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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Coming over for an extended head scratch is fantastic Megan! It is very big progress. You were open to her signals, gave her some time to warm up. If food , or envy, is what draws her in, doesn't matter. As she has a moment of touching here, a moment there, she will find out how much better she feels. She will sense your kindness and gradually trust again, doesn't matter if it is slow or fast, just very gradually build on it. You don't need to make it happen, just be ready for her. It's also okay to fend her off gently if she gets a little pushy. You won't drive her away. Once she is drawn to you, she may overdo it, then you have to set the boundaries too. After a while the treats are not always necessary, she will want to come just for the attention and a scratch. Treats are handy in encouraging a new behavior, but horses learn very quickly, then it becomes habit and they work for a scratch.
Marlene is smart!! I loved the advice she gave you meghan... in my videos I fed my horses but do you know, in five years, I never gave them treats to come to me.... I learned alot about blocking energy... sort of nipping them in the bud before they nip..... my horse doesn't nip ever but if he did, I think I'd try just asking him not to way before he got a chance by blocking his energy..... do you carry a crop or rope with you when you are around her???? I actually started giving Oliver treats when he backed away from me and quit bugging me.... he kinda knows no treats unless he is a gentleman.... if he starts nipping because I gave him treats out of my hand my trainer will kill me... I also put the food down or put it in a bucket.... she will start catching you the more and more you start to watch all these videos and we walk you through it... my horse stood with his butt to me for 4 months till I met my trainer who taught me how to get Toby to catch me.... and I cried like a baby or more like a teenage girl whose boyfriend was being mean.... 6 years later, you see Toby in my video he ain't all that into it..... but he tries..... improvement is all we can ask for and a willingness from the animal to try.... I love that old buggar horse so much but he can't handle the lovin.... he leaves if I give him too much stroking or love.... but all the time he tolerates me more and more...
Blocking energy, eh? Is that just giving off a "vibe" of not tolerating the nipping?
Haha Silly Toby! BEAUTIFUL Toby.. D doesn't really point her fanny at me any more.. She just... Eats.. They only get fed twice a day but she sure manages to stretch it out!
Hmm, if I make Donoma be polite before I treat, she gets pissy and pins her ears, leaves and sometimes nips out. She's been pretty good about NOT doing that lately, but I think that's just bc I"m getting braver and she may not feel like she can scare me as much?
I definitely think she's trying (at times).. I need to remember to be grateful for those.. I just wish she'd let me love on her to praise her, and I wish my "Good girl" meant something to her!
No, I don't usually carry anything with me. I did carry a "wand" before and made them stay at least 4-5 feet away from me.. But it seemed like it made Kai sad that I did that, and I felt like it put a strain on our relationship so I stopped. I usually have a grooming brush in my bum pocket though..
try this.. next time she looks right at you... just put your hand on her head between her ears and stroke down her nose once from top to bottom on her head and then turn and walk away.... walk in circular motions instead of linear and see if she will follow you.... just one step and take off the pressure by looking away from her.. even if you are not close to her but far away, do the one swipe down her face and turn and look away from her.... stand there if you have to and see if she looks interested..... it can take many days but she will catch you soon.... and come and stand by you and sniff your hair... toby is just like her.... oh, you are gonna get your girls yet because you care so much!!
I think they also like to see the other horse is relating to you..... wow Meghan, that is really cool...
Oh wow, what a gorgeous horse..... I find that you are displaying a perfect display of attraction... you are helping him be calm, eventhough he never looked up set to me.... I have to learn his upset signal more, but he seemed very willing and very nice.... I notice from what I've learned how wonderful it is when the horses head is low... I enjoyed your energy because you never offended him to the point of him raising his head over shoulder level or giving you any reason to think that he was getting aggressive... you have wonderful energy with horses Ellen.... this is the type of thing I will watch and rewatch to see the prompts with his signals... thanks for posting it. 53 - 109 is very interesting.. how he backed up and really did resist...... then when you changed your body he turned back into you.... the look on his face in 2:29 is where my horse was when people were asking me to roundpen him.... do you see how if you maybe kept pushing Yavar from that distance but increased the pressure how he mght have gotten really aggressive? That was very interesting to me because no matter how I stood there at Olivers hip and no matter what I did he would not move..... he and Yavar have a few of the same tendencies... Yavar seems to plant his feet when he is tense doesn't he?
I would LOVE to see what you have to say about this! My girls give off body language that some folks say is disrespectful, but I just don't get that "feeling" from them.. I'd like to know what they're really thinking so I can REALLY know and work with them.. They're my first horses, and I'd like to get it right since they'll be with me for a long time..
Thank you so much for talking about this--I'm excited!
Megan wrote:
I would LOVE to see what you have to say about this! My girls give off body language that some folks say is disrespectful, but I just don't get that "feeling" from them.. I'd like to know what they're really thinking so I can REALLY know and work with them.. They're my first horses, and I'd like to get it right since they'll be with me for a long time..
Thank you so much for talking about this--I'm excited!


