MY CURRENT APPROACH
For me, the goal of tapping is achieving that deep postural release we see in the ‘grazing stance,’ and using that not only somatically as a form of bodywork to release physical tension, but cognitively and limbically to release mental and emotional tension by communicating “All is well, get back to grazing,” as is seen in a grazing herd practicing co-regulation. I can then use it in new situations and environments because I’ve basically put relaxation on cue.
I generally like to start right behind the withers, using a light, rebounding, rapid rhythm, and when I notice a change, I acknowledge it by stroking back and down the bladder meridian, sometimes down the hind leg, to ‘ground’ the horse.
I don’t know if meridians or grounding are actually a ‘thing,’ but this certainly seems to help them connect their entire body, instead of compartmentalizing tension.
This is very similar to Masterson Method in that I often find myself working meridian lines, as well as stepping back and letting them ‘process’ as needed.
It’s also similar to Masterson Method in that the horse is really the one who guides the process, and we have to listen and adjust as necessary to stay under the ‘brace response,’ as well as support them through thresholds.
Then and only then are we ready to try tapping.
WHAT TOOL DO YOU USE?
People ask me about what ‘tapping stick’ I use, and although we can just use our fingers, most horses appreciate the distance a stick allows, and we can use either end of pretty much any training stick or whip.
For a while, I used a cat toy foam ball super-glued onto the end of a dressage whip, but I also found a retractable target stick with a ball on the end of it on Amazon that works really well.
As we progress, we can use pretty much anything with this light, rapid tapotement, including saddle blankets, flags, legs, etc. to tap into the relaxation we’ve built.
Hey! Quick question- I’m looking at introducing tapping as primarily a relaxation cue, but am worried this will interfere with the tapping I to to cue certain movements (go more forward, move laterally) under saddle. Is this the case?? Thanks so much!
Specifically, much of the time escalating tapping at the hip is used as a backup to my leg if I don’t get a forward enough response. I don’t want to lose this!
Excellent question! As long as we’re consistent!
Tapping has a very particular feel to it, it’s very rapid, non-escalating, and kind of rebounding, while escalation cues are very context-specific, so horses have no problem telling the difference.
I actually use tapping with a very long lunge web to ask for a relaxation posture when I’m lunging, and they can definitely tell the difference between me tapping or swinging the lash end over them rhythmically, and the verbal cue and slower tapping with escalation when asking for more forward movement.