In the video "Linda Parelli shows how to effectivly hit with the snap" I commented on the horses use of what I call "calming signals". Since there were some interesst in what I wrote I thougth we could talk about it in this forum thread.

I wrote (so I don't have to repeat myself):

Cartoonracher wrote: "When the young woman is trying to back her horse away (under the big tree), he's obviously confused and "over" the whole lesson. He's tuning her out because nothing he's done has been rewarded. It's nothing but non-stop horse-irritating."

I reacted especially to that scene, too. At first the girl is trying to back the horse when he is in front of the tree. Horses don't have good depth perception, especially backwards, so it seems he is asked to back into the tree, something he feels he can't.

After this the horse is seemingly tuning her out, something Linda claims is disrespectful. The sad thing about it is that the horse is NOT tuning her out, the horse is communicating with horse body language that he is not wanting any conflict. I talk about this in my body language clinics a lot, because not many people seems to be aware of the horses
"calming signals".


Horses use these signals when they feel pressured and wants to let the person understand that they perceive them as agitated/aggressive, but that the person can calm down, because they do not pose any threat to them.

Some of the comments here has been about the horse arching away and trying to turn away from the people. What the horse is trying to do is to signal that he's NOT a threat, and by that it's trying to get the person to not be so aggressive. This is the very opposite of disrespect!

The worst thing about the horses calming signals is that it provokes people. People feel ignored and that is for a human a big provocation. Especially when they have been taught that this is a disrespectful sign from the horse! It's a bit off topic here, but I mention it because it's part of the problem with the clip; not only is she using a horrible technique, she is also gravely misreading the horse!

Even a mild correction would have been wrong when the horse is signaling "lets just have peace - I don't wish to fight with you"… if a horse gives you that message and you correct it you are basically telling it "I don't want peace - and I do want to have a fight".

Like I said, it's off topic, but if someone wants me to explain more about these signals I can, we could always make a separate discussion about it.


The horses calming signals is something I haven't written about before although I talk about this in my clinics. There are a couple of reasons for that: one, I don't know how to begin writing about it - in a clinic it comes naturally when a horse displays the signals - and also because I don't know how much people knows about this already. In Scandinavia, where I live and teach, I know that my students says that this is news to them, but for all I know this is common knowledge in Canada :)

Another big reason is that what I am talking about goes against what most trainers believe in, and rocks the foundation of what many people consider natural horsemanship. I think...
Last, but not least; it is a big topic... so to write about it is a big task, but I will do so if I see that people truly are interessted in what I am talking about :)

That is why I want this to be in a discussion form, to get a grasp of what you know about this already, and also to be able to show some video clips to show you what I am talking about.

To not make this text too long I think it's a good idea if I write seperate posts about the different signals. That way I can add on information as I see what people have questions about :)

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I look forward to a series of blogs from you on these signals. Maybe you could also put up some video clips to show us these signals since they are hard to describe?
I usually find that it pays to give the horse credit for TRYING to communicate with us dumb humans, even if I don't always understand what the horse is saying. I've never gotten hung up on this respect thing, except with stallions or stud colts.
You would be doing a great service for all the horses in the world if you teach us Barnmice people how to understand our horses better!
I am happy to see that you are interrested in this :) I won't make a blog series because I want this to be more of a dialog, but I will talk about it in this thread. I really hope that you will contribute with your thoughts about what I write :)
I for one would be very interested in a series of blogs on these horse calming signals. Keep us informed.
thanks
I am going to watch the Linda Parelli video again, I find it difficult to do so but I want to get a good look at the part where the girl is trying to back the horse into the tree. When I first saw it I too was wondering why she didn't move the horse to a different area, away from the tree. While I do not doubt my gelding has been, in the past, disrespectful to me, he's got quite the 'leader' attitude going on...I'm not sure he realizes he's a gelding, I've begun seeing what I think you would consider calming signals, because they aren't quite the same as the disrespect signals. I am very much interested is learning as much as I can about communicating effectively with my horses. You would be doing Rip and I a great favor.
Calming signals: A little background and introduction...

I have seen horses using the signals in two different ways.

One; the horse will use the signals to show another individual (horses or humans) that they are not interested in a fight. It can be when the other one is showing agitation/aggression and seems to try and "pick a fight". By responding in a non-threatening way they let the other one know that they are trying to avoid a conflict, and thus hoping that the other one will settle down.

Two: The other setting is when a horse shows calming signal is to tell someone else that they are safe to be around. This is typically done towards young and insecure horses (foals and youngsters) to make them feel safe, but I have seen it in other situations, too.

The signals have similarities, but are not identical, and the interesting thing is that we can use them with horses to convey the same message with the same effect. To me these signals has been of great value when training horses!

