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 am not sure that I am following the thread here correctly ( lots of catching up to do!) so bear with me if I am a little off here...

When you are talking abiut the horse giving you their eyes and their attention, what do you mean? Are you talking about the horse looking at you with both eyes? Is that the sign you are looking for that the horse is paying attention?
I can only speak as to what that means to me: When my horses give me 'an eye' it can mean both eyes, but usually means just one eye. Sometimes it's not an eye at all, but an ear cocked my way. Those are signs, for me anyway, that they are paying attention, but I'm sure there are other ways they pay attention and aren't even, outwardly at least, showing that they are.
I think I might be as lost as you are on here now.. Haha:)
I think, when I mentioned "having their eyes", I was/am curious what is needed of me (and what to look for from my girls--is it literally having their eyes to me?) to get to the point where they look to me for direction, comfort, etc.. And help them get to where they want to learn with me and not just hang out in the paddock with me..
Not sure if you were meaning for me to respond, but that's what I meant! :)
Oh, Megan, this is the secret to life..... it takes practice, but what I do and if you would like to try with Kai, it is an entire exercise and Ellen will be able to help you too..... learn what you need to do to catch her eyes.... i spent a year on it by the way...... and first when he turns his head away, I learned to do my body language, mostly taking a step towards his tail till he looked, then walk away, or relieve him or rub him or whatever you do postive or negative reinforcement that teaches him that it's okay to stay engaged..... when he starts to leave I catch his eye, then his ear, then his nose, then his foot then he follows... I call it the Invisible String game.... :) it took me years like I said so keep it up... it's a connection that only she and you can develop, however you do it, it is with consistency and patience.... and it's really cool.... I taught Oliver complete turns by catching his eye...... it's like a magic trick once you learn it it's easy but nobody will know what you are doing... :)
The idea that a horse lacks respect or has no manners is a nonsense. The notion of 'respect' is a humanistic term and unhelpful for retraining problem behaviours in horses. What we should be doing , as some of these threads have suggested, is to focus on having 'respect' for the way the horse learns( through instincts and learned habits) rather than trying to seek 'respect ' from the horse.
Horses that are in your space or treading on your toes or pushing you around or even coming toward you with ears back are not 'disrespectful' , nor is it a pecking order dominance issue. It is simply that the horse has learned these habits through the rewards they have found in doing them. So if we start to think of these problems( that may not have been caused by you, by the way) as learned 'behaviours' we can then start to retrain and change that behaviour.
What this approach brings is a calmer trainer, using calmer methods, because we remove the idea of 'respect', which is a central thing ,that as humans, we are seeking all the time from other humans . This brings a more positive attitude in reading the body language of the horse instead of seeing ( as in the Parelli video) threatening behaviour in every move.
Something for everyone to mull over, it has been a good read this blog.
Cheers Geoffrey
Well said, Geoffrey.

I hope the following question isn't "way out there", but it is something that I would like to address. I'm wondering if I've somehow inadvertently made things worse over time...

Could you (or anyone else in here) give me some tips on how to encourage my mare to stand nicely for farrier visits? She seems to be getting worse. It's not that she's wild and crazy, but she is not fond of standing there quietly. She will pull her feet away, especially her front feet when her leg is extended and sitting on the farrier's stand for the finishing touches with the rasp. My mare is barefoot and I use a natural farrier. She is a very nice person, however, she is much higher energy than I am, so I'm wondering if it could be her bubbly personality that throws my horse off? She says that my mare acts rude for her trims. I don't want to lose my trimmer, but I also want my mare to be relaxed. Anything I can practice with her? I do pick out her hooves, and she does pull her front feet away sooner than she would her back feet. She's heavy on the fore, which is something I want to work with her on, but I don't think that should cause her to pull her feet away, should it? I was thinking of nicely asking the farrier to not talk as much while she worked on my mare, just to see if it's the friendly chatter that throws her off. My mare is better at the start of her trim, but by the time she's getting the last foot done (usually a front foot), she's getting bored (for lack of better word) and moves around more. Maybe I should ask the farrier to do both front feet first?

