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Horse Ears & How They Communicate Meaning

Horse ears will tell you a lot of things! You can learn many things about your horse by observing its ears.

Horses are highly social animals that communicate with each other through a variety of means, including body language, sounds, and even through hormones called pheremones.

One of the most important ways that horses communicate is through their ear position. Horses have highly mobile ears that they can rotate independently of each other. They use their ears to:

  1. keep track of what is going on around them or
  2. To convey their own emotional state.

The position of a horse’s ears can tell you a lot about how they are feeling at any given moment.

If a horse’s ears are pointing forwards, it means they are alert and paying attention to its surroundings. Horses perk their ears forward when they are tuning their senses to what they are looking at (or when they’ve been trained to perk their ears on command)

If their ears are swiveling around backwards or drooping, it indicates that they are relaxed. Swiveling ears show that they’re still scanning for signs of danger. When a horse is relaxed and mellow, their ears are typically drooping to the side.

If their ears are flattened against their head, it means the horse is feeling angry. If its ears are straight back, flat on their head, this means they’re unhappy. If you see a horse’s ears pinned back, be careful! It’s best to keep away from horse with this body language.

Horses also use their ear position to communicate with each other. For example, if one horse has its ears pointing backwards (not pinned), it is telling the other horse that it is not a threat. If both horses have their ears pointing forwards, it means they are both paying attention to each other and are interested in what the other has to say. The position of a horse’s ears is just one of the many ways they communicate with each other and with us. By paying attention to the way they position their ears, we can better understand what they are trying to say.

These horse ears demonstrate that the horse is friendly but not overly alert.
These horse ears demonstrate that the horse is friendly but not overly alert.

Importance Of Observing Horse’s Ears

Look at your horse’s ears before entering its stall. It’s important to observe its ears before getting a horse out of its paddock and tacking it up.

Never approach your horse from the rear end. You might end up getting kicked because you surprised them. Even though horse ears are extremely sensitive, horses can still be startled and may reflexively kick.

Remember, Horses Are Prey Animals

In the wild, horses are sometimes food for wolves and mountain lions. Horses are trying to survive, so they’ve learned many ways to escape predators. Their primary survival instinct is escaping- and their ears help them do this.

If they feel that danger is close, they want to escape- and they’re pretty good at it! There are horse breeds that can run 50 miles per hour.

The ears of a horse are very expressive, and different positions can tell a human whether the horse is relaxed, curious, scared, angry, or listening.”1

Mountain lions and wolves would typically jump from the back of horses and try to eat them. That’s why horses hate being approached from behind. Frankly, I think it’s still a wonder that horses have learned to trust humans enough to let us ride them.

What Horse’s Ears Say

Horses express emotions through their ears. You can tell whether a horse is “smiling” or “growling” through its ears’ position. They can move their ears all around. Horse ears are extremely expressive.

If something has caught their eye and they’re curious about it, their ears will perk up and point in that direction.

Learn Horse To Read Horse Ears to Bond

We’re always taught to be careful when approaching dogs we don’t know. As we teach children, we need to let the dog come to us to check us out and give our hand slowly. It’s the same with horses- except parents rarely teach this skill to children! Horses are generally good-natured, and affectionate animals, but not all horses are safe. Being able to read horse ears can help you avoid being kicked or bitten by a horse.

For so long as you don’t keep them from their food, they will be very loving to you. You can tell by how they’re holding their ears!

  1. Brandt, K. (2004). A language of their own: An interactionist approach to human-horse communicationSociety & Animals12(4), 299-316. []

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