Charlotte Cannon’s Equine Tapping is an effective way to relax your horse, rewire your horse’s response to stress, release physical and mental/emotional braces or blocks so that your horse can achieve maximum balance and maximum athletic ability.
Charlotte developed her Tapping technique after learning about JP Giacomini’s Endotapping.
JP uses Endotapping 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 endotapping 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 me a demonstration, and explain the concept and technique. Both she and JP use an endostick, a stiff stick similar to a dressage whip with a foam rubber ball attached to the end. JP created this endostick and sells them.
Watching Cedar, I really grabbed the relaxation effect of the endotapping, since my interests were more in getting horses calm and relaxed. With my work in opening neural pathways in horses and 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.
Today studies are being done on people who have been abused, traumatized or been put through intense emotional experiences. Some of these people hold these emotional memories in their mind, and can successfully release them through traditional talk therapy.
Others hold emotion/trauma in their physical body in certain muscles, and tend to exhibit specific postures (for example head down/slumped shoulders of a battered child or woman). For those who hold memories physically in their body, doctors have created a Human Body Map to identify. common places different emotions are held. These doctors have found if they can change the negative posture to a positive posture, releasing the muscles where the memories are stored, the person can release the emotion that has held them back and move forward with their life. This is groundbreaking stuff for victums of trauma, abuse and PTSD.
I have seen something similar in horses for years. I noticed that unconfident, explosive horses consistently tend to have a vastly different posture than calm, confident horses. I have also done my own experiments to see if physically changing a horse’s posture can change his personality. The experiments have been overwhelmingly successful. I was able to take explosive horses, and by making changes in their feet with trimming, shoeing and pads, was able to change their posture, and within 30 days we saw vast positive changes happen in their personalities. After seeing this was possible, I started to search for an even easier way to create these changes. Tapping has been the answer.
Through my study of equine emotion and trauma, I have found the spots I believe horses bury the negative emotional memories. I have created an evolving Equine Body Map to help us know where to Tap. Tapping on these spots not only helps the horse release their physical muscles, but the muscle reflex caused by the Tapping can release the negative emotions and experiences trapped in those muscles. Tapping has the potential to free many traumatized horses (and potentially people, dogs, etc) and give them a new lease on life. This is amazing!
I’m also using these Tapping techniques to radically reshape the body, to help the body engage muscles of the PSNS. By engaging these muscles, and changing to a posture of greater balance, we can uncover athletic potential and performance we never knew existed in an individual.
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.
Initial technique is to tap on the horse with your energy, and later, some sort of stick (a dressage whip works well). Tap until the horse either turns to connect with you, or does something more relaxed. When it does, stop tapping. Start again when it either disconnects from you, or does something less relaxed (maybe the head goes up).
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 endorphin release posture).
Before I ever start Tapping on a horse, I always do Playground of Safety.
Playground of Safety is an exercise to allow the horse and human to relax before you begin your Tapping.
Horses must have their Safety and Comfort needs solved before you add additional stress.
To do this powerful exercise one needs a long rope, a stick and time. Find a spot to stand relaxed with your focus not on your horse. You will have a bubble around you that is your to protect. Your horse will have a doughnut of space surrounding you and your bubble (you are standing in the doughnut hole). The outer edge of the doughnut is created by the end of the rope.
Your horse may do anything it wants to do in his doughnut as long as he doesn’t come into your bubble, or pull on the end of the rope. Introverts usually start frozen/standing still. Extroverts usually start with flight/moving. Wait for your horse to relax enough to move if he was still, or stop if he was moving. As he relaxes more and more, he will move through these cycles of movement and stillness. Each time he changes, he is becoming more relaxed and more present. This is incredibly important to do.
If your horse pushes on your bubble, you must drive him out using the
1.Turn away from him and raise your stick straight up.
2. Put your stick on your belly button with the tip at the height of his nose.
3. Turn in the direction of his nose one step at a time, swinging your stick toward his nose, then away from his nose, approach and retreat, until you either tag his nose or he moves out of your bubble.
