I read the following thread on a forum in the ‘horse training’ section.
I’ve started working with one of the horses at the barn and I’ve noticed that when I ask him to do a game such as “Hide the Hiney”, he pins his ears back but shows absolutely no aggression towards me. With all the other ground work we do this is the only game in which he does this. He is a very gentle horse and always does what I ask. I was just wondering why he is pinning his ears back and is it something I need to be concerned about? Also if it is a concern how can I teach him to not pin his ears back when playing games? Thanks for all your help!
I admit that I am not familiar with this game of “Hide the Hiney” and had to do a Google search. It’s one of the games taught by Parelli to get the horse to move his hindquarters. If you (like me) haven’t seen it before, here’s a short video showing someone doing it with her horse.
There were 3 comments in this post that really caught my attention:
1) he pins his ears back but shows absolutely no aggression towards me
Horses’ ears are an important part of their body language and the messages they give should not be ignored. Ears that are pinned flat back are a sign that the horse is annoyed. Not every horse that is annoyed will act aggressively, but it should always be seen that the horse is giving a warning. Pay attention to it.
2) this is the only game in which he does this
At the very least, it means the horse does not like what you are doing. So something about this particular ‘game’ is annoying this horse. The horse in the video also seems to be annoyed by it. Watch for the spots in the video where he pins his ears back (there are a few). And watch the expression on his face. Not happy.
Remember ‘show and tell’ from kindergarten? Horses show and tell us how they are feeling through their posture and body movements. The raised head and pinned ears of the horse in this video tell that he is not happy about something that is going on. An empathetic trainer (yes, that means you whenever you work with your horse), pays attention to the horses signals and does her best to figure out what is causing that behaviour.
Is the horse just challenging because he doesn’t want to do that movement? Then how can you break it down to make it simpler and easier for him?
Is the horse confused by something you are doing? How can you adjust your body language – position, posture and energy – to make it more clear to him?
Is he being affected by something else in the environment? How can you bring his focus and attention back to you while keeping him feeling calm, safe and secure?
3) how can I teach him to not pin his ears back when playing games
Now this question really concerned me! Even if you can, you shouldn’t teach a horse to not pin his ears back. That would be like putting duct tape over your mouth. If you want to really have a true bond with your horse, he must be allowed to express how he is feeling. And he does that by showing it with his body language. It may be a game for you, but it’s not a game your horse enjoys. Ask yourself what the point of the ‘game’ is and look for another way that will get the same result, but that your horse doesn’t get annoyed about.
We use body language cues as a large part of our communication, too. Many years ago, I used to not like being hugged by friends and had a friend who was unrelenting ‘hugger’. I knew every time I met her, she was going to hug me. I didn’t like it, but I did like my friend. So, I would think ‘uh oh, here it comes’ and brace my entire body. She would give me a hug and I would stand like a rock enduring it until it was over. Now, my friend knew I didn’t like her hugs, but she was convinced that she was going to change how I felt by forcing her hugs on me. I tolerated it, but didn’t enjoy it. Your horse can feel the same way about some things that you are doing. Pay attention to his body language and respect how he is feeling. Try changing your approach. Change how you are asking – your position, your posture, your energy.
Your horse’s body language will tell you when you’ve got it right for him. And then you can both enjoy the game together.
Pay attention to his cues. Don’t try to turn them off because they ‘bother’ or ‘concern’ you. Honest, direct communication is a key part of any healthy relationship. Respect and honour your horse’s right to express his feelings so you know what he needs. This will strengthen your bond with him.Watch for my book coming soon – “Confident Rider, Confident Horse: Build Your Confidence While Improving Your Partnership with Your Horse from the Ground to the Saddle”
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Anne Gage ~ Confident Horsemanship