A couple of weekends ago I was luckily enough to co-host Rachaël Draaisma through Den Hele Ekvipage. If you haven’t heard of of Rachaël Draaisma, well she is the author of the popular book Language Signs & Calming Signals of Horses – recognition and application.
Calming Signals is a term that has been tossed around in the horse world (at least with some…) over the last year or so, and I first came across the term when following Warwick Schiller’s Facebook group and videos. This was over a year ago, or more, and I believe he gained his insite on the topic from Anna Blake, another professional studying the topic.
After watching his videos I started using it immediately with almost any horse I encountered. At the time it was simple. If the horse showed any calming signal (for example turning their head away when you approach) I would step back a step, or more. The results were almost always the same. The horse would turn and come to me most times. I played around a lot with it when I was working with Shanni the Irish Cob who was really the first horse I did any sort of work with. But there was a signal moment where I believed that it worked.
There was one day where I was trying to put the halter on, and I was too close to the fence. Shanni ended up getting a good shock through me and through the halter. You can imagine… she wanted nothing to do with me at that point. When I think back to the moment I can now recgonize even more calming signals she gave me. Anyways… I approached her slowly, she turned away, I stopped and took a step back. Repeat process a couple of times, I think I might have even looked away. Eventually my patients and acknowledgement of her signals paid off, and I was able to halter her, on her terms and we went on with our day. From that day I was sold on the idea. It also just makes sense to me.
From that day I tried my best to never just walk up to a horse. I did my best to always go slow, respect those signals. I always felt that people probably thought I was being nervous or overly cautious with horses. It never had anything to do with it. I was just trying to be polite with whatever horse was around. I never mentioned what I was doing when I started hanging around at the stable. I was the new, unexperinced horse person. I didn’t know the people there well, and I figured that annoucing that I was listening to the horse tell me stuff, and that the horse was telling me it was uncomfortable might not be the first impression….
Fast forward to this spring and one of the borders at the stable brought in the book Language Signs & Calming Signals of Horses. I was so excited! And everyone else was excited about the book. I had heard about the book, but hadn’t bought it at that point, but I was just excited that others in the stable were starting to use calming signals. I think I mentioned that I had been using some of it for a while now… not sure if anyone really heard. Doesn’t matter.
Not long after we contacted Rachaël Draaisma to invite her to come and give a lecture on her book, and that finally happened in October.
I got to spend 3 days with her, and it was pretty great. I have read most of the book, so most of the lecture was repeat, but what I enjoyed most was the bit of presentation of some of the science, and her methodology. And the video examples were interesting. The last day with her was the most informative, as we were able to work with horses and get feedback. And I got great feedback from her. She was able to give me some tips for adjustments to the signals I have been giving, but the best feedback I got was that she was very impressed with my timing and how well I did with working with the signals. She also mentioned that it is quite obvious that I have a good bond with the horse I was working with, and that there is no doubt in her mind that he is my horse… even if he isn’t my horse.. yet. These were HUGE compliments to me, as this is something I have been playing around with for over a year, and for me it just seems like the natural way to do things, so to have the author of the study on calming signals compliment me gives me a bit of a boost of confiedence in doing what feels natural and right for me.
It is not always easy being the new, unexperinced horse person at the stable, even when everyone has 100% trust in you and with you handling the horses. I am still trying to figure out my place in the horse world, and there is a place for me, but I do know that learning to communicate better with horses is a big part of what will make up me when working with horses. I think Rachaël’s book and work is a really great step forward in this area. I think there is so much to learn about horses and we can all do so much better for them when we just take a step back and reevaluate what has worked in the past, and what can work now. It is an interesting time to getting started with horses in a time when how we train and communicate with our horses is changing…