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What do ears back mean?

Watching a horse's ears can tell you what kind of mood he is in. When a horse gets angry he puts his ears flat back on his head. If you are handling a horse that you don't know very well and he puts his ears right back, you need to watch out. He could be angry or frightened about something and may kick or bite.

A horse has 16 muscles in his ear so he can move them all over the place. A horse has excellent hearing and he may point his ears in the direction of an interesting noise. When a horse has his ears pricked forward he is paying attention. When he is dozing in the sun, his ears droop to the side.

If you are riding and notice your horse is putting his ears back it could mean several things. He may be doing something he doesn't want to do or something he finds hard. Putting his ears back is a sign of resistance. He could be uncomfortable due to a badly fitting saddle, bridle or bit.

Ears back can also be a warning that another horse is getting too close to him and he doesn't like it. If this is the case, ask the other riders to give you plenty of room.

Learn how to ride a nervous pony.

Q. The pony I ride spooks at everything and I don't know what to do! He is about 15 years old and his owner says he was "born scared."

A. Sadly, there's not a lot you can do about a 15-year-old pony that spooks all the time, especially if he has a nervous disposition. He's probably not going to change. Ponies usually spook because they are nervous or high spirited (sometimes due to much high-energy feed.)

Try not to let the spooking upset you. Ignore it if you can and continue with what you were doing before the spook. When he spooks, sit deep in the saddle and ask him to move forward by using your legs strongly. If he won't move forward, turn his head away from the "scary monster" and ask him to walk on again. Never lose your temper or smack a spooky pony. And don't dismount. Don't let your pony think he can get out of work by spooking. In fact, if he is working hard, he shouldn't have time to spook. He will be too busy listening to you to pay attention to scary things around him.

If a horse is a chronic spooker but you want to ride him on trails, always ride out with friend so if you fall off she can help you. And steer clear of roads and traffic where spooking could cause an accident.

How to ride an aggressive horse.

Q. There is a horse I really like at the riding school, but when I ride him he is mean to other horses. Most of the time he is fine, but if another horse comes close he acts like he might kick him. What can I do?

A. A horse that kicks can be very dangerous, so you must be very alert when riding him. Before your lesson starts, let the other students in the class know that your horse may kick and warn then that they should give him plenty of room. If someone gets too close, don't be shy, tell them to move away quickly.

Try to stay close to the outside of the arena so people can pass you safely on the inside. Ask people to let you know if they are going to pass you so you can take a firmer hold on the reins and squeeze with your legs on your horse's sides. If your horse is working hard and moving forward, he will have less time to think about kicking other horses. If your horse acts aggressive, give him a sharp tap with a whip behind your lower leg and say, "no!" This will let him know that this behavior is not acceptable.

If you take a horse that kicks to a horse show, you must tie a small red ribbon around the top of his tail to warn others that he might kick.

From Horse Illustrated/ Young Rider Magazine

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