4. Relax again on your spot.
Do not move on to Tapping until your horse is present, relaxed and wanting to engage with you.
For the first session I start right behind the wither on the upper back, a spot I call the Friendly Spot.
Start first with just your presence. Is the horse feeling safe and comfortable with me standing next to it? If your horse isn’t feeling safe and comfortable with you standing next to him, none of this Tapping will work as intended. Go back to Playground of Safety if your horse cannot tolerate standing beside you, both of you facing in the same direction with your belly button pointed forward, not at the horse.
Once your horse is standing relaxed next to you, you may start your Tapping using your Belly Button Energy. Your eyes and your belly button give off more energy than any other part of your body. By simply turning your eyes and belly button toward your horse, your horse will feel that pressure or stress. Watch for the slightest response, an ear flicking back toward you, an eye roll or blink, anything that is more connected or relaxed.
As soon as you see the slightest change, turn your belly button away from your horse, this is his release/reward. Give your horse a moment to process, then turn back to face him again, look for the eye, ear or sign of relaxation or connection. Immediately turn away and release when you see the smallest response.
It is important to start this light, to give the horse the opportunity to understand and learn the response you desire. By starting with the stick, many horses will freeze and go deeply introverted. This is not the response we want, this further traumatizes the horse by Flooding him with stimulation. Flooding causes horses to go deeply inside themselves, bracing against and ignoring the stress. This creates a mental space called Learned Helplessness, where the horse basically gives up and allows anything, to avoid worse trauma, or potentially death. This is not the mental space we are trying to create, but it could easily happen if you are not truly present and focused on seeing and feeling the slightest try in your horse.
Most horses will respond quickly to the belly button tapping, and will connect and relax nicely. Once they have learned what you are after, you may start using your stick. To introduce the stick, simply raise the stick, then look for the same eye, ear or sign of relaxation or connection. When you see the positive response, lower your stick to release/reward. Turn it into a fun game of Hot and Cold.
Once your horse is responding to the raised stick well, start stroking in small stokes. For sensitive horses this may be enough to get a big freeze or jump. If so, just keep stroking until you again get the positive response. Stop stroking and pull the stick off the skin to release/reward. the response.
Once you are consistently getting a positive response to the stroking, you may start to lightly tap, again releasing at the slightest try. The release/reward here is the stop of the tapping and touch. As the horse understands, you may tap more firmly to help him learn how to solve a bigger stress.
Imagine in your mind that this is a puzzle, and you are teaching your horse to solve that puzzle. It shows him that there is an answer to your pressure/stress, and inspires him to hunt for that answer. He doesn’t just learn to tolerate stress and pressure, he learns how to solve it, how to make it go away.
At first the reward is the pressure or stress stopping, but as he learns to relax and connect, he will get a surge of positive chemicals in his brain, endorphins and oxytocin. These become an even bigger reward, and the horse finds he can get them by simply relaxing and connecting. Once he connects this in his mind, he can self soothe, or cope with stress, by relaxing and/or connecting, the pleasurable feelings he gets from the endorphins and oxytocin become his reward.
Horses are ready to move to other body parts when they are responding well to the Friendly Spot, or side of the wither.
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. Each horse is different, so what is big for one horse, might be small release for another. Yawning, a big body shake, lying down to roll, lots of licking and chewing could all be spots to end the session.
Always find a positive spot to stop where the horse is more relaxed and more connected. 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), but not every horse will make it this far. Sometimes you must find a lesser place if it’s 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.
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.
7. Tapping can shut off the Sympathetic Nervous System of the brain, the part that controls your horse’s response to fear and danger, the fight/flight/freeze. There are muscles specifically controlled by the SNS and they create brace, tension and stiffness. These are the “pedestrian” muscles. A horse that stays primarily in the SNS will look mechanical at best.
