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Endotapping- The New Age Technique in Harmonious Horse Training by Paul Dufresne

posted by Horse Owner Today    |   February 12, 2013 17:20

Why would Endotapping be considered a New Age Technique? Many horse training techniques have been invented over the centuries and later re-visited. Yet, few are as strikingly different as Endotapping.  Endotapping consists in percussing the horse’s body with a soft ball attached to a whip.  It somewhat resembles the tapotement technique used in massage therapy.  The first area I usually tap is located where the legs hang when sitting in the saddle (off a few inches from the center of the topline to about two thirds of the way down toward the abdomen).  A regular tempo works best.  Changing the tempo can be used to re-gain the horse’s attention.  I tap the horse lightly enough so I don’t frighten him, yet not too softly that it is irritating.  It is normal for the horse to want to move in the beginning and this should be allowed but slowed.  I continue to tap the horse until it lowers its head.  It is important to stop the percussions as soon as the horse begins lowering its head.  I wait a few seconds, and then resume the process.  One can encourage the horse to lower its head by gently applying downward pressure on the lead rope.  I gently ask the horse to bend its neck towards me throughout the process. These are mild suggestions with no forcing.

Most horses go through predictable phases when they first  receive Endotapping.  However, the rate at which they do so is highly variable among individuals.  In general, their first reaction is to be fidgety.  They may be irritated by the tapping sensation or by the noise the ball makes, or by previous negative   experiences with whips.  These reactions are usually short lived with a calm handler.  In the second stage, horses become indifferent to the tapping.  This is a good time to change the tempo of the percussions to a stronger tap.  The final stage is what we strive to achieve with Endotapping.  The horse begins to display evident relaxation responses which include chewing, salivating, lowering the head, yawning and softening of the eyes, lips, jaw, stretching the poll and the back.  In sum, Endotapping can be viewed as a conditioned response.  The percussions become a cue for the horse to lower its head, which in turn starts a cascade of other relaxation responses.   Through continued exposure, the relaxation responses are displayed more quickly and with more strength.   Again, note that it is important that the horse be bent towards the handler.  Horses in a counter flexed position seem to take longer to develop the conditioned relaxation responses. 

Endotapping is a great technique to use when a horse needs to remain calm (e.g.: receiving physical therapy or a treatment for colic).   It is a terrific adjunct to any training program.  Most contemporary trainers recognize that horses are prey animals that are hard-wired for the fight or flight response.  Endotapping assists training by promoting a state of relaxation in the horse.  In turn, relaxation helps the horse to be more tolerant of frightening stimuli and to learn new tasks.  Hence, Endotapping instills resilience in the horse and promotes learning.  Furthermore, a relaxed horse is more likely to improve his gaits.  One advantage of Endotapping resides in its simplicity.  Almost anyone can positively influence the well-being of a horse. The fact that many of my beginner students have had quick success with this technique speaks volumes.  Endotapping is best started on the ground, laying a good foundation. Later, it can be used mounted.  The relaxation responses generalize very easily from the ground to mounted work.  

The underlying mechanisms of Endotapping are not yet fully understood.  The tentative explanation that follows is based on my fairly large volume of personal experience as well as on the accounts of the technique’s founder (to my best knowledge, J.P. Giacomini).  We can speculate that the rhythmic percussions stimulate the horse’s neuromuscular which induces the secretion of endorphins, the so called “feel good” neuro-hormones.  The endorphins encourage the relaxation behaviors that I mentioned earlier.  As the horse relaxes, it increasingly enjoys the percussions, stimulating the secretion of more endorphins, leading to more relaxation responses, and so on.  Thus, what we create with this tool is a powerful positive feed-back loop. 

I see a horse that has developed very strong relaxation responses to tapping as having a reset button.  Indeed, when the environment or a particular task I am trying to perform creates stress in my horse, I simply cue the animal to relax by applying taps.  The horse quickly relaxes and offers little resistance to the environment or to my lead which I might further modify or repeat.
Down the road I would like to see researchers in a lab setting measure some of the various effects of endotapping such as:
1) Muscular level, cell changes from normal states to relaxation levels, effects on muscle spindles and golgi tendon apparatus.
2) Physiological levels, heart rate, respiratory rate, salivary and plasma cortisol levels (stress hormone), and endorphin levels.
3) Inter-species differences in response variability, especially comparing prey animals to predators. 
Endotapping is a technique that goes far beyond that of another training tool.  It is a powerful yet simple technique that can promote physical, intellectual and emotional well-being.  When incorporated in foundation training, the effects are very impressive.  They may be even more impressive with high level competitive sport horses.

Paul will be doing a series of workshops on Endotapping at the Saskatoon Equine Expo in February as well as multiple exhibitions on both nights, hope to see you out. Endotapping is integrated in all of Paul's clinics. The past series of articles on Endotapping can be found on his website or in past Saddle-Up issues.   www.HorseOwnerToday.com