The problem with the signals is that it is not ONE signal, and it is easy to both miss or misinterpret.
The first kind, the "no conflict signal" can be the horse sniffing the ground, eating or getting very interested in something. The problem is that horses sometimes sniff the ground, eat or are interested in something, and it's not a signal; it's just what it seems to be.

In order to determine what is going on one must look for the contexts in when it is done.

The first time it struck me as a signal or a message from the horse was several years ago when I was coaching some business people about leadership using horses. They used body-language to ask the horse to follow them, and of course they made mistakes since most had no prior experience with horses.

One of the horses felt pressured by the person and didn't know what he wanted, and she walked away and started eating from the ground. What made me react to that is that this was mid-winter in Norway and the ground was covered in snow. There was absolutely nothing there to eat. She looked like she was paying no attention to the guy what so ever, as if she didn't know he was there; she was just immensely busy with eating... air... or rather pretending to eat.

The guy got really loud and frustrated, and the worse he got, the more she "didn't see him".
She turned from him so that he was behind her, but still in her field of vision. She appeared to be engulfed in what she was doing, but at the same time she discreetly kept an eye on him. She eased slowly away from him, making it look coincidental.

What she did was what I now call "calming signals", but you might have another name for it. I have searched for information about these signals, but haven't found anything, except from the dog trainers where a trainer called Turid Rugaas (also Norwegian) talks about how the dog use his body language to let us now he is not a threat. She uses the term "calming signals" which is why I am calling it that.

The interesting thing with the dogs signals is that although the signals are different from what the horses use, they are based on the same thing; the dog pretends to be occupied with something other than the trainer. The dogs signals also seem to have more a provocative effect on the humans unfortunately; being ignored is a real trigger for humans.

It took years of study to understand them and recognize them, and the process is not finished. Today I see them a lot easier, but they can still be confused with when the horse really IS distracted, and I am still looking for other signs and also how to best respond. It's very exciting, but still a work in progress, which is also why this is something I haven't written about before or shown in my videos. Some day I will make a film about it :)

So, back to the story: After that day with the mare I started noticing this behavior, curious of what it really meant. There were many times where the horse was in a position where it seemed unlikely that it really was interested in smelling the ground, the horse has a different look when it smells something interesting than it does when it just pretends to; it seemed more likely that something else was going on. I soon realized that it meant something else, but I wasn't sure what it was.

In my clinics about body language I let the horse loose in the arena to see how it will react. First to see what it does on it's own, and then how it reacts to me entering. I used to put some pressure on a horse when they didn't respond to my presence, but after that mare I started to realize that there was a connection between my pressure and how the horse seem to "actively ignore" me.

In the beginning I wasn't sure what was going on, but since I had started to think that this was a form for calming signal I started to take the pressure off the horse when they did this. I then turned to the audience and stood in front of them and talked about these signals. What convinced me that I was right about this was that when I did that; take the pressure off the horse, turn away from it and talk to the audience (with the horse just in the corner of my eye) the horses soon walked up to me and stood by me.

That was interesting! The horse that I had tried to talk to and that seemingly was very busy with other things, came to me when I ignored it back! It happened again and again, and I started to realize that I had stumbled upon the answer to one of my questions about it: if the horse was in fact showing calming signals, what would be the best response?

The answer was to signal the same thing back, and it was amazingly simple; when I turned to talk to the audience about this I had done the same thing as the horse; I seemed to be totally uninterested in the horse, I had him in the corner of my eye, but I was very busy with other things. The result was that the horse took it to mean that I was saying to it that I was not a threat to it either, and that meant it was safe to come and talk to me.

I have tested this with many horses, and get the same response from them. If I am in an arena with a strange horse and ask for his attention the horse often responds with a calming signal. When I see that I respond with the same signal (actively ignoring it) and the horse seems relived that I don't want conflict, and then they can come and greet me. Before I was aware of this I would continue using pressure, asking the horse to move before inviting the horse to come to me. That works, but is a lot more complicated and takes much longer, and is much more stressful for the horse. Also, responding with these signals gets the horses to trust me right away and in a way I didn't get before. Normally those horses starts following me around just like people that does what is called a "join up", but the horses is not doing it as a response to a command, they really choose to do it.

