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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Hahahaha That was pretty good for being a bunny-trail.. Explained me to a "T"! I think things are starting to make sense.. Why my girls seem off-and-on confused, willing then unwilling.. Still a far way away from understanding how they communicate with me, but getting there....:)
you are a genius Ellen..... I would be like, wait, can I have my horse back please..... which I've done with a trainer like this.... consistency is not easy to extend in many cases but it works.... I think the guilt makes us inconsistent because we feel bad that we were disciplining..... Oliver licks and chews the minute I consistently don't let him do something like nibble on my clothes..... if I let him one time but not the next then yes, I should feel guilty but because I am confusing him, not because I am discipling him... instead, when I am firm and he responds by licking and chewing I feel that that IS loving him because I am not confusing him... he relaxes afterward too.. like, "oh good, just checking, it's still not okay to nibble on her clothes"..... then he gets all happy to be around me because I am the person he thought I was.... we need to define, like you stated, what behaviors we want so we can be consistent in our directions... :) this is why I am a firm believe of long time relationships with horses because going from one owner to another has got to be very confusing for the horses, like they are in foster care or something instead of a real relationship... :)
one time I was with my horse outside, practicing asking him to move here and there and when he did it, I asked again... Steve said, don't miss the lesson of waiting to see that he truly understands... people move on too quick.... he said, Jennifer, when he does what you want, take off the pressure, wait for him to stand still, wait for him to lick and chew and then move on.... horses are slower than we are..... and we move through things quickly.... when she is standing still, where you like, make sure she understands that that is what you want..... so she can be rewarded for her efforts.... like Clinton Anderson says to reward the slightest try, he doesn't always really do it..... practice with her beore the farrier comes, just standing still...... even if you don't tie her.... then, however you reward her, make her know that yes, that is what I want... wait for her to lick and chew... you will be surprised how before you know it, she will think to go to the spot on her own and stand still because she is "understanding" what you want..... I'm not saying it will work, it's just fun to see..... I think horses respond well to postive reinforcement..... we try to dominate them sometimes when we buy into "makin them respectful" but I love it when steve says, Yes, Jennifer, now you are getting how to help him understand...... omg when they understand, I feel they would make us pancakes if they knew how, but they get nervous trying to figure us out, so the fidget..... she might not be bored she just might be tired of waiting to see if anyone is gonna get how hard she is trying.... :)
Good point.
Thanks for the advice Jennifer! :o) Just thinking...I believe that part of the problem could be that I haven't had time to do anything with her before the farrier comes. My farrier drives two hours to come do Fanny's feet. She also has a couple of other horses (and a donkey) that she comes out here to trim before Fanny, and they're almost an hour from our barn. Because of my work schedule, I sometimes get a call from the farrier, saying she's on her way, so I have to rush home, change, and get to the barn before her. That leaves me no time to do anything with Fanny except to go out in the field and put her halter on and get her back to the barn. I'm sure she senses that I'm rushed. In the past, when I used a local farrier, he could be more precise in his timing, so I could make sure that I got out to the barn ahead of time and did some groundwork before her trim. She was way better behaved those times.
yes, she is probably picking up on your energy.. when my horse wouldn't stand still, when mounting, he was probably nervous about who was going to get on ... but Steve taught me to ask him to move his hind end around in a circle and then try again... pretty soon Toby stood real still... but it wasn't in the punishment of asking him to move, it was in the release when he stood still.... we miss that he said.... in our training....
oh, and I have two horses... and they don't work exactly the same..... one understands when the pressure is released but gets confused by rewards and one understands rewards but doesn't care if you release the pressure.. he just blows you off then. Oliver is easy to clicker train. He waits for the bridge signal to the food... it's very interesting.
Boy can I relate to that, I also have two horses. My mare REALLY understands pressure with release as the reward, not that I need much pressure. The gelding, well he seems to take pressure as an insult, sulks up until the amount of pressure being applied just becomes ridiculous. The release isn't a reward for him, it just means you've decided to stop insulting him. With him the softer the 'ask' the better, I'm more apt to get the correct response with the softest of 'asks'.
can you both explain what you mean in more detail?
How the horses responds and a little more on what you mean by the words pressure, release, reward. Also, what the horse does when he blows you off or gets insulted.
When Rip gets insulted, he gives me this look...and the only way I can relate to you how he looks is the word insulted; like why are you doing this to me? If I up the pressure, he will turn his head, which you have said before is a calming signal. Now that I know that, I've given up the pressure thing. I've been taught that pressure is anything that you apply to the horse that makes, and that might be the key word here, the horse do what you want it to. For example, placing the finger tips on the chest and pushing with the word back applied to make the horse back up (I was taught this a LONG time before I ever heard of P or natural horsemanship). The release, when the horse takes a step back, is removing the fingers from the chest, thus the reward is the removal of the pressure. However, a horse can be pressured without a human touch, using an aggressive body posture for example; by the way this never works on Rip. Since your first explanation of calming signals I've dropped the pressure thing with Rip, it just doesn't work and I refuse to keep raising the amount of pressure, it just gets ridiculous. Now when I want him to back up, I place my open palm on his shoulder, put my other hand (open palm) on his chest. With the hand on his shoulder I just start stroking his shoulder, from front to back, and tell him in a quiet voice to back...works every single time and he doesn't look at me like I hurt his feelings. Hope this makes sense.
When oliver is uninterested he just leaves and goes back to picking up things off the ground or he scratches bugs, or whatever he is doing that makes it "seem" like he is blowing me off, he seems to need constant engagement.... to me, release is just no longer directing my energy at him.... and reward can be a food reward, a click, or a good boy!!

with Toby, if I release pressure, stop directing energy at him,he licks and chews and starts to follow.... he tries to leave in the middle of the exercise if he doesn't want to do it, but he'd never leave if you let him alone, he stays close.
Oliver sounds like such a funny boy!

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