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Hey! Sorry for the length, but I wanted to give some background on the situation and the behavior.
So, I rescued a thoroughbred mare from a (horrible) racing stable a year and a half ago. She was essentially feral as she had been left in a pasture with minimal handling for her entire life! So once she wasn't deathly afraid of me anymore (after SEVERAL months) and trusted me some, I was able to work with her. The main problem is that when she was handled, she was ear twitched. I know this because if you go anywhere near her left ear, she freaks out. She will slam her head at you and even get nasty. It has gotten better as I've worked with her over time. But I was wondering if anyone had any advice on how to help her over this issue? It gets rather tiring trying to work with her and having trouble putting a halter/bridle on/off because it touches her ears and she freaks out. Let me know if you have any ideas! :)
 

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My horse also does this, getting the bridle off used to be a really big problem has he would hold is head up high so I couldn't go near his ears to get it off. As he is 17hh when he held his head up I could not get the bridle off. It also caused him to be very scared and stressed when you went towards his ears.
We started trying to associate ear touching with something good. So we would offer him a treat down low to the ground and touch his ears, then tell him he was a good boy. We did this for several weeks and now he has no problem with ear touching, infact he now lowers his head for us!
Good luck
 

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My Irish Draft did it with both ears when I first got her - I knew she did it as the seller disclosed it
First thing I did was have her sedated and her ears checked just in case there was something wrong going on in them - there wasn't
I contacted the place the previous owner had kept her on when she owned her and they were happy to tell me that they had twitched her ears as a restraint when clipping her
Forcing the issue with her was a NO NO - she could become really violent so I resigned to a slowly gently approach that involved just gently stroking the base of her ears, barely a touch to begin with and not making a big deal of it and only increasing the amount of pressure and time touching the ear once she was relaxed and OK with the first stage
She now stands untied to have her ears clipped, is no trouble to bridle and really enjoys having the insides of her ears scratched - puts her head down and leans against your hand
 

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Princess, you have a good way of teaching and it may work - but treats or no more than a bribe when used that way. Not all the time, but usually.
Asking him to do things lie that over and over again for several weeks and asking by giving treats to him may also spoil your horse or teach some bad manners in other ways.

With our horse, we did this:
We pet him with our hands on the forhead. We just rubbed him back and forth between his eyes. Then, quickly so he can't even think what you did until after it was done, keep your hand touching him but sweep your hand right over his ear and come straight back to rubbin his forehead. Do this two to three times or more if you wanted to, and the first day you do this and he was fine, maybe give him a treat - but after that day I would say no more.

good luck!
 
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Princess, you have a good way of teaching and it may work - but treats or no more than a bribe when used that way. Not all the time, but usually.
Asking him to do things lie that over and over again for several weeks and asking by giving treats to him may also spoil your horse or teach some bad manners in other ways.

I'm afraid when we first got him he was so nervous the only eay to get near the top of his head was treats. Now he's absolutely fine.
 

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I firmly believe that twisting or twitching an ear causes permanent damage that can be painful for a good long time and serious enough to make a horse very weary. I think it has something to do with the hyoid bone, the muscles in the ear connect to the hyoid bone and when jostled just right it can easily be broken or damaged.
That being said my colt was tied up with a chain he got his head stuck under before I got him, and damaged his ears - this caused him to be ear shy.
He would hurl his head away if he even thought you were gonna touch them - to the point where he once slammed his head on the wall trying to get away from someone.
I used a mix of the methods already explained here. I use clicker training so my horses know click=treat. I would scratch his neck behind his ear where he was comfortable and quickly run my hand over his ear and click at just the same time, I'd go back to his neck and feed him. I repeated this a few times before he got it. I DO think it still hurts him when I touch his ears, maybe his was abnormally damaged, but while he lets me touch his ears I still see that "cringe" and tensed cheek muscles when I do it. Knowing this I reserve this for only when I must handle his ears and I try to keep it heavily reinforced with a food reward to try to counter balance whatever pain or discomfort he's in.
 

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First. Have you had a Vet examine your horses ears to make sure there is no pain issues with the ears. Once that is ruled out, from what I have read in the Clicker training area this could me a good option for this problem, I myself have never used Clicker training but PunksTank will be able to help you.
Another option would be to move your hand up the neck from the withers up towards the ears, as soon as the horse starts to react to your hand moving closer to his ears stop moving your hand, allow he to relax then remove your hand. Do it a few times in a row then move on to something else, then come back and try again. What ever you do don't force things with his ear keep it quiet and slow.
As for bridling and unbridling, I would expect my horse to react quietly for bridling and unbridling. As long as there is no pain in his ear, I would train to teach the horse that his ears are safe. Good luck, but talk to PunksTank about clicker training.
 

