Tellington TTouch Training Canada

The M.A.G.I.C. of the Tellington WAND

The use of whips and whip-like tools with horses is nothing new. Whips have likely been employed in working with horses for nearly as long as they’ve been domesticated, and much of their use has undoubtedly been dubious in ethics and empathy.

Since the early 1970s, Linda Tellington-Jones has been utilizing a 4-foot-long dressage whip as a key component for working with horses using the Tellington Method. To dispel its negative connotations, we have always referred to it as a “Wand,” not only because it can work like MAGIC!

The use of the Wand has primarily focused on calm communication and increasing awareness. While virtually all modern horsemen would advocate for the use of a stick or whip as “an extension of their arm,” the Wand is primarily used to draw awareness, make contact with parts of the body in a non-threatening way, and encourage horses to explore more functional, non-habitual patterns of posture through suggestions and clear body language.

Robyn Hood leads a horse with a neck rope

In Tellington Method exercises, the wand is primarily used in a stroking motion, along the horse’s topline, legs, down the front of the legs, and under the belly, all done in a calm, soothing manner. These exercises aim to encourage body awareness, proprioception, and balance.

At the core of most Tellington Method groundwork exercises, sometimes referred to as Dance Steps (as described in the book “Training & Re-Training: The Tellington Way“, is the intention to allow the horse to explore new possibilities of posture through movement. By seeking to bring awareness and override habitual patterns of bracing or posture, we provide the nervous system with the opportunity to learn.

When we permit the horse to move in slow, mindful, and unfamiliar—yet simple—ways, we offer the body variety and the opportunity to adapt, finding a more functional, freer, and safer feeling, way of going, without repetition or correction.

“Dance Steps” or leading exercises involving the wand allow the handler to assist in encouraging the horse to release bracing at the base of the neck. This helps activate the seeking reflex and initiates the shift and activation of the Thoracic Sling.

These slow and mindful exercises, done from both sides of the horse and sometimes with two handlers, introduce novelty to the horse’s experience. They also aid in activating different hemispheres of the brain in non-threatening ways, fostering greater learning potential rather than merely eliciting reflexive responses to stimuli.

Much of the use of the Wand is in front of the horse rather than behind, which is a more common use of a whip-like object.  Using the Wand to draw the horse forward and send the horse back, to halt or step-by-step rein back, helps encourage movement through the entire body without creating compression or compromising the thorasic sling.  As the handler and the horse becomes more skilled, the Wand and body language can facilitate smooth transitions, without compression or bracing, through light, mindful signals. 

While the Wand is not a necessity in everyday handling, it serves as an incredible tool for initiating the process of helping horses discover new ways of moving in balance and with a more relaxed posture. As you introduce new ways of achieving balance and encourage self-carriage, horses tend to feel safer and gain more self-confidence.

A horse with increased self-confidence and a sense of safety is likely to exhibit better self-regulation and self-control. This improvement benefits both horses and their handlers in virtually any situation they may encounter.   These simple exercises on the ground lay the foundation for safer handling, whether at liberty or under saddle and everything inbetween.


In 1987 while we were shooting a series of videos, Linda explained why we refer to the dressage whip we use as a ‘wand’. She said that most people have the concept of a whip being used to punish when actually it can work like magic as shown by the way many horses respond to TTouch from the wand. She then clarified that the M.A.G.I.C. stood for More Awareness Gains Interspecies Communication.

The History of the "Wand": From Linda's Desk

Linda Tellington-Jones works with the horse Romantico, Robert Dover's mount, through the TTouch labyrinth

As I recall, my use of the TTEAM (now Tellington Method) “wand” dates back to the 1960s when I conducted a seminar for over 200 horse enthusiasts at the University of California at Pomona on the subject of Training a Young Horse to Jump willingly – without running out or refusing, which was very common back in those days. That same evening, a California trainer demonstrated Trailer Loading using a 4-foot whip to tap the horse on the croup. It was the first time I had seen this method used, and it appeared quite simple. It was customary to attempt to coerce a horse into a trailer by whipping it, scaring it with a rake or broom, or pulling it in with a longe line from behind. I appreciated the non-violent use of the whip in this manner and began using it myself for trailer loading, with much success.