This is not something I do with all horses, mind you. Horses react very differently when I enter an arena, and there are times when showing these signals to them is not the right thing to do. But the other variations is another story and we can get into that later. For now I just wanted to give you an idea of these signals, what they are and what they mean, and most of all why I believe this to be the case.
I did watch the video again, and saw quite clearly, that the horse was doing the sniffing the ground thing...trying to tell his owner that he was not a threat. I also noticed during the part filmed on the track, that the horse barely touched his owners elbow with his nose...like he was trying to find...reassurance, sort of like a foal will touch it's mother's flank...is that a possibility? During that same segment, I couldn't help but notice how much the girl seemed uncomfortable by being pulled around by Linda, perhaps the horse was picking up on that also? I am definitely going to have my previously non-horsey husband read this. Because he has no preconceived notions about training horses, he's been a wealth of ideas about how to go about creating a deeper bond. Thank you so very much.
I have noticed the past few decades this new thing in that the horse should NEVER come into the person's bubble without an express command. I vehemently disagree with this.
I do not allow my horses to be rude to me, any bossy behavior by the horse gets a reminder who is boss (a look, clearing the throat, turning around suddenly to face the horse, usually, bad cases get a light snap of the lead rope). However I treasure the moment when the horse just grazes my skin with his muzzle. Often I am looking away when this happens (thank you Ellen for teaching me why), and I value this signal from the horse because it marks a positive breakthrough with our relationship--before the nuzzling I am just an annoying human with delusions of grandeur, after it I am a friendly person who understands the horse. Then the horse often uses it to ask for reassurance, or to get my attention, or just as a gesture of friendship.
I cannot understand why people want to punish the horse when the horse is trying to praise the person in the only way the horse knows how to give praise.
I've noticed this a lot in the modern Western training, this insistence that if the horse moves into your space for ANY reason to take it as a sign of no respect.
I find that after this wonderful nuzzle that the horse is much more cooperative and also learns its lessons quicker and remembers its lessons better. Isn't that supposed to be the goal of training?
I don't believe that the horse being in "our space" has to be a sign of disrespect. First of all, it depends on what the horse has been taught; if we haven't told it that this is something we don't want, then how is it a sign of disrespect? Second off all; if we HAVE told it that we don't want it close, why do we have to look at it as disrespect? Why not use the word disobedient? And, why not take a closer look at WHY before we start making assumptions. I think the word respect and disrespect are overused and kind of hard to understand.

When I handle young horses as well as older, but insecure animals, they often try to get very close. They seem to want my support and help, and in my view that is far from disrespectful. Sometimes, if it's a big horse that is showing stress in a way that makes me think it is likely to jump in the air at any moment, I will get it to move away from me.

I don't do that with a light heart; I can see that I am pushing it away when it needs my support, but I do it to make sure I don't get hurt. Not that I think it would want to hurt me, but in that state of mind, when it is stressed by it's surroundings, it can easily happen that it gets spooked and can run me down unintentionally. If I am knocked down I won't be much good to the horse, so I get it to move away from me so I can try to help it with a distance between us until it has calmed down a little.

By doing that I make it even harder for the horse and it takes a bit longer for me to help it, but I also need to feel safe in order to be able to give the horse the reassurance that it needs.
As soon as I feel that the horse isn't explosive I will let it be very close to me, and from that position I can help it feel like it's OK.

I can see NO disrespect in a horse acting this way; the horse is doing the same thing a youngster does with it's mother. Notice how a horse often will get very close to the other horses when feeling upset! If a horse does that with me, I think of it as a good thing rather than a bad thing; the horse is showing me that it want's my support.

There is a lot of talk about us being the leader. What is the role of the leader if not this: someone they can turn to for support when they are feeling upset and insecure?

O'boy, I think I just entered another aspect of these body language signals, and this is a bit of a can of worms I'm afraid; the issue of leadership! :) I will get into that soon, it really is related to the calming signals in a way, but that will be in a separate posting :)
one day Jackie me and Oliver spent three hours together..... standing nose to tail.... the horse would not leave my side..... he never touched me he never moved.... I decided to just go with it... who can get their horse to hang out with them like that and I got tears a little.... he is not going away.. no matter if I push him he will not leave.... that day I realized what a true friend he was..... :)
I noticed the same thing; the horse is touching his owner and it seems to me that he is asking for her attention. He seems confused as to what they want, but more so about the change in the owner. Why is she acting this way? and why is she not looking at him? I am thinking that she previously has led him by her side (like most do) and now he is getting punished for that, and he has no idea why.

But, trying to get away from the issues in the film, and focusing on the horses signals, I agree with you on the horses attempt to get help from the owner. And also that the horses eating on the ground is a calming signal. If we think about it; there is no logic in thinking that the horse under those circumstances suddenly felt the urge to eat grass? That he doesn't notice them after all that's just happened?

