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Decoding Equine Ear Language: Understanding Your Horse’s Emotions

The Secret to Understanding Equine Ear Communication

Have you ever wondered what your horse is trying to tell you when they flicker their ears, pin them back, or pricked them forward? As humans, we often don’t pay enough attention to the subtleties of a horse’s behavior.

But when you learn to read your horse’s specific ear positions, you open up a new depth of communication. This communication is the key to understanding your horse’s thoughts, feelings, and intentions.

In this article, we will dive into the different ear positions of horses, their meanings, and how you can use this knowledge to bond with your horse and provide better care.

The Basics of Horse Ear Positions

Horses have a wide range of ear movements, and each position signals something different. A horse’s ears can move 180 degrees, which helps them detect sounds and movements around them.

Here’s a breakdown of some of the primary ear positions you’re likely to encounter:

  • Pricked Ears: This is when a horse puts their ears completely forward. Pricked ears signify interest, alertness, or curiosity.
  • Relaxed Ears: These are when a horse’s ears are pointing outward, signifying relaxation and contentment.
  • Pinned Back Ears: This is when a horse flattens their ears against their head, signifying irritation, anger, or hostility.
  • Extended Ears: This position signifies fear or emotional distress when a horse extends their ears out to the side of their head.
  • Drooped Ears: This is when a horse’s ears flop outward and down. This position is used to show submission or low energy levels.
  • Swiveling Ears: When a horse swivels their ears around, it means they are trying to figure out where a sound is coming from.
  • Ears Turned Back: This happens when a horse turns their ears backward slightly. It can signify suspicion, uncertainty, or caution.
  • Flickering Ears: This is when a horse quickly changes their ear position. It can also signify listening for a sound or trying to make a decision.
  • Drugged Ears: When a horse’s ears are droopy and they lack responsiveness, it can signify that they are drugged.

Analysis of Specific Ear Positions

Let’s take a closer look at some of the key ear positions that horses use to signal to us:

Pricked Ears

When a horse raises their ears and turns them forward, it means that they are alert and interested. If your horse hears a new sound, they will prick their ears to listen for a potential threat.

You’ll also see this position when you approach them for grooming or feeding.

Relaxed Ears

If your horse’s ears are pointing outward, it means that they’re feeling relaxed and happy.

You’ll see this position when your horse is standing in the pasture, getting groomed, or just hanging out.

Pinned Ears

If you see your horse flattening their ears back, it means they are angry, irritated, or hostile.

It could be due to the presence of another horse or a person in their space. It’s essential to pay attention to this ear position because it can help prevent accidents or aggressive behavior.

Swiveling Ears

When a horse swivels their ears around, it means that they’re alert and trying to locate the source of a sound. This position is common when a horse is in a new environment or around new or unfamiliar noises.

Reading Ear Positions in Different Situations

Interpreting your horse’s ear positions can depend on the environment in which they’re in. Here are some common situations where you’ll notice different ear positions:


When riding your horse, it’s essential to pay attention to their ear positions. Pricked forward ears signify that your horse is interested in working with you, while pinned ears could signify that they’re in pain. Relaxed ears are usually a sign that your horse is enjoying the ride.


When grooming your horse, relaxed ears are a good sign. If they have their ears pinned back, it could be that they’re guarding a sensitive area or experiencing pain.

Trail Riding

When out on a trail ride, most horses will have their ears pricked forward, and they’ll be alert to their surroundings. However, they may also show signs of fear if they’re spooked by a sudden noise or movement.

The Significance of Horse Ear Communication

Why do horses signal with their ears, and why it’s essential for us to understand it?

Purpose of Horse Ear Communication

Horses have used their ears to communicate and protect themselves from predators in the wild.

It’s a fundamental part of their evolution, and they use their ears to tell each other about potential danger or threats. We can use this knowledge to better communicate with them, gain their trust and respect, and learn to recognize when they’re in distress.

Importance of Understanding Horse Ear Communication

Learning to read your horse’s ear positions can help you develop a better bond and understanding with them, and can improve their quality of care. It’s crucial to pay attention to their ear positions to identify potential health problems, prevent dangerous situations, and develop a safer and happier relationship with your horse.


Horse ear communication is a fascinating and important part of understanding equine behavior. It’s essential to pay attention to your horse’s ear positions to understand their thoughts, feelings, and intentions.

Knowing what to look for is critical in developing a better bond with your horse and providing better care. By paying attention to their ear movements, you can prevent accidents, better understand their needs and emotions, and have an overall more enjoyable experience with your equine companion.

