Tapotement is a type of rhythmic percussion
massage to relax the muscles and release endorphins:
By JP Giacomini:
As soon as horsemen understood that more was achieved by gaining the
horse's trust rather than vanquishing him, a means to create consistent
relaxation (consciously or not) became the goal of all intelligent methods.
This is why any trainer worth their salt knows that chewing, salivating,
swallowing, licking and neck lowering are all desirable signs of relaxation
which are very helpful indications of progress to come during horse
These phenomena also occur during grazing, an activity that requires the
peace of mind due to not having a prowling predator in immediate range.
Grazing is a 16 hours a day activity in the wild because this time is
necessary for a horse to survive on a vegetal, low energy diet.
other hand, carnivorous animals need a high energy protein diet that can be
satisfied by eating every day or 2 and is achieved through a high level of
excitability and alertness needed for the hunt.]
Q: What is the connection between "The 3 R's", grazing and chewing?
A: Scientists tell us that horses are endorphin addicts and get it mostly
from chewing. In a stable, a horse left without hay will try to satisfy his
'addiction' by chewing wood, repetitive movements (known as stable vices) or
even biting himself (in the case of some stallions).
This theory was proven
by the fact that when morphin (artificial cousin of natural endorphin)
inhibitors were administered to a horse that bites himself, the behavior
stopped very quickly. Scientists also tell us that all relaxation begets
endorphin release (and other physiological phenomena) in the same way that
excitement releases adrenaline and sexual excitement releases testosterone.
The reverse is also true, endorphin release begets relaxation, etc.
Q: Then the idea is to get horses to have an endorphin release, but then
A: Horses learn the most while relaxed, because it is the time when they
feel safe enough to eat and indulge in their social behavior. The lengthy
relaxation they enjoy from the chewing of their low calorie diet, also
corresponds to increased blood flow to their digestive tract (for effective
digestion) and their brain (for observing, reacting and learning in their
On the contrary, when horses are fleeing (their most
specific survival mechanism when attacked by predators), we know that the
blood flow increases in the heart, lungs and major muscle groups involved in
fast locomotion. As riders, we know that a fleeing horse doesn't think or
learn, while a walking horse does. Baucher taught his horses mostly at the
This is why horses absolutely need to be calm in order to learn, which
is demonstrated by neck lowering and the mouth activity described earlier
(rather than the food itself). Dogs learn from the excitement corresponding
to the hunt, which is key to their survival as predators. The food is the
reward that actually corresponds to the kill. Dog trainers celebrate every
progress with tidbit and a big game, while horse trainers return to the walk
on a long rein after progress.
Q: How did you come up with "The 3 R's of Riding" and how does it work?
A: "The 3 R's of Riding" method I developed is the product of the
of training many horses and studying the validity of past methods. The new
behavioral knowledge explains very well what we have known intuitively and
helps keep the process logical. Equitation is constantly evolving and is
still a long way from a truly simplified method, but every new step is worth
trying until a better one can be found.
"The 3 R's of Riding" is a logical
development of all previous attempts at obtaining the general relaxation of
the horse on command. This has been the goal of all the historic equestrian
methods we have heard of or are still practicing today, because relaxation
is the unifying factor of the universal equestrian principal: "CALM, FORWARD
Clearly, a horse needs to be relaxed in order to be calm, but
he also needs to relax the muscles antagonistic to propulsion in order to go
forward. He needs to relax the right side muscles to bend left and vice
versa. Anyone watching high level sport understands that those athletes work
constantly at becoming relaxed in some specific way that suits their
Yet this basic truth has not been spelled out in the horse world before in
many words of one syllable. Horse's relaxation has been mostly the product
of the better riders' skill and own relaxation and limited to that. The 3R's
offer a system valid for any body with a minimum skill to make the horse
willing and capable to listen to them. If the horse is happy and secure
enough through his own relaxation, the riders will have the time to learn
the next skill indispensable for their own progress.
Q: And you achieve the endorphin release through tapping the horse with an
A: Yes, the "Endo-Stick" is a soft rubber ball attached to the end of a
whip and is the best tool for this purpose. I have tried tennis rackets,
wiffle bats and even my hands, all with much lesser results. The gentle
"tapping" (technically called by the French name "tapotement" in physical
therapy language) on the horse with the "Endo-stick" modifies the horse's
response to physical stimulus progressing through 4 different stages (the
first 3 standing still, the last one in movement):
1. The Resist phase: The horse is weary and annoyed, as by any natural
stimulus. It is the primal reflex of defense against insects, etc. He will
either fidget or lean against the stimulus. The trainer needs to lower the
intensity of the tapping to an acceptable level, yet insist until the horse
enters the next phase.
2. The Ignore phase: Also called 'desensitization' by western riders. In
fact, it is an overload sensation to the muscle that no longer reacts or
notices the stimulus. The trainer must progressively increase the power of
the tapping until the horse's muscle "takes notice" again and enters the new
phase of response.
3. The Relax phase: The muscle lets go of all tension and the horse lowers
his head (due to the relaxation of the topline) as an automatic result of
the vibration traveling through his body, or the endorphin release, which
comes first, or both. Only accurate hormonal testing will demonstrate which
one is the determining factor.
This phase varies in the length of time
needed to attain and the quality of the results with each horse. Some
all the way down immediately, others relax progressively, others pull
stamp their feet, shake their neck and only relax completely after a longer
session. However, we have NEVER seen a horse not respond, this method has
never failed so far.
4. The Energy phase: When in movement, the same stimulus (gentle tapping
with the "Endo-stick") is applied to the now relaxed muscle and creates an
increased range of motion and increased alertness in the part of the body
that is being stimulated.
At first, the trainer taps indiscriminately in
one area, until relaxation is re-established in movement. Then the trainer
controls the timing of the tapping and adjusts it to the rhythm of the gait.
This is done first in-hand and later mounted, using first the "Endo-Stick",
then transferring the tapping to the legs that will work in the same way.
This progression should be applied to the entire body, one area at a time.
Once learned, the Relax reflex is never forgotten by the muscle memory.
Similar to riding a bicycle, once learned, no matter how many years pass,
the muscles never 'forget' how to ride a bike. The horse's muscles have
a conditioned response to the tapping, which brings forth the endorphin
release and relaxation (the Relax Reflex replaces the Primal Reflex of
In my experience, it is useful in all the gaits, exercises,
etc., until they are "re-educated" in this new emotional state, more
favorable to knowledge retention. Once the horse is conditioned in the
Relax Reflex, any vibration will produce a relax reflex (some times without
touching the horse) as long as the rider is moderately relaxed in their own
actions. The legs serve that purpose beautifully, but the gentle
"Endo-Stick" can be used just like a whip, only much more often and for an
infinitely better result.
The Reward part stems from the fact that relaxation is in itself, it's own
reward. It is deeply satisfying to the horse because it is linked to two
very important facets of his life: feeding and social life. Clearly, voice
rewards should be added to encourage the mental comfort and activity, but
they are not critical to this conditioning method.
I use voice commands and
rewards myself all the time, because I think it is important to encourage
the mental activity of the horse and his ability to differentiate right from
wrong. I also feel that the use of verbal rewards increases the apprentice
trainer's judgment of the horse's progress. However, Muscle memory is the
fundamental location of the learning process and relaxation is the most