One of the things that people are starting to do really well is work on communicating with their horses on the ground. One of the things I don’t see as much is people communicating well under saddle. Somehow we think that the only way the horses can listen or communicate is through the reins or by movement (bucking, balking, rearing, etc.). It’s easier for us to visually interpret what the horse is telling us when we are facing him- we can see his facial expressions as well as his body movements- when we are under saddle, we have a limited way of visually understanding what is going on with the horse.
But, limited doesn’t mean we don’t have any ability. There are any number of ways we can tell how the horse is feeling- a relaxed neck, easy gait, and- what I like to watch when I’m riding- ear movement.
Although we are always asking our horses to prick their ears forward for pictures, usually horses have their ears to the side or flicked back. This is to pick up information around them, and an ear flicked backward shows that your horse is listening to you… not to be confused with *pinned* back.
Sometimes people think that a horse isn’t listening to you when his ears are forward, which can be true, but if you watch the ears closely, the horse will often flick an ear back to “check in” with you on a regular basis.
The video below shows me out Tama out on a trail ride today- he is understandably interested in what is going on around him, and his ears are forward, looking around on the trail. I appreciate any interest a horse has out on a ride- I certainly don’t want him to be bored. If you watch, however, Tama continually “checks in” with me by flicking an ear back or to the side- usually his left ear, although sometimes his right. Once he realizes everything is OK, he puts his ears forward again. Sometimes his ears will flick back a little longer- at that point I’ve shifted slightly in the saddle or the there is a steeper decline in the terrain. If you just watched the video without understanding what was going on, you might just see Tama cruising around on trail. If you watch his ears closely, however, you will see that he is constantly in communication with me during the ride, making sure that I am secure and there is no change in my guides.
Once we realize how often our horses are checking in with us, as riders, we need to remember to check back in with them. Keeping communication using our seat, our hands, and our voice is important to our horse so he knows what is expected of him, and when we may change direction, speed, etc.
The next time you are out riding, watch your horse’s ears. What are they telling you? How often does your horse check in? How well are you communicating information back to your horse? Make sure you check in with your horse just as often as he checks in with you.