by Charlotte Cannon
Endotapping, as I initially learned it, was created by JP Giacomini, a French dressage trainer, to both relax and amplify the horse. He works mainly with Spanish breeds, lots of stallions, and found an excellent way to communicate with them.
His initial tapping is used to condition the horse to drop his head and relax when tapped. He then teaches that a solid pressure from his endostick means to stop. Then he taps a specific muscle as it contracts, to amplify the contraction and to pick the foot up higher or to take a longer stride.
Using this method, he can teach horses how to do very difficult dressage movements, like piaffe and passage, very quickly. He can also help horses with uneven gaits start to use the side that is weaker more fully, helping them become more balanced far more quickly than other methods.
I discovered Endotapping after watching JP’s assistant Cedar Potts-Warner at the TB Makeover in 2016. She was kind enough to give us a demonstration and explain the concept and technique. Both she and JP used an endostick, a stiff stick similar to a dressage whip with a foam rubber ball attached to the end. JP created this endostick and does sell them.
I really grabbed the relaxation effect of the endotapping, since my interests were more in show hunters, fox hunters, all around stock horses and safe, basic riding horses. With my background in opening neural pathways in horses and my work with adrenaline and endorphins, I saw how this truly could be the key to creating a cue system to take horses out of a fear based adrenaline state, and bring him into a relaxed endorphin state quickly and effectively.
I had no idea how far this would take us into not only muscle and mind relaxation, but also to muscle release, fascia release, the release of entrapped nerves, the release of toxins and mycotoxins, and more. Most recently I’ve been studying how emotion and traumas can get trapped in different parts of the body (much study is available about people holding emotion/trauma in their bodies and exhibiting certain postures), mapping these areas, and using endotapping to help the horse release not only their physical muscles, but also the emotions and experiences trapped in those muscles.
Endotapping has the potential to really free many traumatized horses (and potentially people, dogs, etc) and give them a new lease on life.
When I’ve demonstrated this to other experienced professional horsemen, they have seen the similarities in this with sacking out, and a practice the Indians used to use to gentle horse by covering them in a large blanket, then having several people tap all over them until they relaxed. This is not a new concept, it is just a new technique to accomplish the concept.
The basic technique is to;
1. Tap/stimulate the horse with some sort of stick, usually starting right behind the wither on the back. A dressage whip or Endostick (dressage whip with a foam rubber ball attached) works well.
2. Tap until the horse either turns to connect with you, or does something more relaxed.
3. When it does, stop tapping.
4.Start tapping again when it either disconnects from you, or does something less relaxed (maybe the head goes up).
5. Continue until the horse reaches the full relaxation posture and endorphin release (head to the dirt, lip twitching in the dirt).
6. In one, or over multiple sessions, proceed around the body until the horse will go to the full relaxation body posture from tapping anywhere.
Every horse will go through a three part process to get to relaxation:
Ignore (freeze/adrenaline release)-> Overeact (flight/fight/adrenaline release) -> Relax (endorphin release)
This is the pattern for most Introverts (emotions on the inside)
Overreact (flight/fight/adrenaline release) -> Ignore (freeze/adrenaline release) -> Relax (endorphine release)
This is the pattern for most Extroverts (emotions on the outside)
Horse must be stressed enough to want to make a choice to go to relaxation. Stay tapping on each spot long enough to get a good response. Ideally the head all the way to the ground with upper lip wiggling in the dirt (max endorphine release posture).
I start right behind the wither on the upper back on almost every horse.
I start with simply raising the stick, then stroking in small stokes.
For sensitive horses this may be enough to get the response.
If you get no response, start tapping and continue to increase pressure until horse is responding.
Horses are ready to move to other body parts when they are responding to this first one.
Usually smooth muscle horses do better if you go to the neck next, then the hip.
Smooth muscle horses (often TBs and Arabs) will often try to kick if you go to the hip second.
Bulky muscle horses (often QHs, Warmbloods and Drafts) will usually ignore if you proceed to the neck second, they usually do better if you tap the hip second, then the neck.
