Ears Forward

Don’t be a loner when riding your antisocial horse. Take control and demand some manners. Horses that misbehave towards fellow horses in group situations are a hazard to themselves and others. One ‘pinny eared’ horse can disrupt an entire trail ride or group training session and create a dangerous situation. Clinton Trail RidingA horse being grumpy and pinning his ears is really just as bad as kicking another horse. In a herd situation, what does a horse do after pinning his ears? He backs the threat up with his hind feet. Horses always warn that they’re unhappy by pinning back their ears. If they’re ignored, then they back up and act like they’re going to kick. If they’re still ignored, then they kick. In this case there’s not much difference between a thought and an action. A horse will always give you a warning that he’s about to be disrespectful. It’s your responsibility to read his body language and act accordingly.

While no one wants to be on an antisocial horse, keep in mind that it’s common for horses to get a little cranky when another horse comes near them. This is especially true if the horse is a dominant horse in the herd. As the other horses are coming up on him, your horse is just saying, ‘Hey, you better stay back or else!’ So if your horse pins his ears or gets cranky as another horse comes up close to him, he’s not a particularly bad horse, he’s just being a horse.

Now, that doesn’t mean that I accept this behaviour and neither should you, but before you start to fix a problem, it’s always good to know how and why it developed. Why would a horse pin his ears or kick at others? It may be due to a lack of respect. Maybe you never taught your horse to respect you, or you’re not giving him enough to think about when you’re riding. As a result, he has time to cause trouble and worry about keeping other horses out of his personal space. When it comes to training horses and working with them on a daily basis, I figure the horse has 23 hours a day to do whatever he wants – eat, sleep, play, whatever. I only ask for one hour out of his day and the least he can do is put on a good attitude and respect me. I make no excuses for cranky attitudes in my horses, whether they be a mare in heat or an extremely dominant horse in the herd. When I’m riding them, their attention and focus better be on me.


When it comes to cranky horses, there are two schools of thought on how to deal with the problem. The first group of people avoids riding in group situations and only rides their horses when they’re sure they’ll be alone. The second group of people makes excuses for their horses and tries to take the responsibility off their shoulders and put it on someone else’s.

If your horse is kicking or pinning his ears when he’s around others, he’s telling you that you’re not keeping him busy enough and he doesn’t respect your leadership. A lot of groundwork, moving the horse’s feet forwards, backwards, left and right and always rewarding the slightest try, will teach him to respect you and keep his attention focused on you. Although this probably won’t cure the problem, it will certainly help by laying a foundation of respect.

The best way to get a horse over pinning his ears or kicking other horses is to expose him to it, let him commit to the mistake and then correct him. Protecting him by keeping him away from other horses is not going to make his cranky attitude go away. In fact, it will only make it worse. A lot of people who have horses that misbehave in group situations mistakenly think that keeping their horse in the barn while the others are riding and only sneaking in rides when the arena is clear will fix the problem. That’s like putting a band aid on a sore – it fixes nothing. Instead, I’m going to share with you two different strategies that will shape up your horse’s attitude.


First, you need to set the situation up so that you can correct your horse. It’s best to practice this at home in an arena or in a pasture. You wouldn’t want to take your horse on a trail ride with twelve other horses and try to address the problem. Find a starting point and then build from there. Ask a friend to help you. It’s important that the other horse is quiet and doesn’t have a problem with another horse being close to him. You’ll have your hands full enough fixing your horse, let alone trying to deal with two cranky horses at the same time!

When you’re set to go, have your friend ride his horse away from you while you follow close behind. You want to dare your horse to pin his ears back and act snarly, and if he truly has a problem, this shouldn’t be hard to do. Point his nose toward the other horse’s hindquarters and, if he pins his ears back or gets cranky, immediately bend him in a circle and put him to work. Really make him hustle his feet. You want him to clearly understand that his behaviour is unacceptable and if he even acts like he’s going to get cranky, there are going to be consequences. Those consequences are moving his feet and working hard.

This not only keeps the horse from kicking out or biting the other horse, but it also teaches him why he should avoid kicking in the first place. If he kicks, he has to work hard. Bend the horse in a circle until you feel that he’s got his attention back on you, and then go back to following the other horse and dare him to misbehave again. If he does, no big deal, just bend him around in a circle again. You may have to repeat the process several times before the horse finally understands that when he acts cranky, you’ll make him work hard. When he remains pleasant and relaxed, you’ll leave him alone.


If you have an extremely dominant horse, you may find that the first strategy isn’t enough to make him want to change his attitude. If that’s the case, try this. Like in the first situation, you’re still going to dare the horse to act cranky by riding him close to the other horse. However, instead of bending him around in a circle when he misbehaves, you’ll tap him between the ears with a dressage whip to make him feel uncomfortable. This sounds aggressive, but keep something in mind, when a horse is misbehaving you need to get in and get out. Be black and white with no shades of grey. You’re not whacking the horse so hard that he drops to his knees with brain damage. You’re more or less surprising him. You want him to think that every time he flattens his ears back to his neck, they hit him on the head. Your timing is really important here – you have to time the tap with the exact instant the horse pins his ears back. That way, the horse will think he’s making himself feel uncomfortable.

As you’re following the other horse, keep your whip in the middle of your chest or over your shoulder so that the horse can’t see it and know it might be coming. You want him to honestly think that he’s whacking himself with his ears, and when it comes, you want it to shock him. So, as you’re following the horse along, keep the stick in the middle of your chest and as soon as the horse even acts likes he’s going to get snarly, use it between the ears. This’ll surprise him and make him throw his head up. Then pretend like nothing $happened. Think of it like an electric fence. When you get zapped by an electric fence it doesn’t really hurt; it takes you by surprise.