What is EndoTapping and how can it benefit my horse?

~sent via email by Shannon

EndoTapping was developed by the French master horseman, J.P. Giacomini, as a way to initiate a state of relaxation in horses during handling and training. It involves rhythmic tapping of certain zones on the horse, which is believed to provide a rush of “feel good” or release of calming endorphins.

Practitioner, Paul Dufresne, said, “It is the most powerful new technique I have seen in the last 20 years, that can both directly relax an anxious horse and can also be developed into a conditioned cue to relax.” Dufresne, who is based in Pritchard, BC, incorporates EndoTapping into his natural/classical horsemanship training and offers clinics on the technique as well.

The theory behind EndoTapping is that a horse can’t learn under stressful circumstances, when its sole focus is on survival. Practitioners say that using EndoTapping, the handler, or lead, can circumvent the flight response, inducing a state of relaxation, leading to willingness. “Quite simply,” said Dufresne, “as a prey animal, a horse is equipped for quick-acting adrenalin surges. EndoTapping interrupts that cycle.”

Some horses, those who become overwhelmed by new questions, or who tend to be skittish in particular, can benefit from the apparently physical reaction to EndoTapping, which includes the lowering of the head into a relaxed natural frame, stretching of the neck, licking, chewing, salivating and yawning. Dufresne said these are signs that the horse is de-stressing, and is “usually followed by a general relaxation of the entire muscle tone in the horse’s body and change in stance, which is more relaxed and balanced.

“The first use of [EndoTapping] is to cause the horse to feel good – so it is more likely to accept anything else I try to teach it without fear. Any time the horse gets worried, I tap it back to a relaxed state,” said Dufresne. “For horses that have been abused or simply find it hard to cope around humans, this can be incredibly useful in setting the foundation for a positive experience without tension or struggle.”

Dufresne said that because EndoTapping promotes an ideal learning environment, one which is rewarding mentally, emotionally and physically, it can be a valuable tool in any horseman’s repertoire. It is a simple process, which can be learned and used effectively to calm horses and gain their attention by riders/trainers of varying skill levels, who are seeking to make a more tangible connection with their horses.

The handler uses an EndoStick, a firm foam ball attached to a crop-length stick, to tap certain spots on the horse’s body, such as the flank or neck, at an intensity that is noticeable to the horse. The touch should not tickle, but nor should it startle. It should be a light, even, rhythmic beat.

Typically, horses have a three-part reaction to EndoTapping. First, they resist the pressure, moving away from, or leaning into the source. Next, they ignore the stimulus, becoming desensitized to the tapping. Finally, they release, stretching their necks out and down into a relaxed state.

It is important to include all the zones of the horse in each session, and to do so on both sides of the horse’s body, for optimum results. The duration of these sessions depends on the individual, but can range between two minutes and a half hour or longer before relaxation is achieved.

To start, handlers are taught in a small area, holding the horse on a short lead rope. As the handler and horse become more accustomed to the technique, however, EndoTapping can be performed anywhere, including from the saddle. The EndoStick can be substituted for an EndoWhip when necessary (either one of which can be made at home, though Dufresne cautioned it can take some experimenting with materials to get it right).

As a relatively new method, developed in the past 15 years, there are no studies available to prove exactly how or why EndoTapping works. For those who practice it, Dufresne said, the benefits are obvious. Various clinicians successfully use this approach in their training programs to introduce new skills and to maintain that relaxed state any time the horse becomes uneasy. There are many applications for this technique, from basic training to advanced work.

“Developing the relax reflex into a cue means that you can recreate the relaxed state even in the face of fairly strong stressors for the horse,” said Dufresne. “The ability to induce a positive emotional state, on cue, can facilitate bombproofing, developing softer yields, control and softness of the poll. It can also help enhance the quality of gaits and prepare horses for more complex movements, or simply provide a positive note to end a training session.”