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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
I was not sure where to post this but it goes along with me training him so I figured here would work.

I was working with my horse and I saw him "pin his ears" but not in a threatening or angry manner and I'm unsure of what it means.

Let me set the scene: I had rolled my ankle and was unable to go out with him for about 2 weeks and when I finally started walking the first place I visited was my horse pen. He (jack) and my other two horses were all standing around sleeping so I climbed over the fence to go pet them (I have done this numerous times) but this time Jack had done something I have never seen another horse do. As I was petting one of my mares I noticed Jack's ears straight up but facing behind him(kinda like pictured below) almost as is if he were listening to something behind him. After giving my mare a few more pats I walked over to him(his ears still up and back) and stood at his shoulder he then turned his head towards me and being kind of pushy he nickered at me. It took me off guard and I stumbled so I ended up calling it a day (this all happened in a 3-minute window).

Fast forward a few days when I went out to check on their water and he again put his ears straight up but faced them back like he was listening to something yet neither of my other two horses had done this. My dad has gone out to toss them some hay as I'm still hurting and Jack does not do this when he (my dad) is out there but every time I go to see them, any of them, Jack does this.

I'm not sure if he is angry or just happy to see me, please I need some answers.

TL;DR: My horse perks his straight up and faces the back when he is around me but not anybody else he also nickered and was a little pushy when doing this. I don't know if he is mad at me or what's going on.


Note: Photo is not mine
 

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If it's like in the pic and he has a friendly face that just means he is paying attention to something behind him or to you. :) If the ears are flat against his head it could be agression or that he wants your attention or that he thinks the other horse (or you?) is/are lower in pecking order...



I think more experienced horse ppl can answer your question better. I did notice that the horse I ride (He is generally friendly towards me) pins his ears when I come in and immediately reach for his head so now I calmly approach him, let him look at me and sniff and then I gently touch him. I have totally no clue if this behaviour signals to hom that I am lower in pecking order... I just don't want to be rude and still figuring out horse language myself alot!



I am curious what the others will write about your question! :)
 

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does he show you his bum when you approach?? :) naughty, haha. It can signal different things!



I had a mare do this once when I took her bit to place it in her mouth. She was behaving really nice and well mannered and I took her bit, she saw it and immediately turned her butt towards me. (non agressive), I understood she didn't like the bit... I really gently stroked her and gently pushed her butt (she understood and turned back to face me) I am sure that hitting her or being angry would have startled this litte mare and ruined our understanding... Probably lots of people think I am a wussy, but I prefer to be too kind and figure things out gently. :) Demand respect but don't break an animals spirit or trust...



I think horse behaviour really depends on the context...
 

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the ears in the pic are not pinned. Truly pinned ears are flat down and accompanied by a mean face. This horse just has his ears back. Most horses have their ears in this position a lot of the time. If you look at his eye, this horse is calm and friendly. We'd need to see your actual horse, maybe in a video, to really see what's going on.
 

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boy, this is very hard to judge by words alone. It could be just your horse being so relaxed and confident around you that he doesn't feel the need to 'watch' you. (if a horse does not trust you, or he is curious about you, or anticipating something from you, he will look at you with ears p.ricked forward)


He is, shall I say, a bit bored even, so he keeps his ears in 'nuetral' position.


However, if the ears are even a little bit 'tight' in their backward position, and there's a sort of 'narrowing' of the eyes, that indicates irritation or threat posturing. More likely irritation. That irritation could be that you are paying attention to the mares and not him.



Do you hand feed these horses? What is their dominance hieararchy? is the gelding on top?
your father may not get this treatment because 1. he is handing out food, which is VERY interesting to all the horses, and 2. he may very well be dominant over all of the horses.
 

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The rest of his body language needs to be read carefully to understand exactly what he's saying. It might even be that he's grumpy about the others getting attention before him. My mare will set her ears back, but not pinned, and gesture (an "I'll bite you if you're not careful" head-wave) at another horse if they try to get attention from me before she does, but is as friendly as could be when she gets to me. The other horses will do the same to her or each other if I have treats. How does your horse interact with the others when you walk in? Keep in mind that your horse might be making this gesture to YOU if he doesn't want YOU near "his" herd. He might just not be brave enough to make a meaner gesture because he knows human flesh is off limits. This is why reading body language is so crucial to your own safety. As others have said, he might just be listening to something behind him or letting his ears relax behind his head, but looking at the rest of his interactions is very important.
 

