We all know the basic signs of a horse’s ears. Ears forward means curiosity. Ears pricked stiffly with a raised head means they sense possible danger. Ears back means ‘Go away’, or ‘I don’t like this’. But are you taking into account the smaller variations?
I usually encourage people to look where they are going, particularly when jumping or out on the road. But when you are watching your horses ear’s periodically it can give you valuable feedback. So what’s he saying, and how should you react?
If you put your leg on and your horse’s ears twitch backwards, he’s probably saying, ‘Ouch, I didn’t like that’. Try changing the way you apply your leg – for instance, use a light tap with your heels instead of a squeeze from the calf.
Ears twitching back and forth often means ‘I don’t understand’, a good signal for you to slow down or simplify your aids. Ears going a little floppy indicates relaxation and enjoyment.
Not every signal means exactly the same – you need to study your horse and read the signals in the context of his overall personality. But this aspect of communication can make your schooling more like a conversation and also improve your results, because you and your horse are listening to each other.
Tina reads Clover’s ears:
1. Attentive and fairly relaxed
2. One ear further back says, ‘I am trying to figure out what the rider wants from her left aids’.
3. Although slightly back, this is not ‘ouch’, because there is no tension and accompanying raise of the head. This is the horse paying a lot of attention to the riders hands.
4. Clover’s ears here are on their way to floppy, relaxed and happy. ‘I like this’, she’s saying.