The place to stop a session is after a big release. Yawning is one of my favorites, but a big body shake, lying down to roll, lots of licking and chewing could also be spots. Find a positive spot to stop. Don’t give up if it’s taking longer than expected.
I like to tap until I can bring my horse to a full relaxation posture (head all the way to the ground, lip in the dirt). Sometimes you must find a lesser place if its very difficult for your horse. Your goal is to eventually be able to get to this full relaxation posture, even if it takes a few sessions.
Initial session may be as short as 10mins, or as long as 2hrs depending upon the horse.
Eventually you want to be able to tap on all parts of the horse and trigger the relaxation/endorphin response. At that point you are ready to take it to mounted work.
Mounted I usually start by tapping the wither with my fingers until I get the relaxation response. You can use your stick as well on the neck, shoulders, hips or sides. It can proceed to tapping with both legs on the sides, or even tapping with the rein on the neck. You can develop this as far as you like, its just conditioning the relaxation/endorphin response to a specific cue or stimulus.
Eventually I use all sorts of objects, noises and sights to stress the horse. I use the stimulus, then remove it when the horse relaxes. By taking it to this level, every stressful thing in your horse’s environment can become his cue, and the relaxation/endorphin response becomes his coping pattern for stress. This way you no longer need to initiate the cue as time goes on, the reward for him becomes the endorphin release itself, no need to remove the stressor.
What is happening:
Several things are thought to be happening in the horse’s body as a result of this tapping.
1. Tapping the muscles triggers an innate reflex contraction and relaxation of the muscle.
2. This contraction/relaxation causes the muscle to fill with blood and twitch if it has been shut down for some time. Twitching is like our arm or leg ‘waking up’ from being ‘asleep’. Immediate muscle twitching can occur at this stage.
3. This response in the muscle will also open new neuropathways to the brain. These new neuropathways can help one regain control of the affected part of the body.
4. Some horses will get strange patterns of raised hair (regional activation of focal piloerection). This is often the release of toxins or mycotoxins. This most often happens in sessions 1-3.
5. Some horses with get profuse muscle twitching over large areas of the body (fireworks show), usually after the third deep session. This is suspected to be a neuro endocrine response or caused by the release of a fascial restriction entrapping a nerve. Reactivation of sensory neuro pathway activates panniculus(shivering like to rid a fly).
6. Probably the coolest thing that happens during tapping is that your horse starts to see you as its prime source of endorphins, relaxation and overall sense of well being. Your horse will WANT to be with you, WANT to connect and be close to you bc it gets this wonderful safe, euphoric feeling. You in effect become your horse’s ‘drug dealer’ for positive feelings, endorphins. He will offer things you never thought possible, including liberty play.
Whether the response is visually minimal, or extreme, Endotapping can get to places in the horse and trigger releases that were previously all but impossible to do. I can’t wait to see where we go next!
Emotional Body Mapping
The release in the muscles can also release braces held by the mind.
Those braces can seriously affect posture. As the braces release, posture can improve.
Perfect balance is the goal for every living thing. Perfect balance insinuates that the body and mind can be relaxed, and the horse will remain balanced, upright and with athletic potential.
When weaknesses develop, the horse will tighten in other areas to maintain balance. For example when the stifle is weak, the muscle on top of the hip will contract and brace, and the neck will be thick and braced (primarily on the bottom side) higher up toward the poll. The lower the thick muscles in the neck, the stronger the stifle, the higher the weaker. As the stifles are properly conditioned, the tightness and brace can be released from both the front and back of the horse.
It appears braces will manifest in balanced ways front to back. Look for the corresponding brace in the hindquarter if one exists in the neck, and visa versa.
I believe short term emotions and brace are held in the shoulders, and long term in the hindquarters. It would seem that to release a significant brace, one must find the root of the brace.
I usually start tapping the mid back. This area connects back to front, long and short term, if your brace is pretty benign, you will often get a big release right away. A moderate brace is usually released by tapping the neck, but the most severe brace will often require tapping the hindquarters first.
