TTEAM Case Study – Lucky

Many of you have been following Lucky’s progress as he and I build our partnership. I will be posting the write-ups of his TTEAM sessions and other conscious horsemanship work that we do together. Here are his TTEAM notes to date, to bring you up to speed on his progress and my thought processes.


Name of Horse: Lucky
Name of Owner: Me
Age: 12
Sex: gelding
Color: Dark brown
Breed: Arabian
Height: 15.0
Date seen: 3/12/2010
Length of session: ½ hr

Background, Concerns, Issues, Questions

Lucky is an ex-racehorse. There are some gaps in his training under saddle. He is stiff, strongly left-handed, tends to be head-high and frightened of new situations. He is the dominant horse in the herd, yet hides behind another when faced with anything new. He has an old tendon bow. Interestingly, he has one eye with exposed white sclera, like a person’s. I’m told this is genetic and runs on his father’s side. I am reluctant to ride Lucky because he is so fast and nimble, and has a tendency to bolt when frightened. He is very anxious and wound up when presented with a saddle or bit. He is calmer when ridden bareback and in a hackamore. I sense he is holding back from me emotionally, not quite trusting and not truly a friend. My goal is to earn his friendship and trust, and be able to safely ride him in the ring and on the trail at the walk, trot and canter.


Limited range of motion in his leg circles. Tail held to the side. Usually stands with a hind leg cocked. Head headed. Plus see above.

Thought process

Whatever we do together must be pleasurable, feel safe to him, and create new associations. Any physical therapy we do to improve his range of motion and flexibility will have to be carefully done, as causing him further pain will push him away emotionally. I feel we have to have greater trust, and he has to learn more courage, before I feel comfortable riding him.

Work done

I did abalone and clouded leopard along his neck, back and rump anytime he started getting excited or distracted. I also introduced him to the wand, which he easily accepted. He was a bit nervous about the lead chain for a few minutes. We practiced lowering his head with a voice cue, chain cue and wand stroking on his neck. We did a bit of the dance, and found he brought his head up with every step. We also did leading from both sides using elephant. He lost focus easily, and often missed the first wand cue to stop. When he figured out elephant, we moved to dingo. He found the wand on his back irritating, although he did respond and learn the stop and start.

Next session plan

Keeping in mind that plans are made to be changed, depending on how the horse responds that day…
Next session I will add in the labyrinth with the elephant leading. I will also add in head lowering from cueing on the poll. Leg circles front and rear and some python lifts for his legs as well. Tail pulls/circles and pearling if he likes them. I also plan to continue the touches around his hind end, experimenting with abalone, leopard and raccoon to find the ttouches he responds best to.

My learning

I learned to keep my plans even more flexible. Short sessions appear to be a better choice for Lucky.

Second Session
Date seen: 10/16
Length of session: ½ hour

It was very windy and chilly and all the horses were quite jumpy and frisky. My plan was to build on last session, seeing how much of elephant and dingo he remembered, especially the stopping on cue. Also planned to expand his comfort zone by moving further away from the herd. I did less bodywork, especially with his legs and hind end, as he was hyper alert and a bit spooky with the weather.

Work done
With the weather conditions, I decided to try Lucky in a body wrap for the first time, hoping that would give him confidence. I spent a few minutes introducing him to wrap, which went very smoothly. Then we practiced elephant leading from his left. I found he needed cues to lower his head at each transition as well as when walking. He responded easily to cueing from the lead chain, so I added in cueing from the poll. He picked that up very quickly. I mixed in the dance with walking, halting and a lot of body stroking with the wand. I opted to skip dingo as he was distracted and nervous. I switched to leading from his right side, and after he was moving and halting calmly we walked down the drive and into the field across the road. He became unfocused again and reluctant to stop, so we practiced walking just a step or two, then halting with head down. I mixed in the dance every few halts, and also cued him it was ok to eat some grass every few halts. The chewing helped keep him calm and listening. Several times he stopped and wanted to bury his head in my jacket. He bolted once when we turned back to the barn. Interestingly, he started forward only a few steps then stopped and snorted and chewed. Usually his bolts are much more uncontrolled. I’m thinking the body wrap and all the leg stroking & tapping with the wand kept him more grounded and in his body. By the end of the session he was stopping smoothly just with body posture, voice and wand cues, without actually needing to touch him with the wand on the chest or noseband.

Next session plan
I plan to continue using the bodywrap. Also plan to take him a bit further from home, and add in dingo. Also plan to get to the labyrinth next session. I’m going to see if my neighbour will allow me to set up a labyrinth in the field.

My learning
I learned I have to move and adapt quickly, and that I can remain calm while being quick. I also learned that he looks to me for reassurance more than I realized.

