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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Ellen, agreed, as of now, 9-8-2010, 6:06 PM EDT I will stop fulminating about LP and NH on this discussion (I just made a comment about it, my apologies.)

I have been studying horse language for about 35 years. You have noticed things that I did not learn and I have not consciously noticed, and I am EAGER to learn from you. Hopefully I soon will have a computer that does not blank out whenever I watch a lot of videos!

Decades ago I decided that horses speak with their whole bodies and that every muscle movement could be considered a word/phrase/sentence in the paragraph that the horse was "speaking." I don't get everything and ALWAYS want to learn more.

Thank you so much for sharing with us.
Hello Ellen, Thanks so much for your posts. I have watched many of your vidoes and find the whole topic of communicating with horses fascinating. I really appreciate your non-confrontational approach to training and the concept of playing games with our horses. I'll be following this thread ...thank you!
omg I started Crying....... how horrible she is..... how jacked up and unresponsive she made this horse... how sad she taught the owner who he obviously trusts to be so mean... I learned to never ask my horse to raise his head...... but to lower his head...... this was appauling.
The calming signals used to make another horse feel at ease...

Like I said in the previous post, there are two kinds of calming signals; one that is used when someone feels agitated, and one to reassure that they are safe to be around.

The one they use for reassuring is seen in different circumstances than the other; this is not when they feel threatened themselves, it's when they know that the other one is insecure and wants to reassure them. This signal I got aware of when I watched my stallion interact with his new foal, and fortunately I have it on film so I can show you :)

What I want you to pay attention to is that he tries not to move. The mare is very clear about what she wants; for him to go away, but Fabuloso, the father of the foal, doesn't want to. He is just dying to meet the little guy :)

The mare is saying "move away!", but she doesn't take it further because of his signals of being no threat. They are, as you can see, immobility as well as having his backside to them. Also he keeps his ears kind of sideways (like as he was sleeping) and his neck is also in a "sleepy position". Pretending to sleep seems to be the most important part of this signal (if you sleep you aren't much of a threat).

Notice that the mare reacts every time he moves a little, but backs off when he goes back to the sleeping posture. If she really wanted him to go away she could easily move him, he listens to her very much, but since he is behaving very well she reluctantly allows him to stay there.

It's fascinating to see her communication with her "husband" and her baby, but for now I want to focus on the signals from the stallion.

The foal is very curious about daddy, and the whole thing gets interrupted when he tries to open the gate like he had seen us do (I was impressed that he had noticed that!) and there is electricity in the fence so he gets scared of course (it's mild and the whole purpose IS for them to be afraid of touching the fence - you might disagree with using that, but it's common here in Scandinavia and really is another and separate topic).

I hope that you see the clip twice. The first time just to get the impression, and the second time with a look at my comments to the time codes underneath the clip...

Some details with time codes:

0:00 : The mare (Lebrera) and the foal (Bravo) hasn't been this close to him before, but the stallion was there and the mare went up to get some of the good grass at that end of the yard. When he approaches the foal the mare tells him to go away… she wants to be there, but needs some space.

0:10 : he got the message, but is a bit confused that she doesn't take it further, but instead she turns to eat. Check out his ears! he looks bewildered :) She repeats the message, and he is still looking confused (do I HAVE to move, or what?) so when she turns again he replies with a calming signal to her.. :

0:33: Fabuloso is using the other calming signal (I am not wanting a conflict with you) towards the mare; notice at 0:33 that he pretends to eat from the bucket. Watch closely and you can see how he isn't really thinking about the bucket at all, he is pretending to… and that works, she lets him stay there.

0:50: the foal shows interest, and Fabuloso can't help himself, he raises his head. He is about to go into the other calming signal (sleepy) but is interrupted by the mare that'a telling him to back off. The reason she turns around every time is to steer the foal away from the stallion, the poor mare has her hands full! Fabuloso goes back to pretending to care about the bucket and even starts nibbling at the grass next to it, all the while paying close attention to the mare and foal.

1:11: Fabuloso changes his signal from the "no conflict signal" to the mare over to "I am no threat" to the foal. Watch his ear! Soon after we can see why; the mare is busy eating, but the foals attention is fully on daddy. At this point, watch how the stallion is trying not to move at all.

1:40: The mare is aware of the situation and talking to both of them. A soft warning to the stallion and telling the foal to stay put.

1:47: The mare backs off for a reason I don't know, probably because dad is showing such good behavior, but baby Bravo can't help himself, he has to check it out! See how dad stands still (but is totally revealed by his ear;) )

1:57: Fabuloso is dying to get a closer look and moves a little. That is NOT OK with the mare, and she tells him so and takes her baby away from him.

2:16: They both listened to her, but now the baby can't resist any longer, mom tells him no, and he looks like he understands. Dad goes back into the calming signal to the mare (2:25) and then quickly goes back to talking to the baby with "I am not a threat" with the sleepy look.