Once the horse has dropped its nose to the ground and gone into processing or releasing, just wait for him to finish before moving on. You are finished for the session when you get a large release like blowing out or yawning. You are completely finished when you can tap anywhere on your horse and he will drop his head and completely relax. It may take several sessions before your horse has released enough to find this level of deep relaxation. Braces in body and mind may hold him back, just keep working on him and you will know when your breakthrough has occurred.
Remember with every release, your horse’s proprioceptive system must reboot/realign/rebalance. By taking several sessions to release your horse, you may get a better end result than someone that tries to rush everything at once. It took time to pack all that brace into the body, give the body time to adjust to the new normal.
Tapping Cheat Sheet (for those really into it, this is my first attempt at organized cliff notes)
When you start Tapping sometimes it’s difficult to know when to release (stop tapping as a reward). Most of us don’t have the awareness of what the beginning of relaxation and connection looks like before we learn this process. Here are a few things to reward and their ‘level of difficulty’. The more you can reward tiny changes, the more your horse will offer you bigger ones.
Of course not everyone has high performance goals, but for the Stage 1-6 Releases to really hold, posture must change. Tight fascia will hold a horse physically in a SNS/survival posture. You can relax and change the mental/emotional state in the moment, but unless the physical posture changes, your horse will easily pop back into the SNS/survival mental/emotional state given enough stress.
Through these exercises, the muscles release and relax, we can then start to trigger the muscles we want to engage. As we change the muscles, the fascia can then start to release in the ‘wrong’ spots and stretch and expand in the ‘right’ spots.
Encouraging the fascia to release, then hold our new preferred PSNS/rest/digest/play/learn/heal posture is the ultimate goal. Only with this change do we reach maximum potential.
Stage 1 Releases
- Ear tip
- Eye tip
- Slow down (if moving)
- Move (if frozen)
Stage 2 Releases
- Stop (if moving)
- Deep breath
- Look sleepy
- Twitching (usually wither, mane, shoulder)
Stage 3 Releases
- Lip licking
- Beginning lateral flexion
- Beginning head lower (1” counts)
- Nostril flare
- Feet start to reposition
- Neck shake
Stage 4 Releases
- Lateral flexion with connection
- Head lowering
- Deep Breathing
- Tail lift/pass gas
- Flamingo stretch
- Rest foot
- Larger area twitching (sides, belly)
Stage 5 Releases
- Scratch sides with teeth
- Rub head on leg
- Blow out
- Posture changes ( feet square, front/hind feet closer together, endorphin hind leg)
- Body shake
- Ear rapidly twitching
Stage 6 Releases
- Blow out from Muscle Chain relaxation
- Eye roll
- Lip wiggle in dirt
- Biting the ground (in horses with huge amounts of emotion to release)
- Big stretches (down dog, Trojan horse)
- Chew/scratch hind leg
- Body fireworks twitching
- Lay down (some will only roll, others will stay down flat for extended periods)
Stage 7 Releases - Posture changes 1
- Head staying at ground
- Feet square (often horses with super tight shoulders/wither will stand offset with front feet)
- Cross front feet to release shoulders/wither
- Hind feet wider than front feet
- Front and hind feet close together
- Hind legs deep under body/‘endorphin hind leg’
Stage 8 Releases - Posture changes 2
- Front legs way back
- Pelvis rotated under
- Softening in body/skin/muscles going from hard to almost liquid so you see ripples as you tap
- Body parts start to bounce and move
- Back starts lighting up
- Cross hind legs to release hips/SI joint
Stage 9 Releases - Posture changes 3
- Hip starts moving
- Belly/TA starts contracting
- Back starts lifting/lengthening
- Upper barrel starts lifting and expanding
- Hip rotated enough ‘Apple butt’ and ‘jumper bumps’ disappear
Stage 10 Releases - Posture changes 4
- Tailset changes
- ‘Seat of pants’ puffs up
- Wither stretches up
- As wither stretches up, girth stretches down and sides widen
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