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That pic, in my herd, means annoyed or just meh/indifferent.
Were his ears already like that before you hopped the fence? If so, no issue.
If they changed as you were giving attention to the mares, he might be a bit possessive, of you or of them.
If they changed when you approached him, then he's not thrilled about you.
 

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The key here is that you were injured. Your horse sensed this and decided to test you so that he could become the higher horse. Horses do this all the time. He might continue to try to push you around until your ankle heals.
 

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Ears back on my horse means nothing by itself. If I am brushing him while eating he will often stop eating, roll his ears back with relaxed eyes and facial. Sometimes he will turn his head and muzzle to me in a way that some might think he is threatening to bite with his ears back but no, he's simply saying how good that feels.



Study horses that are angered at other horses. The entire body says, "I'm mad!", not just the ears. If they are really really mad, the ears can be almost flat.


And they can be fairly mad without always throwing the ears back. Usually they will, but not always.


Studying and learning a horse's body language is an art, one that I have barely scratched the surface of. And each is so different.
 

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With different personalities on different horses I've noticed sometimes "ears back" mean two entirely different things. My pony, for one, pins his ears if he's confused or annoyed, and other than that travels with his ears nearly always forward. My mare, on the other hand, will usually pin her ears when she's listening to a cue or expecting one rather than when she's annoyed(then she'd rather flip her head than pin her ears). For her, "ears back" or pinned ears means she's paying attention to what I'm asking.

From my experience, it depends on the horse, and their personality. :)
 

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Discussion Starter · #11 ·
I have three horses, and of those three, it goes Miriah as the lead mare, Jack and Tawny as the subordinates (they both win some and lose some but are pretty equal). Jack has always been a pushy horse, which doesn't bother me too much as he and the other two horses have mostly been pasture babies. However, since I've been training him, he's responding well to me asking him for personal space.
@Jolien The only time he has shown his butt to me is when he's playing, i.e., running in the freshly fallen snow or being let out into the pasture.
@tinyliny I have a top mare, and the other mare is pretty much on the same level as Jack. I have also pretty much considered myself part of the herd in any way. For example, when they are sleeping after eating a huge lunch, I go and join them by just standing there, enjoying the cool breeze and the warm sun. They all like to stand close to me and even rest their noses/heads against my arms or back. My dad, however, wants to tell them what to do and when to do it (note I do work them, and they know whos boss in the round pen).
@Aprilswissmiss Hes lower on the totem pole and hes always been the one that walks to me first. However, recently he has been kind of staying back. His body doesn't seem tense or defensive he seems eh.

@SiameseCat He has always been a pushy horse, which I do not mind, but knowing him and his personality, I do not think he was trying to hurt me; the ground is uneven, and I'm pretty sure he was just excited to see me.
 

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@Jolien a horse is never really 'disrespectful'. He just is acting on his own idea of where he believes himself in the hierarchy of the 'world', as he knows it. That position is established and then re-enforced by small actions that happen ALL the time.. It isn't necessary for a horse to go all the way to swinging his hind end toward another to say, "Hey! you are trespassing into MY rights!" a truly dominant horse has to do nothing more than pin his/her ears, or tighten his lips, or snake his head a bit toward the offender. Just that 'stink eye' look will remind the other horse to not pressure the boss.


If the offender continues to press, then a stronger response is warranted.


Horses often 'push' on each other in very minor, non-aggressive ways, but they are still 'pushing' . By that I mean that they are very gently testing their position with the herd mates. If the push , say of a head , or a shoulder against the other is tolerated, then the two horses may actually become 'friends', and peers.


That's a lovely thing to see, how horses tolerate each other, and as @Bleu said, they just peacefully eat together, even with a human 'member'of the herd present.



the problem is, of course, that we humans cannot tolerate being pushed on too much, as we are not nearly as heavy and strong as a horse. We have to teach them not to 'push' on us very much at all. And if you have an injury and even more fragile than normal, you REALLY need them to not 'play' with you.
 

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@tinyliny yeah wrong word choice, I meant agressive actually, but I interpret agression as unnapropriate because I'd rather not measure forces with a big horse. How do you react when a horse (not mine/ours) that is in the pasture approaches you and pins ears? It's meant agressive. Last time I went into the pasture I looked very angry at his hip from 10 meters away. He moved out of the way this time. :p Last time he was agressive and pushy I threw a rope at his chest. I bought a whip to take with me when I go into the pasture so my arm is extended in case he decides to try me again. (I'd rather not be in biting range or kicking range, haha)
 

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I mean that horses have all kinds of levels of 'push' in them. Some are really extreme, such as 'aiming' their hind end at you. But, usually, they don't get to that level becauase the other horse backs away from a 'light push', such as a pinned ear, or a tight lip.


