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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Hi Cyndi,
No she didn't get a "time out", lol!
We love Ellen here! Perhaps she is busy with her horses or her educational programs.
You can always message her - the group idea is brilliant!
Whew!! That's good to know!! :o)

Thanks! And yes, I'd love if Ellen had her own group in here :o) I've REALLY enjoyed the input from each person in here!!
What a nice thing to say :) thank you!
I agree that the word respect is over used and misplaced, and that we should look at it more like a training issue. But... it's important to remember that it's also about the horses emotions. We can train a horse to respond in a certain way, we can teatch new habits, but I think that in many cases the key is to change how the horse feels about something. Change it's emotions about a situation and the behavior changes too.

I am sure that we are on similar ideas on what to do (positive training) but I just wanted to point out that the same behavior can come from different reasons. For instance a horse that doesn't stand for mounting; it can be in pain, it can be afraid, it can be trained not to stand (accidentially), or it can be a lack of training. The different reasons demands different approaches. In other words, figure out the why before trying to train the behavior, it's not always a matter of something the horse has been rewarded for.

(currently writing on an iPad without a spellcheck, and trying to focus more on what I am trying to say than how to write it... let me know if yiu can't understand what I mean)
Yes, I see what you mean. A behavior caused by pain won't change with training, only by the removal of the cause of the pain. If a horse feels insecure and that causes a behavior we find unacceptable, by making the horse feel secure, we've changed the behavior, or reaction, to the insecure feeling. Is that right? If, let's use what you said about standing for mounting, mounting causes the horse pain, and that has gone on for quite a length of time without the human realizing that pain is the issue; the horse is then trained, accidentally, to move about when being mounted and then even when the cause of the pain is removed, will need retraining?
This is what I think might have happened with my 11 year old Arab. I just got him last fall and he seemed very sensitive to the girth and saddling process right from the start. Arabs can be more sensitive, they have a shorter back so some saddles are more likely to bridge, and he has moderately high withers, a dippy back, wide shoulders and barrel shaped ribs. I think he had learned over time that saddles were painful. So I put a lot of effort into finding a good treeless saddle that worked for me and him, the right padding, and had to take all saddling, girthing procedures very patiently and slowly. And as mentioned before he was not great about mounting. Now after many repetitions he is better about the whole process but it has been a gradual change. Although I still take my time, it all goes a lot smoother and faster now than before. I would bet he would revert to his old habits if someone didn't go gently with him, or used an uncomfortable saddle for him, or maybe even if it was someone besides me doing it. Part of the "retraining" was his gettiing used to the procedure, and part finding out that saddles don't have to hurt, trusting that I wouldn't hurt him or get nasty,and part of it was me changing my approach as well. But now it all works and I think we may continue to see improvement.
Marlene, what I would do in a case like that is to disassociate the saddle from the mounting. I teach the horse to do the "chair game" which is to stand by the mounting block and eventually coming to it when I get on it; and if they "catch" me, they win the game and get a reward. I do this with the horse loose and without getting on it at all at first.

This is something I teach them while they are young and it makes it very easy when it's time to start riding them, but I do the exact same procedure for retraining an older horse with mounting issues.

When the horse is good at the game I change the rules so that they not only have to catch the rider, they have to get into mounting position... and then the next step is that I have to sit on them before they get the reward. I will then sit on them and scratch, give treats or whatever they find motivational before getting off.

Then the saddle is added to the game, starting from the beginning. When it has progresses to me getting on I still sit there and reward the horse and get off again every once in a while to maintain the motivation, and also to get the horse good at standing still after mounting instead of staring to go as soon as I get on.

I actually have a video where I show the game. The mare usually runs after the chair, but she is very! pregnant here, so she takes it easy. As you van see, she gets into a good position for mounting and scratches are a great motivation for her. It's a nice time for both of us:)

That is SO neat!!! I have done that a bit in the past, so it's nice to see that I was on the right track, and now I see that I need to do it more :o) Thanks for posting this!!!
I cracked up at that! I LOVE it!
I'm getting ready to re-start one of my girls getting used to being saddled so I will definitely try that..
Genius!! Thank you Ellen.. I can do that..... I can do that.. Oliver is gonna love it, thank you!!
Fortunately this is not one of our problems. Cash is wonderful about mounting! But I think this looks like a great way to go if he weren't. We went thru a brief issue with this when I first started riding him and the trainers nipped it in the butt by pulling him on the mouth firmly and fast backward which worked after two tries but it seems cruel. I bought him from the trainers & for the most part were very gentle with him.
Now that we've been doing this together for 6 years, he just walks up to the block and knows to side-over close and I can tell him to step if a little to forward or back and he does it. It'a a calm smooth procedure.
"Yes, I see what you mean. A behaviour caused by pain won't change with training, only by the removal of the cause of the pain."

Actually the biggest problem with behaviour caused by pain is that it CAN change with training.
If we stick to the example of standing for mounting for a moment:

The use of punishment can make the horse stand still despite the fear of pain, if the fear of punishment is greater.
Besides the moral issues this brings up it also means that a problem with the horses back or saddle that could be corrected easily at an early stage, often gets really bad before people notice it, just because people corrects the horse for moving away (and letting the owner know that there is a problem).

The use of positive training, like clicker training can also hide early symptoms of something being wrong, but is less likely to mask it over time.

I am very careful not to get a horse very obedient for this reason. I will teach the horse to stand for mounting, and use positive reinforcement to get it to really want to stand by the mounting block, but if the horse one day hesitates I will be careful about thinking "training".
If that happens I start looking for physical issues. At the same time it's only by teaching the horse to stand by the mounting block I can get this information from the horse, so I train the horse to stand there, but not to the point of the horse doing it no matter what (I hope I am making sense here...)

If there is a physical issue I will address that first, and when everything is OK the horse will resume the behaviour of standing by the block, something it won't do if I miss the early signals, because then it has started to associate the mounting with discomfort.

Reading the horses signals is really vital in order to catch these kind of problems before they become big issues, and the important key is to look for sudden changes in the behaviour. If the horse hasn't been taught to stand for mounting first, we have no way to compare the behaviour, but if the horse usually stands there, but suddenly one day won't; then this is information we need to pay attention too.


If a horse feels insecure and that causes a behavior we find unacceptable, by making the horse feel secure, we've changed the behavior, or reaction, to the insecure feeling. Is that right? If, let's use what you said about standing for mounting, mounting causes the horse pain, and that has gone on for quite a length of time without the human realizing that pain is the issue; the horse is then trained, accidentally, to move about when being mounted and then even when the cause of the pain is removed, will need retraining?

Yes to all of the above:)
Another common way to accidentally teach the horse to not stand for mounting is to always start riding forwards as soon as we get on. The horse is very good at learning "behavioural chains" meaning that it learns things in order. People get on and tell the horse to move off... The horse starts anticipating the forward command and starts walking before the command is given. Some people will correct the horse for that, thinking that this has to do with disobedience, but the horse is actually being a very "good boy" when it does what he knows the rider wants before they even ask for it. On the other hand, if they don't address the issue, the horse starts walking and they get settled in the saddle while the horse is moving the horse pretty soon starts walking off sooner... until he does it even before the rider has mounted.

There are other "fun ways" to teach the horse NOT to stand for mounting, too, but that's besides the point. My point is that we have to be careful about thinking it's all a matter of training i.e. changing the horses behaviour before knowing the cause of it.

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