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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Miss Donoma hasn't been as interrested the past few times I've seen her.. I can be petting and loving on Kai 'till the cows come home, but Donoma will just look over, think "Oh. You." and stay away. Unless there's food involved.. If I want to try and pet her, I have to let her jerk her head back a few times, then she'll let me touch her, and she's still uneasy, but if she's getting food, she'll tolerate it (with much fear and annoyance (I think?) in her expression).
I thought I was being consistent, but I guess not.. I'm not really sure how to handle her nervousness and fear of us. I don't want to force her to do anything, but she avoids us at all costs unless we bribe and then "desensitize".. The effect doesn't stick though :/
Even if you are consistent, she is overcoming something big in her mind. Just accept whatever progress you get that day. Even approaching only for treats, with conflicts in her mind, is still approaching. If she approaches only when your hand is extended, fine, just gradually position your hand a little closer to your body over time, as long as there is some success. Perhaps standing off to her side, drawing ever so slightly away (I am talking about an inch or two at a time). My guy was pretty senstive to touch when I got hiim. As far as I know he doesn't have a history of mistreatment, but some Arabs can be slow to warm up, or are a bit shy, especially with new people in a new environment. If I (or my boys) approached him, he would move off, but I asked them to just stand there, or even step back a little, and let him approach them which helped. Of course he wasn't nearly as touchy as your girl, but it has been a gradual process for him to feel more and more comfortable with me doing everything. I was disappointed at first that we didn't have this wonderful bonded relationship, but he just had to take his time,over the course of last winter, many many experiences. It's only been a year, a year from now we will be closer yet. Every small bit of progress is still progress.
VERY encouraging.. I don't often think of the fact that she perceives things so differently than I do. Just because I know I'm not a threat, and knowing how badly I want the best for her, doesn't mean she knows that.. I have got to stop projecting myself on her.. It's probably overwhelming to her..
Thank you so much for your input.. Very, very helpful:)
Exactly Megan. Think of it this way. Some adult friends of mine some years ago very much wanted children, but it wasn't happening for them so they planned adoption. They were perfect for it, caring, good relationship, good providers. They had in mind some a little bit older children, how great that they did not feel they could only adopt a baby. I had been adopted myself so I explained to them to be keep in mind. No matter how much they would want to love those children, and the children would want love of course, they had to realize that the kids may not be able to love them just the way they wanted as soon as they wanted. It might take quite a while before these kids could digest everything they had been through, and then still trust two people.
So in your case, just keep in your mind that she wants to be loved, and stay open to that. She is going to teach you some things, a lot more than you are going to teach her, just let her do that. You are both going on this journey together.This is what I know about horses and dogs.
At risk of sounding cheesy, that really moved me and really put things in to perspective.. I feel like she just HATES me sometimes (I'm going to try to post a video to show a teeny bit of her actions that make me think that) but now I'm thinking maybe she's really just making sure I'm "not like him (the man we think hurt her)".. I felt an amazing connection to her the first time I met her and just KNEW that she needed to come be with us but now.. Well, you read what I think now.. This is a goofy question, but horses don't just hate certain people, do they?
I hope that's not the case.. And I hope that she realizes soon that I would never EVER hurt her.. It makes me want to cry sometimes knowing the way she was before (loving, trusting, warm and giving) and how she is now (frightened, untrusting, mildly "aggressive")..
Sorry to unload on you.. I just really love what you have to say...
If she is acting "grumpy" let's say, and you have the feeling she hates you, it is more likely fear on her part. Fear that maybe you could violate her trust. Maybe she trusted that person who transported her ,but she reacted at some point to trailering and they got nasty. She's going to have a hard time trusting again, but she will. Just be yourself, be honest, don't react with fear/aggression. That is what she is afraid of. She is trying to find out, what happens if I am afraid, or nip, or whateve?. Is this person going to snap and do something awful to me? She has to get past that, and it will take time for her to be very sure that you are never going to maker her do something without her cooperation, i.e. through force. If she is actually being aggressive, that is different, you have to stand up for yourself and not allow that. But if she is defensive and fearful, you just need to be open and let her learn that you are not going to push her too far or too fast. e.g. at first Sharif tried to nip me sometimes. I didn't hit him, I just had my grooming tools in hand as I was brushing him. Between me and his nose I just happened to have the metal rake just raised a little, but kind of keeping track of him from the corner of my eye.. If he bit, he was going to bite a metal rake. It wouldn't matter what I said, after he chomped the rake a couple of times, he decided nipping wasn't fun. Now when he "nips" me, he is actually "lipping" me. But if I didn't want to tolerate that I would stop that as well, I just don't feel threatened by it.
