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've tried looking up what "join up" means, but I see so many different ideas of what it is.. I've seen everything from "sit until they get curious and check you out, then they follow you around" to "calmy chase them with (and without) eye contact until they 'submit'".. So many different definitions! I don't have a round-pen either.. Phooey!
Unfortunately "join up" does mean quite different things to different people. If you have access to an arena, or any enclosed space, for your horse, and remember this is JMO, I think the 'sit and let them come to you' method might be best. When I got my mare, she didn't want anything to do with people, I didn't sit in her pen, I just hung out in there, until she got used to me. I didn't always talk to her, mostly just was quiet, concentrating on my body language to let her know I was not a threat. I started keeping a soft bristle brush with me, and would brush her until she got tired and walked away. It wasn't long before she was walking away, then walking right back for more brushing. I read your other posting about her letting you scratch her a bit, that's a lot of progress and, again JMO, I'd continue with that for now.
I could see that being the least offensive to my shy girl.. Seems like she wants to scope me out, but wants me to set it up so she can feel good about it. They're in a pretty small area for right now already so that should help. I'll keep trying this and make it a point to be more consistent with that. :)
I would not get more aggressive with her. You might check your body posture when you approach her tho. Stand up straight, be confident, relaxed and completely aware of her; don't want you getting hurt after all, your safety should always be the #1 priority. Check your mindset too, often a horse will 'read your mind', if you go in thinking she's not going to be cooperative, that previous behavior is going to be present behavior, you might be inadvertently triggering this. As Jennifer recommends, try the join up...if you aren't sure about how to go about it, start looking for a trainer that can help you, one that thinks along the same lines, calm, relaxed, confident, non-aggressive. Don't just take the first one that uses all the right 'buzz words' either, show up unannounced to watch him/her work a horse, give a lesson...maybe a couple of times, then decide if they are what you're looking for.
That's funny you say that.. I've tried to keep a pretty none-aggressive physical composure--IE, head down, shoulders waaay relaxed, foot cocked.. Now that I'm thinking about it, she does seem to be more willing to be closer to me when I'm just more me and not trying so hard! I'll make it a point to not "try" so hard when I'm around her next! Thank you!! :)
this would be cool if Megan could put up a video now and you could show her what her horse is saying.... :)
WOO! Found out my photo camera has a video camera with sound, too! I'll try to get some videos this weekend! :)
To Ellen, I'm seeing what you mean about the 'leader' not always being the dominant one. A 'leader' is the one that the others look to, let's say in a wild herd situtation...the leader knows where the water is, where the best grass/feeding area is, the safest places for sleeping/napping/shelter and when danger threatens the fastest way to safety...is that right?...all the while not being a pushy bully that insists on being the 'alpha'. The leader is calm and gives others a feeling of security. Like the paint is now feeling the little grey is his 'secure' place to be. I am also seeing that the leader is often submissive to a more dominant tempered horse just because...maybe it's just not worth getting into a fight over where it stands/grazes. For me, I'd much rather be Rip's leader, the one he can always feel good about following because I have his best interests at heart and he knows he's safe/will be taken care of when he follows me. I am going to take a much different approach to him from now on. I do want to say, I took some time to think and digest what you've written before I responded...in doing so I realized that I took much the same approach you're talking about when training Star, thus the reason we have such a good bond. She respects me because I've always been a good leader, and she likes being with me, not because I dominate her...but because I 'lead' her with her safety and security in mind. I also realized that when Star and I first began our journey together, she was...sometimes still has, much the same 'attitude' as Rip...that strong bravado. I think with Rip, as you've said before, I started doubting myself and started listening too often to others...I still have a few people that give me good advice, much of it goes along with what you're saying, so those few I'll still listen to, taking into consideration that first and foremost I need to do what I feel is right for Rip and I. I can't say Thank You enough...and please continue to blog, there is much more I want to learn.
Hi Sarah. your horse sounds like my Oliver..... my trainer went away for 6 weeks and I decided to just try my energy with him.... soft and non threatening and really nice..... he started nickering real low out his nose after awhile... my trainer came back and said, well there ya go, you got yourself a horse there. he thinks you are the mare..... that is how they call the one that comforts them. I said, but I wasn't even very alpha.... and he said still Oliver sees you as his leader.... I knew I didn't have to be aggressive..... wow, this stuff is great... alpha and leader and aggressive don't go together.... I think that might be a signal that gets mixed up.
Aww, I just coo'ed and sniffled a little! More heart melting, eh? :) I didn't get to see my mares AT ALL last week, and they were both SO HAPPY to see me on Saturday, I was surprised! My none-afraid girl, Kai, nickered to me and I wondered what that was all about.. That gave me the warm fuzzies. Haha:)
Amen to that.. My "dominant" girl is nothing but a bully right now--to our other mare, at least. She's a sweetheart to us, mostly! It's been a month in their new digs and she is still rude as she can be to Donoma.. Wishing I knew what to do to "break it up". Haha:)
I'm with you though, Miss Sarah.. Sooo grateful to have this place to come to and such knowledgeable people who are kind enough to listen and help! The people I've asked in-person only say "Ah, they'll get over it--Just teach them who's boss" (insinuating I be rough and mean with them).. I feel like a helpless Mommy.. :P
here is an exercise that my trainer gave me..... just for practice. I have to manage Oliver the younger horse to keep him from tormenting Toby my elder horse... now Toby is our main guy, he does a good job of managing Oliver too... mostly he just pushes him with his butt and Oliver does an outside turn and leaves.... but when Oliver is being mean to Toby I separate him and make him walk around and then I push toby into a safe place and I don't let Oliver pester him... ever so nicely mind you..... I just push Oliver around a little.... my elder horse immediately relaxes because I've got the youngster listening... I watched Toby trust me more as I handled Oliver..... and Oliver gets calm too cuz he's like Oh geez another day I'm just the third guy on the totem pole... that is me being Alpha but just being really consistent.. No Oliver you will not even get to beat up on Toby a little bit...... my horse Oliver bites from the top of the neck... that is not a non aggressive move at all..... but if I get after him he stops right away.... I have to manage his energy from the very beginning so he doesn't get any worse.... it's a test I have to pass every day.

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