I am not sure what you are waiting for me to comment? I think I am making a bit of a mess in this tread, making it hard to see where new stuff is comming... Are you talking about the clip with the two horses; the grey and the paint?
Apologies--How very vague of me:) I've read a lot about "disrespectful" actions a horse will give from "natural" horse-people--IE, turning their bums to you, swinging their head in an opposite direction, etc. My girls, mainly the skittish one, display those behaviors sometimes but I never felt like they were disrespectful.. It threw me for a bit of a loop considering I've never met a horse who just wants to stand and stare at someone, and all of a sudden, doing otherwise was "bad".. In a sense, at least:)
I'm more or less just excited to see what you've had to say to others; I feel like your perception of horses' behaviors and attitudes is spot on, and I just kind of wanted to soak up what everyone had to say in hopes of shedding some light on understanding and communicating better with my girls.. One is VERY apprehensive of letting us touch her--jerks her head back so hard her neck makes a cracking noise whenever she THINKS we're going to try to touch her! Ears pin back, she acts like she's going to bite (though she's never been aggressive before).. Which took my aback considering she was so brave and people-loving before she got trailered here..
Long, confusing story short, I really just want to understand why she is acting the way she is now, and what I can do to ease her mind and help her trust us (and enjoy the attention I know she really wants!) better.. The things you are mentioning/have mentioned about the calming signals I think will help me act in a way that stresses her out less.. Although ANYTHING seems to stress her out if it has to do with interactions with humans right now!

(gosh, is my reply long enough?! haha)

If you have any input or advice, I would be incredibly, incredibly grateful. These girls mean the world to me and I really want to do right by them.. I'm very engaged by what you've said so far and sort of feel like the answer is here somewhere..
I'll definitely keep reading this thread and whatever I can find on it--Thanks so so much for bringing all this up and talking about it! I think you've been so helpful to a lot of us already..
one thing I did Megan was just ask Oliver to bend in, bend in........ and soften..... see how Ellen goes for the horses hip? that is a easy move to practice and get them to come onto you...... nicely..... sometimes I think they turn away because they are insecure or scared.... my horse liked to jack the rope out of my hand, the opposite way and run off with it..... so I had to work with him when he was turning away by showing him it was okay to come in and my trainer said if he is on line and turns his head away to give slack....not to jerk his head around or anything... just nice and easy... ..... now he doesn't try very many jerky moves anymore.... I'm trying to support Ellens theory not jack the thread so I can't wait to read what she writes here.
Is the "bending" you're talking about the same deal as "flexing"?
Hmm.. To get her on a lead at all is a chore.. She's in a small area so she can't run away, but she dodges and avoids us like the plague. We caught her once (we had to trick her to do it) but she totally freaked--She was super tense, eyes wide and white, tried to bite (though her ears weren't pinned as normal when she tries) and just oozed "I'm terrified--Please don't touch me".. Do you think it's abnormal that she's been here a little over a month and still acts that way?
She still will not let us near her (as previously stated:)) but there was one day where she'd let us touch her if we were stuffing her face with grains.. But she was back to jerking her head like she thought we were going to bite it off immediately after the grains were done.. Maybe I need to be a little more "aggressive" (for lack of better terms--I'm very relaxed and patient when dealing with her. Perhaps too much?)

I'm so sorry.. I feel like I have billions of questions! :P
Have you ever learned how to join up with a horse? that' is what I would try... way LESS aggressive...

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