Third Session
Date seen: 10/20
Length of session: 20 minutes

The sun was setting, so I was limited to working in the open field where there was still some daylight. Windy and chilly, Lucky was wound up in the field. Interestingly, I took one of my other horses out first to ride and graze in the field. Lucky was keenly interested in what we were doing, staring, running the fence, going to the gate and calling to us. I had an impression that he wanted to be the one out there. I have also noticed that Lucky’s behaviour toward me at other times has changed. He has become more trusting, more interested in physical contact. He has taken to pressing his head to my chest, and gently nibbling at me.

Work done
As we had a short time period available, I played with stroking his body & legs with the wand, which settles him. Also tapped his hooves with the wand during the stroking. We played with halting entirely from wand and voice cues in elephant while walking down the drive. At first, he took 8 or so steps before stopping. By the third try, he was stopping within 2 steps. We also continued to play with head lowering, cueing from the lead and neck stroking with the wand. When we got to the open field, he was distracted and demanding to eat grass when stopped. So I alternated the head lowering with the dance whenever he lost his focus. We had one spook where he bolted forward a few steps. I also invented a cue indicating when it is ok for him to eat grass, and allowed several snack breaks during the play. He may be starting to calm himself by lowering his head unprompted and licking/chewing when something worries him.

Next session plan
Plan to start early enough to incorporate labyrinth, ground poles, possibly pick-up sticks (the random pattern should engage his mind more). Also perhaps playing with standing quietly for ttouches & wand stroking next to the mounting block.

My learning
A lot of learning can be packed into a very short session, without planning for that to happen. Just learning to focus and calm himself, on a windy evening in a field of lush grass was a big mental & emotional challenge for us both.

Fourth Session
Date seen: 10/22
Length of session: 20 minutes

Lucky seemed fairly peaceful and interested in having a play session.

Work done
After using the wand on his body and legs to settle and ground him, I walked Lucky over to the mounting block. Lucky was anxious about the mounting block, and was reluctant to stand still. I alternated between head lowering using the wand under his neck and lying leapard Ttouches on his neck back and loins. When Lucky was standing quietly with a soft eye and licking/chewing, I then climbed on the mounting block. Again he got anxious so I repeated the head lowering and lying leopard. I repeated this cycle several times, moving the mounting block closer to his head, then closer to his rump, then to his other side in several spots.

At that point, my instinct said we had spent enough time on that experience. We moved to the field where the obstacle course is laid out. Lucky easily remembered elegant elephant, cheetah and dingo with cueing the camel. I then introduced him to boomers bound. He mastered boomers bound quickly, so we moved into dolphin. After a few minutes of dolphin, just leading on his left side, I felt we had made enough progress for the day and ended the session.

Next session plan
Plan to incorporate labyrinth and ground poles and continue work on dolphin.

My learning
I realized how anxious he still is about the mounting block. I was also very impressed with how quickly he learns. He appreciates a moment to mull over each new thing, and seeks physical reassurance that he has done well.

Fifth Session
Date seen: 10/25
Length of session: 30 minutes

He seemed interested in another session, and was cooperative about his halter, approaching me.

Work done
My plan was to continue our work with dolphin, adding in the right side. I also had the labyrinth and ground poles set up.
After a short refresher of elegant elephant and cheetah on his right side, we started into the labyrinth in cheetah. I noticed that whenever his hind end was pointed at the end of the field he lost focus, got head high and wanted to bolt forward. While he was in the labyrinth, turned in the more challenging direction, I asked him to halt using cueing the camel, then spent several minutes lowering his head, using the wand to stroke his legs, and I also did a few steps of the dance, which got him focused and calm again. By the third time through, he stayed calm and focused and stopped on voice cue only.
Then we walked toward the scary part of the field in elephant. When he got close enough to start showing slight signs of anxiety we stopped. I asked him to lower his head. Then, my instinct said to get in front of him, with my back to the scary spot between him and the “danger”. Then I introduced cobra. I would ask him to walk toward me (and toward the scary place), then I’d ask him to stop. He had cobra mastered by the 4th try.
At that point, we switched back to cheetah to head back for the barn. He had several spooks with bolting forward, and refused to respond to cueing the camel or boomers bound when this happened. I kept walking with him, asking him to lower his head and then asking him to stop. He got stuck in that pattern, and I felt it was best to stop and pick up again next session, as he was getting frustrated.

Next session plan
I plan to use the bodywrap again, as this really helped his confidence a couple sessions back. I’m also going to move one of the obstacles, perhaps pickup sticks, closer to the scary zone. I hope to be able to use Ttouches while he stands facing the scary spot to diffuse his anxiety.

My learning
I learned that when Lucky regresses I sometimes revert to old patterns of demanding obedience rather than looking for creative solutions and listening to him. Patience, patience, patience. I also realized that as long as his first instinct is to bolt forward and be unable to calm and stop himself, I have no business riding him.