When I first started teaching weekend and 10-day workshops for riders with problem horses in Germany in 1975, I discovered the dressage whips made by the Dobert Company. They possessed a unique balance and stiffness that horses responded to very differently than the more flexible black whips I had previously used. Additionally, their white color made them more practical, as they could be easily spotted when lying on the ground in an arena.

It didn’t take me long to realize the effectiveness of the wand for calming horses who were afraid to be touched on the front or hind legs. It was safer than using the hand, and thus we began thinking of the wand as an extension of our arm. It was around this time – and I believe it was already in 1975 with my first weekend clinics in Germany – that I began using the term “Sauber Stab,” meaning “magic wand,” for two reasons. Firstly, it worked like magic to overcome fear in a horse, and secondly, when referred to as a whip, many people were reluctant to use it to stroke a horse due to their past experiences of seeing a horse whipped or using the whip for punishment.

It was remarkable how quickly horses overcame their fear of the wand when they were first stroked on the underside of the neck, over the chest, and down the front legs. When a horse was nervous and moved away, I found that I could stroke both front legs at the same time, and the horse would stand still. Once horses became calm from stroking the legs, many other fears seemed to melt away like magic.

Several seemingly miraculous effects of stroking the chest and front legs stand out to me across several decades. I remember giving a seminar on TTEAM and TTouch at the Ohio State Veterinary Convention sometime in the mid-1980s. I had to bring a very skittish horse up an elevator several floors into a conference room that was packed with standing room only. This horse was very spooky about her legs and flanks being touched, and there was considerable concern on the part of the organizer as to how I could safely take this horse out of the elevator and lead her between the chairs up to the front of the room. Before entering the elevator, I stroked her for several minutes quietly down the neck, chest, and front legs and gently tapped her hooves – then ran the wand down the inside of the back legs several times. In less than three minutes, she lowered her head, relaxed, and walked calmly onto the hotel elevator.

As I entered the room full of people, I stroked her on the neck and chest rhythmically and toned to her all the way down the aisle to the front of the room. She didn’t make a bobble, and you can believe there were a lot of impressed people.

Another example that stands out in my mind is a story from Robyn about a TTEAM clinic in Florida when Dr. Peggy Fleming was attending. One evening during the middle of the week, Peggy had to acupuncture a horse who had broken the arm of the veterinarian who had attempted to treat the horse some days before. Peggy entered the stall of a very reactive mare and began stroking her front end with the wand. Within minutes, the horse was calmed, and Peggy was able to needle her safely and without a fight. That’s when she began using the wand as a regular part of her approach and has taught this to many veterinarians in her acupuncture courses.

It was another veterinarian who shed light on the reason that stroking the front legs to the ground is so effective. In the early 1990s, I taught a 3-week TTEAM training in San Miguel de Allende in Mexico with participants from Germany, Switzerland, Canada, and the U.S.. We had a 17-hand retired jumper in the clinic who was among the most high-headed, reactive horses I recall. Dr. Betsy Adamson, a veterinarian from Redlands, California, was attending the clinic and gave us all two invaluable insights into reactive behavior that I have shared with thousands of horse owners, and I have not seen this information printed anywhere else.

She explained that when a horse is in a state of fright, preparing for flight or fight, there is a chemical response that inhibits blood flow to the limbs, apparently giving more strength to the muscles. As a result, there appear to be fewer neural impulses in the legs. For those of us who work with skittish horses, we understand that nervous horses typically don’t like their legs to be touched, and sometimes they are so fearful that they kick when touched on the hind legs. By stroking with the wand, I believe we are activating the feeling in the legs, encouraging blood flow, calming the nervous system, and overriding the flight response.

Now, thanks to a study by human therapist Robin Bernhard and TTEAM Practitioner Sandy Rakovitz, reported in the TTEAM Connections newsletter from fall of 2006, we actually understand what happens in the brain as a result of the stroking. Using the computer software BrainMaster, the brain images validate what we have observed for so many years. It is the slow, calm stroking from the neck, chest, and down the front legs with the wand that transformed a high-headed, unfocused, reactive mare named Grace into a calm, cooperative partner. Having this validation is an invaluable gift to understanding the behavior of our horses and a testament to the effectiveness of the magic TTEAM wand.

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