There is nothing worse than finding your horse colicking, calling the vet, and then having to wait helplessly while your horse is in obvious distress or at least discomfort.
Over the past 40 years Linda Tellington-Jones, world renowned horse person, and founder of the Tellington TTouch Method or TTEAM, has used a few simple techniques that can relieve a horses discomfort, and ease symptoms, in a case of colic or any severe physical distress.
Ear TTouches, Belly Lifts, and gas release; remembering these three simple exercises can drastically improve recovery and help you stay calm and focused while awaiting veterinarian assistance.
If you think your horse is experiencing colic, take his temperature, pulse and respiration; listen for gut sounds; and check the color of his gums and capillary refill time.
Determining your horse’s vital signs before calling your veterinarian helps him to evaluate the severity of your horse’s condition and the urgency of his arrival.
Your vet may also suggest a dose of Banamine, or similar, which can be extremely effective. Banamine does take time to work so all of these exercises will help your horse reduce their discomfort and may help the episode pass more quickly by encouraging relaxation.
After calling the vet, start working your horse’s ears.
Begin at the base of the ear; fold the ear on itself with your fingers on one side and thumb on the other and slide along the length of the ear.
When you reach the tip, rub it between your thumb and forefinger to activate the shock point.
Working each of your horse’s ears individually, rather than both at the same time, is usually more effective.
You can stroke an ear while walking the horse if he seems to prefer moving.
If the horse is standing or lying and not trying to roll or to thrash, do the TTouch techniques without walking. The horse may be tired from hours of discomfort and might need to rest.
Working the ears affects the horse’s entire system – there are over 200 acupuncture points in the ear. Another helpful technique is rubbing the acupressure point for pain either between the nostrils or directly on the gums.
Belly Lifts are very helpful for gassy horses.
Use a towel (folded six to twelve inches wide).
Start near the elbows and work back as far as you can.
Support the belly with the towel and lift slowly and gently, hold for six to 10 seconds (sometimes longer if the horse seems relieved).
Release more slowly than you lifted.
The progression of each lift can be guided by one of the lifters. For example: “Lift, 2, 3….; Hold, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6.: Release 10, 9, 8…..3,2,1.
Notice that the release takes longer in order to ensure a soft, gradual lessening of the pressure.
Sometimes using material such as velour or polar fleece gives a smoother and more gradual release.
Using hot towels has proven effective for some horses especially in cold weather. You could put the towel into the dryer before using or fold a heat pack into the towel.
In many cases, gut sounds become more active, and the horse is able to pass gas after a few series of lifts from his elbow to his flank.
Always work within the horse’s comfort zone. You won’t know what type of colic the horse is suffering until your veterinarian makes his diagnosis.
The lifts cannot harm the horse even if it is more than gas colic, and they can provide relief from pain as well as release gas.
If you don’t have another person or a towel you can do belly lifts by yourself. Place your hands and forearms under the horse’s belly and lift, hold and slowly release.
A second way of doing belly lifts alone is to use a long towel or blanket.
If you are standing on the left side of the horse, with your right hand, hold one end of the towel on the left side about four inches below the top of the horse’s spine.
The towel drapes over the spine and down the right side.
With your left hand, reach under the horse’s belly and bring the towel to the left side.
While holding the towel, keep your back straight and knees bent and then lift.
You need only lift with the lower hand – the upper hand just supports the towel.
Caution: In this case, as with all ways of helping a distressed animal, be aware of your safety. Be safe, not sorry. Make sure that you can stay in balance while doing something and that you can move out of the way of danger quickly and quietly. Listen to any small concerns your horse may have and stop or change what you are doing.
A horse’s croup may swell in cases of severe colic.
Gently work the area using large, soft TTouches with the whole of your hand on the flank and loin and abdomen. You can also gently do slides on the hair at the top of the tail and if the horse is comfortable with it, tail work can bring relief.
In acupressure there is a gas release point under the tail above the anus, rub in a circular motion with the finger. This is a useful point to know before the case of colic arises so that you and your horse are familiar with pressure on the quarter sized point.
You might wonder what to do first.
Since ear work is useful for injury, illness, stress, shock or nervousness, start with the ears if possible. Doing belly lifts on a horse that needs to move or is kicking is out of the question. In each case, you’ll find the right combination for that particular horse. You have several tools; better yet, you have a way to help your horse in an emergency.
If you have practiced the ear work and belly lifts on your horse before an emergency arises, you will have any idea how he usually reacts to having his ears handled and how tight or loose his belly usually is. Many horses that don’t usually like having their ears worked accept it when they really need it.
Many of these suggestions for colic can be applied to other animals as well as people. Dogs, cats, cows, llamas, goats and reptiles can also suffer from gastrointestinal disorders. Using the belly lift, ear work and TTouch bodywork can benefit them when they are in discomfort of almost any kind as it can be as gentle as necessary.
As well as giving you a proactive role in relieving your horse’s discomfort; these tools are especially useful if you are caught off guard and are not able to reach veterinarian assistance quickly.
Each year we receive numerous letters recounting stories of these techniques helping horse owners help their horses. From overnight pack trips to Kenyan riding safaris; these tools have given quick thinking horse owners the possibility of relieving pain with something as simple as their hand and a towel or even a shirt.
Below is just one of many “Thank-you” letters we have received over the years, about these techniques in practice.
My name is Peggy. I met you at the Cal Expo Horse Symposium in Sacramento, Ca. several years ago. After reading your books and watching your video I was so excited to watch you in action. While watching you I heard a tidbit of information that has been so helpful.
You briefly mentioned that doing belly lefts when your horse is colicking can restart bowel sounds in the gut. This can save the horses life.
These very important words were burned into my memory. Here are my three success stories.
My husband and I were horse camping high in the Sierra Mountains. My mare Sienna, had eaten some alfalfa hay that another camper gave us as a treat. Within 5-6 mins. Sienna was in a full blown very painful colic, sweating from the tip of her ears to her tail. She was moaning in pain and dripping in sweat. We were walking her to keep her up and I was trying to figure out how we were going to get my mare to the vet before she twisted her gut. Suddenly I remembered your words about doing belly lifts to restart bowel sounds. I folded a large beach towel long wise to make it about 4 inches wide. We did belly lifts twice and on the end of the lift near the flanks I heard loud bowel sounds. We walked Sienna for awhile longer and she had a normal bowel movement. I checked on her several times in the night with no signs of colic. The next day we went on a wonderful ride. Our camping trip was saved because of Linda, and we never had to go to the vet.
The second success happened again in the Sierra Mountains. It was a girls day trip riding late in spring. We arrived to our destination and decided to have lunch before riding. We were sitting next to a stream in the grass and wild flowers eating, when I heard my friend Melinda’s mare pawing and trying to go down in the trailer. We jumped up to find her mare Tess colicing. Tess had a young filly by her side so we were very concerned. All of us girls took turns alternating walking with belly lifts. It took over two hours for Tess to get full relief. We saddled up and had a beautiful short ride.
My third and last success story happened recently. My husband and I were in the car going out to breakfast when I noticed our yearling filly, Chenoa was colicking and choking. My husband walked her while I folded the beach towel and we began doing belly lifts. After the second try I heard faint bowel sounds and by the third try she had louder bowel sounds. The choking was relieved on its own in about 20 mins. I had called the vet when this started but was glad to call back and say “I did belly lifts and she is fine now”. My husband and I went to brunch and came home to find Chenoa eating and having a normal bowel movement.
Needless to say there is a permanent beach towel in my horse trailer and I tell everyone I can about belly lifts.
So Linda THANKS A BUNCH! Love, Peggy”