Unfortunately, horses can’t talk to us using speech—we would love to hear what they say if they could! (Quick - name the famous horse who could talk!) However, they are still extremely adept at communicating for those who know what to look for, and one of the main ways that they convey messages is through moving their ears.
Horses can move their ears nearly 180 degrees, point them up and lie them flat as they see fit, and every small flick and flutter can tell us something about what is happening in the horse’s mind. Read on to learn more about how they use their ears and what they are trying to say!
Understanding How Horses Communicate With Their Ears
When a horse turns its ears forward: One of the first things that we teach our riders is that when a horse is alert and interested in what lies ahead, its ears will be turned forward, which we often call “pricked.” Forward-turned ears are the ears of an engaged horse that is absorbing their surroundings.
When a horse turns its ears to the side: If the ears are going sideways, away from the horse’s body, it is likely daydreaming—or at least not paying attention to its current surroundings. This is when you may want to give a horse verbal cues before approaching or signaling to get its attention first.
When a horse’s ears are rapidly moving: This is usually indicative of there being a lot of noise around and the horse is likely trying to determine where the noise is coming from or if it is a threat.
When a horse’s ears are back: If a horse’s ears are back but not flattened, this typically means it is listening to the rider or something else coming from behind. This also may indicate that it is stressed if it is coupled with other uneasy body language.
When a horse pins its ears: Pinned ears are a sign of frustration in horses because they clearly indicate that the horse is frightened and stressed, but also might become defensive. Horses can almost fully flatten their ears against their necks, but hopefully, you will not ever encounter this! (Mister Ed! - Famous horse who could talk.)
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