Rachaël Draaisma has always lived with and had a passion for dogs and horses. In 2002 she decided to make it her profession. Achieving several diplomas and starting to work full time as a trainer and behavioural consultant. First with dogs, later with horses. In 2013 she completed the Turid Rugaas Internationals Dog Trainers Education. Under Turid’s supervision she started to firstly map the horses’ levels of tension in response to a variety of everyday stimuli in a livery environment. Secondly she started to investigating if horses use relationship-managing signals in response to stimuli in their environment that they want to appease in order to avert conflict and maintain social relationships. They have chosen the term Calming Signals to refer to these signals. Thirdly, to see how tension relates to possible Calming Signals. Video footage forms the basis of the study. Hundreds of videos of domesticated horses of various breeds in interaction with humans, or with humans in proximity of twenty meters, were analysed. The study lead to the description of 20 calming signals horses use to appease each other and calm themselves to keep a positive social climate and avoid negative escalations. It also lead to the description of ten communication ladders that represent ways a horse may interact to stimuli around them. Every step on the ladder represents a tension level and gives features and behaviours, which makes them a valuable tool to assess your horse. And see if possible tension is declining or rising. This study lead to the book Language signs and calming signals of horses and is published by CRC press in 2017. It has been translated to several languages, of which Chinese, Czech, Dutch and Polish language are a few to mention. This study is ongoing. And Rachael keeps working on studying communicative signals of horses, with an emphasise on the calming signals of horses.
Another pilar of Rachaël’s working life with horses evolves around equine mental stimulation and scentwork. Rachaël developed an extensive method to do scent tracking with horses. Where she teaches horses to follow a footstep track, so they can find lost persons, or foodbags. Tracking has enourmous advantages for horses, on their behaviour, their brain and body. But scent tracking with horses is also enriching for humans and can be seen as a new tool in enriching the human equine relationship. Rachaël develops tracking to a level that she uses it as a sole (primary) activity for horses. But offering mental stimulation as a method and Scent tracking is also a part of Rachaël’s work when working with horses who have behavioural problems.
Rachaël Draaisma is an expert in reading horses body language. Various features (some very detailed) and behaviours are given meaning to and are linked to tension levels. This leads to her being able to accurately assess the level of relaxation or tension of a horse. It also enables her to assess the extent of a horses comfort zone. The zone where he can handle all stimuli around him. With that Rachaël is also specialised in expanding the comfort zone of horses. Using her mental stimulation method and scentwork programm as tools. Many horses who have behavioural problems, who are shut down, who need to adjust to modern day living by (re)socialising and humans are benefitting from that. Implementing scentwork as a new tool in animal assisted play therapy is a new activity, that Rachaël is enrolling in cooperation with the International Institute for Animal Assisted Play Therapy© of Risë Vanfleet and Tracie FaaThompson.
Rachaël travels throughout Europe and the globe to lecture and give workshops about calming signals of horses, and equine mental stimulation and scentwork. Many University’s and educations are interested in her work. China, Denmark, Poland, Belgium, Spain, Slovak, Sweden, The UK, the Netherlands, are only a few countries she has visited. Rachaël’s second book ‘Scentwork for Horses’ is published wprldwide in January 2021. It is also translated and published in Dutch. Rachaël is also developing a series of educational weekends were attendants can combine indebt theory, practice hours of observation and work handson with horses.
The pictures are ©Rachaël Draaisma
More information: https://calmingsignalsofhorses.com/en/