2:49: the foal approaches again, and since dad is behaving well, Lebrera is not doing anything about the situation (but watch her ears; she is SO paying attention). The foal is now going for the gate and seems to try to open it (I found that amazing, he is only 4 days old, and already noticed that we can open the fence!) and, well that'a the end of that interaction at that point

The next clip I want to share with you is when dad is allowed to interact with the foal without mom present for the first time. That is, if you find this interesting? Those signals are not the same ones they use with us when they want to avoid a conflict with us, however it is very useful to know about these signals, too. We use them when getting foals to trust us, and they are very effective.

I am afraid that I am getting carried away here with all the details, this is a topic that I find so fascinating and interesting, but it might be overkill for you? If not I have other clips I find relevant that I would like for us to talk about in addition to these :)
In this clip the stallion Fabuloso is meeting his foal for the first time without the mare Lebrera interfering. Fabuloso is again showing the calming signals that are used to make another feel at ease (the "sleepy" signals) and the foal is getting braver by the second.

Besides the stallions way of trying not to move, although he sometimes can't help himself, an important aspect is that the foal comes up behind the stallions. The rear is the horses least aggressive side. Humans often looks at this the other way; often we interpret the horse turning around so that it's tail is facing us as an aggressive act, or at least a disrespectful act, but between horses it is the opposite.

If a horse at the same time is waving it's tail or lifting a leg, it is a threat involved, but it's an act of defensiveness - meaning the horse is showing that it is ready to defend itself and that is really just another sign of it's insecurity - and not an act of aggression.

When the stallion turns around and tries to check the foal out, the foal immediately reacts with the same calming signals, it would seem that these signals are instinctual since the baby is only ten days old, but that is a guess; the foal has already observed these signals several times, and foals are fast learners. In any case, when the stallion checks him out he turns his backside to him and stands very still except for the typical foal chewing that they do. When daddy turns his head around again, the foal feels safer and continues to check him out.

The whole session lasted about 20 minutes and after that the two were inseparable! The foal followed daddy everywhere, and had no problems if we wanted to do something with mom, however taking dad away caused a panic.

I raised an orphan foal and he was so curious about everything I had my hands full too... it's not overkill for me.
my horse eats poop.. at first I was like ew, he's blowing me off... now with your help I'm realizing again that he is such a docile horse...... I am so glad I read this..... I also keep my hands and head low when he does and I've been criticized for this but the boy follows me whereever I go, LOL....
Jennifer, would you mind explaining some of the behaviors your fella displays to show he's docile? I'm trying to figure my girl out.. She seems so interrested in us and curious at times, and so "Oh you again? Leave me 'lone.." at others..
Like I posted somewhere else on here, it's weird for her considering she LOVED people so much before she got trailered here.. Whatever happened in transit, I want to know how to understand her NOW...
Thanks so so much:)
Hi Megan... I think he's docile... I hope I'm right.... well, he comes up to me curious but if I ask him to back off he does..... if you pop him for anything he stops right away, and doesn't try anymore.... if I get big he gets defensive, he doesn't usually provoke at all anymore, he drops and snoozes like the video, he licks and chews, he keeps his head down if I keep my energy low.... if I call him he looks right over and comes to me but easily goes away if I am asking him to.... let's see, he just doesn't try much with my other horse if he's put in his place right away. I watch them alot together.... ... he reminds me more of testing to make sure he doesn't have to be in charge but right away gets in line with me and follows me if I ask him to and toby my other gelding.... he backs off gently and easily... he walks up to me with his head low..... um, he drops, rolls and yawns around me.... he nickers low when he seems me come and drops his head in my arms...... he lets me rub him everywhere and he doesn't swish his tail at me much, sometimes but not often.... I try real hard to be polite to him and speak to him in a non threatening way.,.... what I find interesting is I see him, he's a large horse with big feet, go out of his way to not step on me if he is approaching for food without me asking now..... he hasn't always been this way... we have worked with him for five years my trainer and I... I just believe in his nature he does not want to be the dominant horse... he's happy to be a follower.... he's not as easy to push from behind as he is to lead by the nose... he doesn't raise his head ever either... he stays with a level head. However, very hyper with strangers.. that is another entire thread and I did post it here..... good luck with her and tell her we said Hi and we are in her corner.
before this thread started we had talked about this on other threads, not to this extent, but some, and i had put up videos of my horse and how I thought he was acting very nice... but my videos aren't here now...... maybe Ellen will let us post our videos and she can critique us and see if we are reading our horses right.
I do agree Ellen, I think your right on the money when you say there are some golden moments for trust to be developed that were missed in that video because, well I don't know why they were missed they just were. When the horse is looking for comfort, as that one tried to do on a number of occasions, and you dont give it you miss that bonding opportunity that is gold. There is a big difference between assertive and aggressive, all I could see was aggression. No moment when the horse could find it's comfort zone. As for natural horsemanship, people ask me if I practice it, I always say " well I don't practice UN-natural horsemanship!" I think there is JUST horsemanship, pure and simple, good , bad or indifferent .
Cheers Geoffrey
Hi Geoffrey..... my baby horse used to try to jump on me like that yikes:) in the video I never noticed once the horse chew lick or relax... what a shame huh.


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