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First. Have you had a Vet examine your horses ears to make sure there is no pain issues with the ears. Once that is ruled out, from what I have read in the Clicker training area this could me a good option for this problem, I myself have never used Clicker training but PunksTank will be able to help you.
Another option would be to move your hand up the neck from the withers up towards the ears, as soon as the horse starts to react to your hand moving closer to his ears stop moving your hand, allow he to relax then remove your hand. Do it a few times in a row then move on to something else, then come back and try again. What ever you do don't force things with his ear keep it quiet and slow.
As for bridling and unbridling, I would expect my horse to react quietly for bridling and unbridling. As long as there is no pain in his ear, I would train to teach the horse that his ears are safe. Good luck, but talk to PunksTank about clicker training.

Thank you - you're so open minded :) I'm impressed.
Your method is another great one and another one that could easily be coupled with Clicker work. The clicker simply bridges the desired action with the food reward that may not be able to come at the exact same moment. It changes the food from being just a "bribe" to coerce the horse into doing something - into a reward for correct behavior. So if I were to use your method (which I really like) I would scratch or pat (whichever my horse preferred) my way up their neck, when they started to look uncomfortable there I would stay in that spot - as they showed signs of relaxing (lowering their head, softening their muscles, softening their eye) I would C+T, I'd also C+T as I worked my way up while they remained calm without getting fussed.
I find the food reward may speed up the process and may help make them want this situation, more than just tolerate it :)
You just gave me a great alternative thanks!
 

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PunksTank I could see your addition of the Clicker being a big help to reinforce the good behavior. And for clarification for others C+T means Click + Treat.
 

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There is another way to deal with this. As long as touching his ears doesn't cause him pain. Rub his neck and swipe your hand over his ears and rub his face. Go quick enough that he doesn't have time to react. Then reverse going back to his neck. Rinse repeat again and again. Each time go just a tad slower going over his ears. With practice and time, he will get better with allowing you to touch his ears.
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Since you say she is slamming her head at you I would recommend not using your hand to try and touch her ears. I would suggest using a handy stick/carrot stick and get her used to getting rubbed and touched on her entire body, then use approach and retreat to rub her ears. Rub up her neck and when she is relaxed release the pressure and then start again, if she moves you can move with her, still be able to reach, and be at a safe distance. Use approach and retreat until you can rub behind her ear then move to in front of her ear, her face and eventually rub her entire ear and head with the stick. Once she is comfortable with that then go back to using your hand and do the same thing approach and retreat. Find a starting point where she is comfortable and go from there.
 

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We have inherited many ear shy horses. Some would paw you or attack if you reached for an ear. Unless you actually saw this horse ear twitched. do not assume that she was. The worst ones we have seen had ticks in their ears. Once people had failed in handling their sore years, they learned to fight people handling them at all. Some would even self destruct then their ears were approached or paw out.

Any horse that is completely irrational about its ears should be checked out for bugs (like ticks) or any other physical reason that their ears are sensitive.

Horses with this problem respond very well to the 'approach and retreat' (A & R) method. We start out with a 5 foot stock whip or a flag. One is so much lighter and easier to handle than a stick and is much more flexible and easier on the horse. We just get the horse used to accepting it all over its front end but do not approach the ears yet. Generally, after 10 or 15 minutes of doing this the right way with the right timing, one can rub everywhere around the face, neck and shoulders without the horse even raising its head.

Then, we are ready to work on the ears. We have put the horse's head over a gate to start with so the handler is safe with one that wants to paw or attack. We take the 5 foot stock whip and rub the face and the neck behind the ears. Then we drag it over the ears and just keep doing it until the horse quits jerking it head. The instant it quits jerking its head, the handler lowers the whip and back up. In one session, you can usually get a horse to allow the whip all over its ears. One or two more sessions and most completely accept your hand handling their ears.
 