When the SNS is shut down, the Parasympathetic Nervous System takes over and brings calm and relaxation to the horse. The muscles controlled by the PNS must turn on or the horse will fall down. These muscles are soft, flowing and rhythmic. These are the “dancer” muscles, with these you get ultimate balance, engagement, motivation and power. This is where you get the amazing performance.
8. Tapping can inspire the fascia in the horse to relax, release and change shape. Fascia is the connective tissue that gives the body its shape. It can hold the body in a positive shape, or it can hold the body in a negative shape. Tapping influences the shape of the body, and when the body becomes more relaxed, and starts to release positive chemicals into the brain and body, the fascia will want to hold the body in the new positive shape. Its amazing how quickly the body can change using relaxation and connection.
I am now using Tapping to help reprogram horses with severe issues such as Shivers and Head Shaking, both of which have huge Sympathetic Nervous System components. I’m super excited to see how far we can take this new science, to see how many previously hopeless horses can become useful and get back into life!
Whether the response is visually minimal, or extreme, Tapping 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!
When you start Tapping sometimes its 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 catch and reward tiny changes, the more your horse will offer you bigger ones..
Of course not everyone has high performance goals, but for Stage 1-6 Releases to really hold, posture must change. Tight fascia will hold a horse in a SNS/survival/fear 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 SNS/survival/fear state given enough stress.
Through these exercises, the muscles release and relax, we can then start to trigger the muscles we want to engage (the PSNS muscles). As we change the muscles, the fascia can then start to release and change in the ‘wrong’ spots, and stretch and expand in the ‘right’ spots.
Encouraging the fascia to release, then hold our new desired PSNS/rest/digest/play/learn/heal posture is the ultimate goal. Only with this change do we reach our maximum potential.
1. Conditions a Relaxation Posture from a Stress Cue. With the physical posture comes a mental/emotional change from Adrenaline/survival/SNS to Endorphins/rest/digest/play/learn/heal/PSNS.
2. 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 you become your horse’s ‘drug dealer’ for positive feelings, endorphins.
3. Physical Tapping stimulates a Muscle Reflex (to contact, then release) bringing fresh blood to the area and opening a new Neural Pathway to the brain, to bring that muscle online.
4. By creating this posture of mental/emotional relaxation and balance, and by releasing muscles via the innate muscle reflex, the horse will physically start to move to physical balance.
5. Trauma, abuse and intense emotions are often locked/stuck deep within different areas of the body. Tapping can release those muscles, and neutralize those negative feelings.
6. Tapping can be used to engage PSNS muscles to reshape the horse physically/mentally/emotionally. You can tap into performance potential you never knew existed.
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 starts at wither, mane or 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 face on front leg
- Blow out
- Posture changes (feet square, front/hind feet closer together, endorphin hind leg)
- Body shake
- Ears rapidly twitching
Stage 6 Releases
- Blow out from Muscle Chain relaxation
- Eye roll
- Lip wiggle in the 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’
- Cross front feet to release shoulders/wither
- Feet square (often horses with unevenness side to side will stand with feet offset, squaring feet is a great sign of balance side to side)
- Hind feet wider than front (weight shift back)
- Front and hind feet close together (vs parked/camped out)
- Hind legs deep under body, ‘endorphin hind leg’
- Weird hair patterns or effects (lines, all hair stands up, leopard spots stand up) as toxins are released
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 can see ripples as you tap
- Body parts start to bounce and move
- Back starts lighting up
- Cross hind legs to release hips/SI joint
- Dimples start to appear in belly as fascia starts to change
- Horse starts to get really shiny
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
- Dapples start popping out
- Deep vertical lines may appear as fascia releases
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
- Top of the horse expands and neck relaxes
- Horse starts to breathe all the way into his back
- Ears release and get floppy/soft
- Eyes round or almond shaped, no more wrinkles
- Mouth relaxed, long, lip soft and extended
- Horse appears ‘stoned’