10.31.2012

Ear Pinning

I encourage expressiveness in my horses
Ear pinning is another debated topic amongst many horse people. I wrote a short time ago about tail swishing and some reasons horses do it. I feel that Ear Pinning warrants exploring as well.

First of all, I value both of these behaviors because they are ways horses communicate with each other and us. I have learned to pay very close attention to the timing and placement of these communications in all the horses I come in contact with.It gives me insight into many things the horse is trying to "say" whether it is to me or another horse or animal.

Here are several reasons I have seen ear pinning displayed:

  1. Horse wanting other horse( or human) to move (off food, territory or another horse)
  2. Horse does not agree with other horse or humans actions. (*Note I said "agree" does not make said actions right or wrong)
  3. Horse does not like the feeling of something (maybe it is ticklish or annoying in some way)
  4. Horse is in genuine discomfort or illness
  5. Horse is this type of horsenality (opinionated) (some horses are more likely to pin and communicate this way because they are dominant, big horsenalities and quick to assert themselves)
  6. In a so called "aggressive" horse (in my experience usually an abused horse that has become defensive but can just be a bully) it can be a warning of aggressive behavior ie. biting and kicking

In my Training work, I have to put the Communication in context to know how it fits in and how to proceed. I think it is wrong to assume when a horse pins there ears you are doing something "wrong" It could be as simple as what I call "a difference of opinion" between horse and person or horse and other horse. When people have differences of opinion, we will let the person know. Sometimes we can agree to disagree and sometimes we can get the horse to agree if we acknowledge this disagreement and "talk" it over together. Often when I see this communication, I will say out loud to the horse "I am listening and I see your point" "I definitely see how you could see it that way" Then I think of how I could communicate to them so we can have a meeting of the minds. This acknowledgement of their opinions and feelings allows me to shape the work around the horse.

I tend to attract and work with many very Dominant horses who have learned to be pushy and even dangerous to handle. When they come to me. They have usually developed these patterns for two reasons. They were handled by people who may not have had the tools to communicate with this type of horse, or the horse has been abused and instead of shutting down has learned to protect himself.
Both these horses can be communicated to in different ways but they may exhibit pinned ears for different reasons. The Dominant horses may not like having to reason with me at first and my requests for more space around food or to move off or away. They will often give me huffy expressions and swishes and ears back in a "who do you think you are to move me away from my food!" "I do the moving around here" Once they understand my requests and that I will quickly praise the right choices. Ears are forward and expression becomes "hmm you are asking interesting questions...I am interested in what you have to say!"  They know that I will always listen to them and they will be heard.

Mercury is Dominant and food territorial and will pin his ears if asked to stand back from his food at times. It is easy for me to see why he would do that around that request.

So when you see this communication pay close attention. If you don't know the horse well, be cautious until you know the context of the Ear pinning and what they are trying to say. See if you can learn to read this communication by watching how horses use it amongst themselves. More oats for thought.
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