Book review – Language Signs and Calming Signals of Horses – Rachael Draaisma
I have collected horse books for over 30 years and there have been a definite trends on housekeeping and training over that time. What is really exciting is that we are currently going through a phase (and I hope it is a long lasting one) of well researched and science based books which are true advocates of the horse, rather than the horse being an instrument for the human’s ego.
Language Signs and Calming Signals for Horses definitely fits into this category and I would go even further and classify it as being in the small collection of books I would consider mandatory for all equestrians.
This book goes well beyond the traditional and rather basic language signs covered by other books and education manuals and shows us a very detailed, nuanced and subtle language that horses use to communicate with each other and with us. Some signs so subtle that it is very easy to miss them unless you are aware of them.
Why calming signals?
Many animals (humans, dogs, possibly most mammals) use calming signals to calm and appease in order to maintain a positive environment. Horses live in groups where their very survival is dependant upon maintaining a stable relationship and preventing conflict and isolation. But beyond this, and where Racheal’s research really stands out, is in her assertion that horses also use calming signals to release their own tension.
The book lists over 20 different calming signs including yawning, blinking, chewing, head shaking, curving, splitting and immobility, many of which have often been interpreted as other behaviours, which, when considered in light of a horse showing a calming signal to appease a human, horse or to calm himself, sheds a whole new light on some recent popular training methods.
Rachael has also developed communication ladders, which show, based on categorisation of the language signs to show the scales of stress and whether tension is increasing or possibly decreasing.
The language signs and associated communication ladders, are categorised as:
Calming signals – appeasement, avoiding conflict and self calming
Displacement activities – activities which also discharge tension but are different to and at a different level to calming signals
Stress signals – these are signs that tension levels are at a stage where the horse is preparing to flight to fight
Distance increasing signals – the highest stress levels where the horse sets to put distance between himself and the stimuli.
As well as a through description of the language signs and calming signals, Rachael offers lots or practical advice on identifying them through a stunning amount of photographs, as well as how we can use them to better understand our horses, help them cope with their surroundings and improve our relationship with them. There is also an excellent section on using calming signals to help empower our horses and enrich their lives.
This is an essential read for anyone who has ever said ‘I don’t understand why my horse suddenly…..’