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Lots of good advice guys thanks! I've had my boy since birth. Imprinted him myself. (I assume that comment could cause some folks to fuss lol) He was fine with his ears until he was about four. He had regular foal halters through his yearling year after which I used only rope halter. He lowered his head for halter or bridle. Stood to be clipped. When he was 3, I was pregnant with my daughter so I couldn't do much with him. (High risk pregnancy) I started again when he was four and suddenly if you touched his ear with the bridle he'd slam into me. Had his ears checked they were fine. Had teeth checked to make sure bit wasn't causing something I was just thinking was the ear because the ONLY time he fussed was with bridle. Then I had to haul somewhere and grabbed my leather halter and got same result. Still clipped fine, could touch the ear just fine. Only sensitive with the right ear so I started putting the bridle on loose and over right ear first so as not to touch it then tighten it up after it was on. Two years later and I still don't understand it. Can clip brush rub bath and isn't bothered. Only thing I can think is that the bridle or halter must have squished the ear at some point while putting it on and now he's got an anxiety for a bridle or halter going over that ear. Don't touch it with the bridle and your good!
Suggestions? Thoughts?
 

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^^^ If it started as suddenly as that I would get his ear checked under sedation
Ticks are awful for crawling into places like that - we had a mare with an awful sinus infection last year and when she was flushed a large dead tick came out
The horse could have any sort of bacterial infection going on, some sort of a fungal infection or aural plaque which looks like a fungal thing but is actually a papilloma virus - same thing that causes warts. It could also be ear mites - the jury seems to be out on whether or not horses do get them but I wouldn't rule them out
 

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Would they keep that for two years? I had him checked when it started but I could find a better vet to recheck.
 

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My gelding is ear shy too. Next time he sees the vet I think I will have them check his ears too per the comments. I notice he's worse when its cold. But we use the approach/retreat method as well. I simply gently pet them and rub them and if he stays relaxed then I retreat. If he gets fussy then I keep petting until he relaxes. It has worked but I have to continue it regularly or he starts to get fussy about them again.
 

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My gelding is ear shy too. Next time he sees the vet I think I will have them check his ears too per the comments. I notice he's worse when its cold. But we use the approach/retreat method as well. I simply gently pet them and rub them and if he stays relaxed then I retreat. If he gets fussy then I keep petting until he relaxes. It has worked but I have to continue it regularly or he starts to get fussy about them again.
If it gets better, then gets worse again - something is causing the worse to happen :(
Are you the only one to handle him? If other people are handling him there should be some communication on how you'd like them to work around his ears. Making sure who ever bridles him doesn't pinch or pull his ears around while trying to get the bridle on. I find this happens alot with tall horses where it's hard to reach, with horses with thick manes or a heavy winter coat, where the bridle is snug and the rider needs to mess with their ears more to get it on.
Or he could have a physical issue bothering him, ticks, mites, build up of wax, damage to the hyoid bone, or just a history of pain resulting in mistrust.
Either way, whatever is causing this behavior hasn't gone away. I would have him thoroughly checked and communicate with anyone else who handles him. You can keep practicing approach and retreat with him a million times, but if the next day the pain or mistrust is back - it won't help much.
 

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If it gets better, then gets worse again - something is causing the worse to happen :(
Are you the only one to handle him? If other people are handling him there should be some communication on how you'd like them to work around his ears. Making sure who ever bridles him doesn't pinch or pull his ears around while trying to get the bridle on. I find this happens alot with tall horses where it's hard to reach, with horses with thick manes or a heavy winter coat, where the bridle is snug and the rider needs to mess with their ears more to get it on.
Or he could have a physical issue bothering him, ticks, mites, build up of wax, damage to the hyoid bone, or just a history of pain resulting in mistrust.
Either way, whatever is causing this behavior hasn't gone away. I would have him thoroughly checked and communicate with anyone else who handles him. You can keep practicing approach and retreat with him a million times, but if the next day the pain or mistrust is back - it won't help much.
He's boarded with family but I don't believe she handles him much in terms of haltering, etc. I have showed her before as she watched me with approach/retreat in regard to this before. I believe she just avoids his ears though. I'm thinking its more of a physical issue honestly as he's pretty relaxed and loves people/attention. The only time we really mess with his ears is to pet other than bridling and in both cases he's not too bad. The owner I get him from obtained him through the BLM so I'm wondering if something didn't happen during capture. I have read and seem some video of the process but not real familiar with it. In any case, I'm going to have his ears vet checked.
 

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Having the ears checked is always the best first step IMO because then you know if the horse is really in pain or if its just a reaction to a bad experience - as we knew to be the case with my mare.
 
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