Marlene,
I have a feeling you're dead-on with how she feels. She does nip sometimes, but she has never actually gotten me. I'm sure she could if she really wanted to bite, but she hasn't yet.. She definitely has experimented to see if I/my friend that was helping me with her one day would stay consistent in not allowing it... Buuuut she keeps trying:P She tried to nip me today while I was just standing by her, doing nothing other than trying to "sense" her.. I got it on video, actually.. I'm torn on how to, I guess it'd be, bond with her when she has zero interest in me, just food? Gosh, she avoids me otherwise.. She gets a random urge to come see what Kai and I are up to, but other than that.. Oh no.. I'll probably read through your post a couple of times.. This really feels like it's hitting home.....
Oh, when she tries to nip, is there a certain way I should handle that? I usually just make a noise (I think you can hear it in the video once I post that) and try to give off an energy of "don't you do that again to me"...
If she is nippy be very careful how you are handling treats. Do not reward her if she is doing that or she'll basically learn to mug you for food.If you think that's happening go out with no treats, make sure your clothes and hands are clean of food smells, and work without treats. They are fine for a shy and non aggressive animal but not if she's being rude or nasty. To avoid getting to this point only let them have it if they are approaching nicely, put it away and leave, if it having the wrong effect.
An idea you might try: Take a cup of coffee, a read, and a chair out to the pasture when you can spare a little time and just hang out there relaxing for a while. You can even sit and watch her eat her dinner in her stall when time allows. Eventually when she's feeling safer, she's likely to get curious. BUT, don't sit stareing at her up close. That can feel very predatory to them...like you are stalking them. Put together some of the suggestions and you hopefully have a workable plan.
Think good thoughts about how you want your relationship to be, invision that part of the time.
Hi again, Marlene! Such a pretty name.. I like that..
They eat in the paddock (they don't have stalls) and I will sit and fiddle around with her hay.. I don't pay attention to her at all unless I am offering her a bite, which she almost ALWAYS accepts.. She seems to think it tastes better out of my hand. Haha:) BUT, then she is back to "spooooky human.." after she eats it. Should I not offer her food like that? Or is that good that she gets that close? Just confusing since she's not scared to get it.. She trusts me to give her food.. Just not anything else.. Heh:P
I've tried sitting out in the paddock, and she just kind of looks at me from a distance.. Maybe I just don't do it enough?
I don't drink coffee, but that sure made me want some..
If she is brave enough to take food from you, that's all you need. You figure out what you want her to do, and set things up so she has to do it to get what she wants. If you want her to walk next to you, position the treat as she approaches, and she has to walk maybe one or two steps beside you before she can quite access the treat. Done. You just build on that, walk three steps, let her have it if she's stepping up next to you. It's hard to describe, easier if you've been shown. We do this with puppy's teaching them to heal, sit, down without using a leash. To teach them to put on their own collar, we hold the treat in one hand, the collar in the other, they have to put their little nose and eventually their head through the loop to get the treat. No reason why this can't work with a rope in a loop on a horse. Just do it gradually, don't force anything, let them figure out how to get the treat. I've seen a video on the web of someone doing the same thing to teach a horse to "hug" them. Now the horse isn't expressing some special love, they are just learning to reach their head and neck around the human to access a treat. Eventually they will "hug" on command. To touch some body part of hers say her nose, position the treat so she will have to move her nose close to or up to one hand, as she is taking the treat from the other hand. A treat that takes her more than a second to pry out of your hand like hay means she has to linger a little longer under the contact, so it's better.
Sharif used to be twitchy about me touching, rubbing, brushing his girth area (even with no saddle around for days). I just kept working around it, a little rub here, a little longer next time, etc. This summer we worked up to touching him "down there" and I eventually managed to wash his private parts (geldings get icky in there) without even a halter or rope on him.After that, I felt we were "special" friends. That doesn't mean you have to make the same progress in the same time as someone else, every horse, and every person is different. Just work on little things as they come along.
How relieving! I was thinking it might be bad that she would only come up because of treats! Although, check this out.. Last night, I was scratching Kai and she was getting SO in to it.. You could tell she was in heaven.. D was standing by and watching, with this "hey, I want some of that.." look on her face.. Kai left, and D came up with a very cautious but curious look and let me scratch her head for the longest time yet!! She looked much less afraid than normal, too! DEFINITELY progress! Her nerves got the best of her and she tried to nip then followed Kai to the back of the paddock, but I was just thrilled:) Just wanted to share my excitement:)
I will see what I can do to get her to follow with treats! May have to carry a crop (NOT used to tap or smack or anything) because she gets a little.. Shall we say, "overzealous" about snacks sometimes.. Haha:)

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