If the other horse, (or in this case, the human), doesn't even recognize that the horse is 'pushing' on them in small ways, then sometimes the horse pushes harder.


As a human, I like to try and 'answer a push' from a horse with a response that is about the same level. I don't think one needs to go balastic on a horse who just pins her ears at me. But, I don't ignore it either. I do just enough to get the hrose to give up that angry feeling, and let her ears come forward and really LOOK at me. I do enough to create a change in her demeanor, that's all.


If a horse I did not know threw his hind end at me, I'd react as big as possible, while staying outside of kicking range. But, more than likely, that horse would have given me all kinds of signals of push that I could have addressed first.


For example. People think it's cool when a strange horse comes running up to you, right up into your face. Uninvited. That, to me, is him coming in with an "I OWN you! " attitude. I stop that horse when he's stillf 15 feet out away from me. (I just step firmly toward him and wave my arm at him and say, "Ah!", that projects enough energy toward him to make him stop short).

When he stands and looks with somewhat cautious curiosity at me, I invite him to step in POLITELY. That established right off the bat that he doesn't make every decision with regard to me and my space, and he need not escalate to a big threat in order for us to get our positions settled out correctly, and neither do I.
 

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Discussion Starter · #16 ·
@tinyliny Can you just train me how to interact with my horses lol! My whole life, I've been more of a hobby horse owner rather than a serious one, and I feel that I have missed out on learning all of the cues and body language of horses. I know just enough to get by, but when it comes to all the little stuff like pushing, I really have a lot to learn. Thank you for the helpful info!
 

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@tinyliny Can you just train me how to interact with my horses lol! My whole life, I've been more of a hobby horse owner rather than a serious one, and I feel that I have missed out on learning all of the cues and body language of horses. I know just enough to get by, but when it comes to all the little stuff like pushing, I really have a lot to learn. Thank you for the helpful info!

I'm sorry. I really did just go on and on with all kinds of yakkety yak stuff.
Um m m . . . well, it sounds like your horse does 'like' you, and feels very secure around you, and that's a good start. Perhaps, start with teaching him not to 'mug' you , either for treats or for scratches.


If he pushes his nose right into you, you take your hand, bend it so that your index and middle fingers are sort of in a 'claws' position, and tap his nose smartly. He'll pull his head back immediately. Don't be too hard. but, be a bit abrupt. I mean, don't wait until he has been mugging on and on. He pushes in, with his nose, perhaps focussed on your pocket, and you just 'tap, tap' right smartly on his nose .


BUT you do NOT reach out toward him to tap on him You wait until he has 'broken through your invisible space barrier'.
. you are , in effect, making this sharp bump into his nose into something that happens only when he has reached into YOUR space. So, he sort of feels like he did it to himself, as if he is running into a sharp thing. Horses don't see all that well what is down by their nose, so he may very well feel, "I reached in there to get MY carrot, and wow! there's something sharp there, I'd better be more careful next time."


Once he has brought his head back and is being more careful, perhaps standing back , thinking about what just happened, you reach out and pet him . But, if he starts pushing his head into you, use your fingers to tap his face off. and say "Ah, ah, ".


Then, after a bit, all you have to do is do 'air taps', with your fingers toward his face and say the "ah" and he will remember where his head needs to be, and that he waits for YOU to come to him.


This is a very small thing, but it reminds the horse to not use his head to push on you, even while you are enjoying be next to each other, and you petting him on YOUR terms.
 

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Discussion Starter · #18 ·
@tinyliny Do have any tips for a horse who bucks at you when lunging? I'm never worried about it because he mostly sticks to the outside of the round pen, but at least once during our lunging sessions, he bucks or tosses his head.
 

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personally, if the horse is going forward, as I have asked, I just don't make a big deal out of it.. the horse can have an opinion, but he still needs to do when I ask, and stop when I ask. so, basically, don't let it derail you from your request. ignore it.
 

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Photo of horse in first post is not pinned ears, just ears facing back. :smile:

This is pinned ears! Seriously, notice how flat and back they are. Even if he weren't about to eat a small child, this is what pinned ears look like. (Wish this was a little bigger picture).

It's more than just ear position too though, usually they make a nasty face when they pin their ears. Really, the best way to learn is to watch horses interact with each other. In a group of horses, someone will almost always throw another horse a nasty look, especially at feeding time.
 

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