TTEAM is a complete training method that uses; bodywork including the famous Tellington Touch; a confidence course including under and over plastic and the coordination training of the labyrinth. Instead of forcing a horse to do something ‘your way’ you are instead encouraged to think of ways to adjust a lesson to meet the horses needs and enable them to be successful; validating the old saying, “nothing succeeds like success”.

Horses seem to thrive in this environment. By being taught in groups of four or more, each having its own ‘support team’ of three or four participants they are given the natural security of a ‘herd like’ atmosphere. This encourages them to concentrate and ignore distractions, improves their ability to focus on the handler and, by subconsciously watching one another they seem to absorb new ideas more easily. Sessions are kept short and the horses are given relaxing down time to allow their brains to process the new information. This means that later in the day, when brought back into the group, they are ready to try the next step.

Less than three days into the clinic it was amazing to watch four or five horses at a time, that had until recently been running semi-wild in the hills, calmly being led or long lined over the obstacles spread around the yard. Aside from bird calls, or the odd snort from a horse, all you heard was an occasional voice saying such things as, “passing you on the left”, or “heads up over the star”, or Linda’s voice encouraging someone to “slide out a little further”, or “remember to breathe”. Before each lunch and dinner we gathered together to discuss what had been learned that day and brainstorm how best to help horses with specific issues. Between sessions with the young horses we could work with a few of the mature horses overcoming problems such as resistance to being bridled, or simply choose to hike, fish or read. Evenings were spent relaxing, socializing and having fun.

The days just flew by until, at the end of the week, we were ready to start our horses under saddle. White fluffy clouds sailed across the blue sky, the sun shone warmly, and we stood in awe watching these lovely horses quietly proceed to carry their first riders around the yard. What an exciting feeling to be part of this and realize, by using TTEAM, how much we had been able to accomplish in such a short time.

If you’re concerned that you might have to ride a young horse or think this clinic is not for you because you don’t think you’ll be starting a young horse anytime soon, you might want to reconsider. Clinic participants have the pleasure of gentling, teaching the horses to enjoy grooming and Tellington Touch, ground driving quietly, carrying a saddle confidently, and standing steadily for mounting. No previous experience with young horses is needed. That’s what you’ll have so much fun learning during the week. When you return home you’ll be amazed at how many new techniques you’ll have to try out on your own horse.

I have always loved TTEAM clinics because of the interactive support you receive from your fellow participants, also struggling to perfect their skills. Participants, meeting each other again in the future, greet another like long lost relatives. This clinic was no exception, and I looked forward to going home to give my horses the benefit of what I had learned. Thank you Linda and thank you Bitterroot Ranch, for such a special week. “Here’s to the next time”.