Sixth Session
Date seen: 10/27
Length of session: ~30 minutes

He was friendly on approach, relaxed about putting on the halter, and generally interested and willing to go and do something with me. That is a real shift for him.

Work done
We spent just a few minutes at the mounting block, practicing standing quietly while I got on and off the block and moved the block to various spots on both sides of Lucky. I used long wand strokes all over his body while doing this. He stood totally quietly, just keeping a wary eye on me at first. That is a huge improvement over the dancing and head-high attitude of last session.
I put the body wrap on him. We then headed into the field to the labyrinth. First time through, he walked out of the labyrinth over the pole when he turned his hind end in the scary direction from the other day. Once he stopped, we turned to face the “danger” and I spent a few moments doing python lifts on his front legs and also doing more wand stroking on his legs. My hope was the python lifts would ground him, bring him back into his body more, and relax him. The second time through the labyrinth, while he was watchful when his back was turned, he stopped at every cue.
So we moved on to the pickup sticks. I had these set up down in the scary hollow. At first, we just walked rapidly in elephant through the sticks toward the “danger” making a big circle toward the scary zone to turn around so he was less likely to bolt forward or into me if he spooked. After a couple passes back and forth through the sticks without any halts I asked for a stop using boomers bound and cueing the camel while he was fairly far from the “danger”. I found that quick stops where he walks again as soon as stopping works better than asking for long pauses in keeping his frustration level down. As his stops became more responsive, we went from 10 steps down to a couple to get a full stop and his head was lower.
We also faced into the “danger” and practiced cobra. He is a little reluctant to halt from the wand cue, which seems more like a lack of understanding of the cue. He comes readily to the lead cue, and less consistently to the wand cue. He tends to stop in my space and want to rest his nose on my chest.
After 3 or 4 rounds of cobra, we headed back to the barn in cheetah, practicing short halts along the way with boomers bound and cueing the camel.

Next session plan
Focus more on bodywork next lesson, for a change of pace and to track any physical changes happening as his head position is staying lower. Experiment with several ttouches, tail work, ear work, and leg work to see what he likes and what helps his tension.

My learning
I feel like we made huge progress today with the halting. The key was realizing that I was pushing his patience too far asking for long halts.

Seventh Session
Date seen: 11/1
Length of session: 15 minutes

Lucky was anxious to join the other horses grazing, so I was prepared to keep the session interesting and short, and work mainly on leading to keep his attention.

Work done
We did all our leading from his right side today. Headed straight into the labyrinth after some wand stroking. He did that easily both directions, following the wand & body cues without any physical cues at all. We then practiced dingo and boomers bound. He was stopping promptly within 3 steps from the wand and voice only, without needing cueing the camel. He also handled cheetah and long cheetah easily from voice and body. We played with cobra a bit. He is still eager to anticipate the forward cue and has to be reminded to wait for me.
When he was able to stand quietly in cobra, I decided to add something new. We went back to cheetah, and started trot in cheetah. The first 2 tries he walked faster without trotting. The third time he jogged a couple steps and I praised and stopped him. By the fifth try, he went smoothly into the trot from voice and body cues, and stopped easily from boomers bound. So we ended the session and he went to graze with his buddy.

Next session plan
I’m wondering where to go from here. He has obviously mastered some basics. I will continue the trot in cheetah, and perhaps long cheetah. I will review my notes and figure out what our next step is. Perhaps starting to introduce tack again. Maybe add some new obstacles, like a ground tarp or wagon wheel. Overall, I feel it is important for him to be able to calm himself, lower his head and stop easily from a variety of cues in a variety of situations before I get on his very athletic, very quick & agile back.

My learning
I am challenged to find new things for him to do. I still have a bit of anxiety over the idea of riding him soon.

Eighth Session
Date seen: 11/9
Length of session: 20 mins

Lucky was just a bit impatient tonight.

Work done
Quick review on both sides of cheetah with cueing the camel. Review of head lowering from poll pressure and lead. Labyrinth in both directions. He has these mastered.
Played with the dance. He still does not quite get which leg I am indicating.
Played with cobra. His come is great. His stop and stand are a bit impatient. So we spent a few minutes on cobra.
Played with slow walk – fast walk transitions and walk-trot transitions in cheetah.

Next session plan
Do more bodywork at the mounting block.
Start adding in the tack.

My learning
I’m a bit stumped how to improve his halts without drilling him, or reprimanding him. Perhaps find a reward that he gets while he stands quietly? A bit of food? Some bodywork?

Next post I will talk about the solutions I came up with, and what we are doing now. Until then, stay warm & enjoy your 4 legged friends.

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