I'm really open to suggestions! :o)
I too would like some input on this standing still for the farrier. My gelding leans forward and then leans back, in a swaying motion, and this starts as soon as the farrier picks up a back leg, he's fine with the front and stands nice and still. He stands just fine while I'm picking out his hooves, but then again I'm not having him hold those back feet up as long as the farrier...and since he's starting the swaying as soon as the farrier picks up a back foot, I'm thinking that isn't the problem. My gelding is also barefoot, never had shoes on him, my farrier is also a natural foot farrier, a very nice fellow in his mid thirties, nice soft voice, calm attitude and while he does talk to me while he works, I'm the one that carries the bulk of the conversation. Perhaps I should say here that the gelding done this with every farrier I've had work on him, so I'm thinking he just needs to learn to stand still. I probably should also say, that while I'm the one that pretty much always held the lead when the farrier comes, he would sway for who ever held the lead. I've owned the horse since he was three (he's 10 now), I wasn't the primary handler/rider until March of this year when my son decided he was no longer interested; my son and I have very different ways of handling horses, I'm embarrassed to say anyone commenting on this discussion would find him demanding, rude to the horse and not patient at all, not for a lack of trying on my part to get him to change. I take a much gentler approach and the horse seems to be responding, once he figured out I wasn't going to whack him when he 'disobeyed' (read here, couldn't figure out what I was asking of him). So I'm wondering if my gelding's main problem is insecurity, maybe the swaying will stop once he figures out he can rely on me? Please don't rag on my son, he's no longer in the picture, please just give me some help with the gelding.
My arab gelding has had the same barefoot trimmer for three years before I got him, and now almost one year with me. According to the farrier it took "forever" to do his feet when he started with him, he was misbehaving a lot. By the time I got him, he was a lamb for this trimmer. With me, when I first got him he was pretty nervous (so was I after working with him), cinchy, cold backed, nippy,buddy sour, wouldn't tie,and rather naughty. In this year he has improved a lot for me, and I have improved a lot in my handling skill, and got a lot of tips from the internet on all these issues. Most of the progress comes down to me having a clear calm idea of what I want, and how I'm going to approach a particular issue, and then just keep chipping away at it. I never slap, yank or any of that because I'm pretty sure he would get worked up and become less cooperative. How exactly the trimmer accomplished the great improvement in his standing for trimming, I'm not sure, but he is gentle but firm with my guy and doesn't talk to him much. Just the most recent trim my guy was acting pissy which he never did before. Turned out he was tenderfooted which he hasn't been before. I've noticed his poorer behavior with me has coincided with getting too much turn out, fresher new grass, alfalfa. So some misbehavior can be trained and worked with, but I am trying to give the guy a chance by keeping his diet at what works best for his attitude as well. Environmental changes like changing saddle, going bitless, working on calming our saddling routine, and riding out the rears and bucks, have all been part of the progress. I have to say he's been the most challenging horse I've ridden, but he is a good horse and I'm very happy with our progress. Yes insecurity on both our parts would be it in a nutshell, but we are both forgiving of each other's weaknesses and that has paid off in the long run.
I have found that Rip does a lot better with his main diet being Bermuda grass hay with a little alfalfa at breakfast. He's less tense and seems much happier, I also attribute that to the difference in handling. He was ridden in a side-pull for most of his life, I put a bit in his mouth just this last April, he didn't like it much but accepted it; however I did notice an increase in the tension I saw in his body, especially when I rode him. I had his teeth looked at and the dental work done, so I knew there wasn't anything hurting his mouth. It was just the bit; I'm going back to bitless, just got the nose band to convert my headstall this week. He's always been good about the saddling, he moves over to the mounting block and stands like a statue while I get on, only steps off when I tell him, doesn't rear or buck...he really seems to want to please, especially now that he knows I'm going to be fair with him. I will agree, the insecurity on both our parts, as you have stated, has been the biggest problem we've faced...and thankfully we're working that out. My farrier is coming next Thursday, I'm eager to see if the better bond we've built since the last visit will make a difference.
Would like to know how things go with the farrier, Sarah! Keep us posted!

I ride Fanny bitless too, and treeless. I'd like her to stand like a statue too. She usually takes a few steps, but I'd really like her to stand until I ask her to move. That's what I liked about the last time I got on her. She walked off a few steps, even though I asked her to stop, then when she finally did stop, she just stood and stood and stood. She is quite good at stopping when I'm leading her or beside her, but once I'm on her she lacks confidence and isn't sure what to do. That is what I need to work on - building her confidence.
You can back her up a little, then when she stands still... rub her neck or let her know she's a good girl, but every time she walks off, you should move her feet around and then she'll go, oh, she likes it best when I stand still....
She wouldn't just think "what the crap?!" and run away from me?

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