The horse had tried several times to give calming signals, and I'll find the time-codes so you can see the moments I am talking about. I'll embed the clip here so that it's easier to find the parts in the clip that I am reffering to, but in order to stay on topic here I hope we can take the parelli-training issue out of it, and fully focus on the horses language. It might be easier if you turn off the sound…

The horse is very frequently trying to signal, so I won't point out every one of them, but here are some…:

at 7: 25 : after she backed him up, he start turning away from her and looking like he wants to turn around. He is already chewing, but not the way they do when they seem to be "chewing on a thought". The signal gets interrupted…

At 7:46 : the girl is told to turn, and through the whole turn the horse is trying to look away from her; he is wanting to show her his back-side (I'll get back to the meaning of that later), and he then continues to try to signal to her, but she pulls him around.

At 7: 52; right after his turn he puts his head down on the ground and starts to sniff it. Notice that he is trying to turn around again, but again interrupted. The turning around is a big part of the calming signal; if he just wanted the food he would simply stop and start eating, but if you look closely you will see that he is not trying to grab any food at all; he is just moving his head close to the ground and trying to turn around.

If you look further you will see small indications of this the whole time; he is trying to get turned around, but stopped from doing so because she keeps walking. Sometimes he gets in front of her, and you can see him start lowering his head, but then she turns. Even when she backs him up he is trying to get turned around and trying to lower his head (8:30).

At 8:46 he gets stiff and doesn't know what to to, the tree is in the way.

8:56 he is again trying to turn, and at 9:03 he gives the signal quite clearly; again, notice how he is trying to turn, rather than trying to eat.
9:12 he tries to turn again, but she is not giving him a chance to signal, so at 9:20 he tries to walk past her to get into the right position. The position is a vital part of the signal, the horse has to get their face away from the one they are signaling in order to show that they aren't posing a threat (an aggression signal will in contrast be with the face towards the one they are communicating to).

At 9: 26 he finally manages to get turned from her and gets his head down, and he is pretty determined not to stop his signal. Pay attention to that when the girl changes her position to get more in front, he keeps trying to bend even more away from her, but her waving of the rope makes it too hard to maintain the position.

And so forth… the scene repeats over and over.

Can you see what I am talking about? does it make sense?
Oh yes, I can see.
If anyone, no matter how experienced or praised, came and worked for me, and acted this way I would fire the person immediately and escort them off my property.
I can't watch the whole thing. I can't stand seeing an Arab (one I would buy in a hearbeat if I had money, such a patient horse) being ruined right in front of my eyes. A true NIGHTMARE.
When someone lent me the Parelli first course I stopped watching it around the beginning of your tape. I just could not stand seeing the Arab being so abused, and I am not just talking about physical abuse. I am talking about psychological abuse.
I know a lot of people have learned useful things from the Parelli's, and say it saved their skins with their horses. This may be so, but after seeing stuff like this from Parelli official videos, I would NEVER HIRE A HORSEPERSON TRAINED BY THE PARELLI'S OR TRAINED IN THEIR SYSTEM. I would rather train a total beginner from scratch in my old-fashioned humane and effective methods.
Let me add that I am disabled with Multiple Sclerosis, and I depend on the horses I handle, ride and train to look out for me when my body goes wrong, including moving closer to me when I start to fall when I lead them (just to give me some physical support), ignoring nonsensical aids that my hands/legs sometimes give them when I can't control my hands/legs properly, and when my aids are not perfectly clear the horses politely ask me to make them clearer, and when they finally understand, promptly obey. It would be VERY dangerous for me to try and handle a Parelli trained horse from what I've seen in this clip and other videos. Would a Parelli trained horse even DARE to help me?
Ellen, I thank you from the bottom of my heart for teaching me the horse's calming symbols, since I have been misinterpreting them for much of my life. You will make me an even better horsewoman!
Jackie : I agree that the clip is hard to watch (which is why I got so upset that I decided to post it here on Barnmice even if I don't like to talk negatively about other trainers).

That is the reason that I want to talk about the signals without dragging the other issues around the clip into it (but I made that pretty impossible since I am using that very clip as a reference.) I will look for other clips to show these things instead :)

I am delighted that you are interested and hope for more comments and feedback on this topic. The calming signals are an important part of it, but there are other and equally important aspects that I would like to talk to you about, too.

Just like I believe that the horses calming signals are more often than not misinterpreted by people, there are other aspects of horses communication that are commonly viewed in a way I believe to be wrong. I am expecting a lot of disagreement when I get into those, but since you seem open to my ideas about the calming signals I will give it a go anyway.

I hope other members here feel that they can jump in and share their thoughts about it, too, but in order for us to focus on the horses language we need to get away from being upset with what Linda is doing in the clip. Let's keep that in the comments under the film, and focus on the language in this thread.

And of course; I am assuming that a lot of people will disagree with me on this topic. If so, I don't mind you telling me your opinion, without that this is not much of a discussion :)

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