Question: I have a filly that is 9 months old. We got her in October of last year and have been working with her. But in the last few months every time we try to get close to her she has her ears pinned back. Its always at different times, it could be when we are feeding her, giving her a treat like apples or carrots, or just trying to brush her. She was fine at first now it seems everytime we are near her, her ears are pinned. Why is that and how can I get her not to pin her ears all the time? It makes me a little on guard, and I can’t really enjoy my time working with her. I have to mention that she is my first baby I’m trying to raise although I’ve grown up around horses, so I’m not totally unknowledgable about horses. I just want to make raising my foal an enjoyable experience even though it is hard work.
Answer from April Reeves: When a horse of any size or age lets you in to their space, you are now a herd member, not a human. It’s now your responsibility to take your place in the herd of 2 (you and your filly). As each human enters her world, she is also gaining herd members.
As with any herd, you will be positioned into the pecking order. This is what your young filly is trying to do with you.
An older horse in a herd would normally be pushy and bossy towards the young filly, moving her out of the way until it was finished the meal first. However, you have entered her space and given up your meal to her, establishing a role below hers. Horses are often grumpy and pushy towards humans during feeding times because the human is playing the role of surrender with the food, by the simple gesture of putting it in the bins and buckets.
In order to re-establish your position higher, during feed times, make her stand back and wait until you have her feed in the feeder and stand there quietly for a moment before letting her eat. This will establish your role above her. This should also bring her ears up and attentive to you. It won’t be easy at first, and you will have to assume a fairly dominant position. Get across to her in no uncertain terms what you want, and once she accepts it, you will find that you won’t have to be aggressive and bossy any more. The relationship will be established.
It’s the reason I never feed a horse by hand. It is your way of saying “here, take this away from me. You are the boss.” I feed treats along with all the other feeds, so that the horse gets them in a meal. The only other time I may feed by hand is during training periods with specific purposes.
We, as humans, do not often like to push horses around. However, I have seen it so often, when horses begin this pattern of dominance over a human, it can end in violence. I once rode a horse for a student who had been attacked repeatedly in the stall by this horse. I had no problem what so ever with him. Eventually she sold him, and replaced him with a mare. In less than a year, that mare was in my barn, being sold.
Not all horses are like this. Some are born to be on the bottom and they accept this position willingly, but they are rare.
She pins her ears back while brushing for the same reasons. I have a saying: “get in and get the job done”. This means, when you work with your horse, move about with intention. Don’t back away if she pins her ears. Get into her space and use intention to say to her “I’m higher than you, just deal with it”. We tend to micro-manage our horses too much. They like things simple, and they also like NOT being dominant. Begin brushing her and if the ears go back, move up to her neck and brush there. Work around your horse in a rhythmical movement: horses move in rhythm with the world. Humans tend to move sporadically, which does not mesh with your horse. Watch how you move and work at changing it to match your horse.
You will need to learn how to work with her as a leader. I am loading a series of groundwork exercises on to my main site as we speak: Horseman’s U.com. Follow this link and look below the middle brown title bar “Horseman’s U”:
Good luck and I hope these exercises will help you establish the connection you are looking for with your filly.