Where do his ears belong?
Hi, I am very new to trail riding, and am leasing a wonderful guy my the name of Splash. I was originally trained in arena riding, basic English skills, but it's been 20 years or so since riding at all. Well, this past weekend I took my buddy Splash out with a fellow newbie, taught by her daughter, who rides western. While out on the trail, she remarked that she liked that her horse always was alert while on the trail. (Ears pricked and looking around). Now, from what I remembered from my lessons 20 years ago, was that you want your horse's ears turned back, toward you, to show that he's paying attention to you! Now, while riding recently, I've been allowing Splash to look certain things, but aim to have at least one ear in my direction.. (So he won't forget I'm up there? I don't know!) So tell me, where SHOULD those beautiful ears be pointing?
First off, howdy and welcome to the forum. :D
Where the horse's ears point will often just be wherever is most comfortable for him and will also depend on their individual temperament. I've ridden lots of horses that had their ears pricked up and looking forward, lots that would keep their ears pointed backward toward me, and even some that would just let their ears flop around out to the sides LOL.
I've never found that it had any bearing at all on their responsiveness to my cues. Some horses will point their ears back when you cue, others won't. I am much less concerned with what their ears are doing than what their body is doing. If the horse is listening and responding well, then his ears can do pretty much whatever they want to as far as I'm concerned.
My only exception to that is when they are pinned flat. I generally don't allow that on a horse I'm riding because it's a sign of aggression and aggression in a saddle horse is almost always a bad thing.
It's always good to have a horse with one ear cocked to you, it means they are listening. However if both ears are pointed forwards, they are mostly focused on that thing and not you, but some cases this can be wrong too.
Most of the time when horses have their ears back like this are frustrated[and I know they're frustrated because they had to stand to get their pictures taken or at least Heidi is]
He knows you're up there. He should be paying attention to where he is going and to you. If he is doing a good job of moving forward, watching where he is going, and following your cues, I wouldn't worry too much about ears.
I don't rely on the ears alone, they are just another communication and attention tool to the whole body of the horse :D If I am on the trails, and my mare pricks her ears forward but is still moving in a fluid and easy gait, then I don't mind. But if she is tense, balking and her ears are forward... that is simply telling me is thinks somthing ahead is scary or she is unsure. Ears forward, and her body movement is jittery and very forward, then there is likely another horse up ahead and she wants to say hi.
Really, you gotta read the entire body with all its cues put together. I'm pretty sure the only reason my mare keeps her ears tuned to me most of the time, is because she is familiar with my voice cues and is very good at listening for them.
I don't pay much attention to my horses ears at all when in the saddle so long as they are doing what I want. What I do do is if their ears prick forward, head comes up and they start staring I'll look that way to see what they are looking at. Seen a lot of wildlife I would of otherwise missed by doing that.
What is important is whole body language. You can feel when they tense up because something is bothering them.
Ear shots of my mare:
I don't have any pictures of her with her ears turned around to me. She almost never does it. Even when I sing (badly).
This is as close as she comes - in an arena, when she is feeling a little pissy about overtaking our gelding and I'm asking her to ease off the pace:
I think the arena bores her so she turns her ear because there isn't anything else to do. With an empty trail ahead of her...nope. Ain't happening. However, she is very aware of my seat, my legs and the reins.
Bsms, she is looking at you in that first picture. Tiny bit of ear tipped back there. Nice pics.
im not really worried about where their ears are pointing. my horses all have their ears twisting around listening to everything.
as soon as they hear my voice or get a cue theyll turn an ear back to me but other than that when on the trail if their ears are going everywhere i dont really care it means their paying attention to their surroundings (which is good because we do have bears and cougars and coyotes etc). theyll see something or hear something long before i do but as long as they wil bring their attention immediately back to me as soon as i ask for it then it doesnt really matter.
OTOH, our gelding seems to like to listen to my daughter singing to him...almost every picture shows him with one ear halfway back:
And like one of the other posters mentioned, my mare's ears often alert me to something I'm otherwise going to miss. A couple of weeks ago, it was a 4 foot long blacksnake carrying what I'm guessing was a baby rabbit in its mouth, with its head about a foot above the ground. The thing in its mouth was squeaking, and a rabbit charged the snake a couple of times before giving up. I only caught sight because my mare's ears both went to one side, and then she looked intently at a patch of desert. If I had been out jogging on my own, I'd have missed it.
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