Interpretation of Specific Ear Positions

Understanding horse ear communication is one of the most crucial aspects of learning to communicate effectively with your horse. Horse ear positions can vary depending on many factors, including the horse’s environment, mood, and behavior.

In this section, we will take a closer look at the meanings behind specific ear positions and what they might tell you about your horse.

Relaxed Ears (Neutral Position)

When your horse’s ears are relaxed and pointing outward, it is a sign of relaxation and calmness. This position signifies a comfortable and secure environment for the horse.

It is essential to note that a relaxed horse is a safer horse. Relaxed horses are less likely to spook or react to external stimuli, making it safer for both horse and rider.

Pinned Back Ears

When you notice your horse’s ears pinned back, it’s typically a sign of anger or annoyance. The horse may be uncomfortable, feeling pain, or require space from the person or animal in their space.

This ear position can also signify submission. If you notice this position, it’s essential to back off and reassess what the horse needs.

Pricked Ears

When a horse has pricked ears, it’s a sign of curiosity and interest in something. It is important to note that pricked ears can also signify potential danger or the horse’s perception of a threat that needs attention from the rider or owner.

Swiveling Ears

When a horse’s ears are swiveling around, it typically means the horse is curious, and the moving ears help them better locate the source of sound or interest. This position is often a sign of engagement and observation of their surroundings.

Extended Ears

If a horse extends their ears out to the side of their head, it can signify surprise, discomfort, or unease. This position usually happens when the horse hits a new experience that may make them feel uncertain or when they encounter new stimuli.

Ears Turned Back

Turned back ears means that your horse is listening to sounds behind them and, if no sounds are heard, can often mean irritation or annoyance.

Flickering Ears

Flickering ears show that the horse is processing multiple pieces of information and may mean the horse is agitated or restless. The horse may need more time in the environment to relax fully.

Drugged Ears

Drugged horses have drooping ears, and they lack the responsiveness that you’d usually see. This position could signify that the horse is on illegal drugs, and the horse’s behavior and health must be addressed immediately.

Understanding Horse Ear Communication in Different Situations

The context in which you find your horse will often influence ear positions. It’s important to pay attention to the different scenarios and what the ear positions mean, as this can help you better understand your horse’s mood and take any necessary actions to care for their well-being.

When a Horse is Alone

When your horse is alone, the ear positions may change, and they may signal varying levels of comfort and alertness. For instance, if a horse is relaxed and has their ears pointing out, it’s a sign that they’re comfortable and feel safe.

A horse standing with their ears forward, however, can show alertness and readiness to act if they sense any threat.

In a Herd

In a herd setting, horses use their ears to communicate dominant behaviors and to establish the hierarchy or pecking order. Ears pinned back may signify a submissive or lower-ranked horse, while pricked forward ears often show a dominant horse trying to assert their position.

While Being Ridden

When you’re riding your horse, paying attention to their ear positions is essential. A relaxed horse with ears pointing outward or pricked forward is usually attentive and responsive to the rider’s cues.

If a horse’s ears are pinned back or flicking, it could be a sign of discomfort or irritation that needs the rider’s attention.

In Stressful or Unfamiliar Situations

In stressful or unfamiliar circumstances, horses tend to be more alert and proactive. They will often hold their ears forward and swivel them to locate any potential threats or new stimuli.

It’s essential to understand that if a horse appears stressed, the rider or owner should do anything they can to reassure the horse and create a comfortable, non-threatening environment.


Horse ear communication is a vital aspect of horse communication. Understanding what different ear positions signify can help us develop a deeper bond with our horses and provide the care and safety they need.

Whether a horse is relaxed or alert, its ears’ position can give us insight into what the horse is thinking and feeling, making us better advocates for their health and happiness.

Importance of Building a Strong Bond with Horses

Horses are magnificent animals that have proven to build strong emotional bonds with humans. These bonds could range from a temporary relationship of enjoyment, such as trail riding, to long-lasting partnerships in competitive riding or horse care.

Building a strong and positive relationship with your horse has a multitude of benefits, including better communication, trust, and safety. In this section, we will discuss further the benefits of understanding horse ear communication and tips for creating a strong bond with your horse.

Benefits of Understanding Horse Ear Communication

Understanding horse ear communication provides a window into what the horse is thinking or feeling. With this knowledge, you can tailor your interaction with your horse, creating an impactful and positive relationship.

As earlier noted, horses ears display their emotional state, and understanding what each ear position means, you can more quickly identify stressful situations and when your horse is feeling unwell.

  • Better communication: When you respond to your horses ear position appropriately, such as giving them space when they pin their ears, you can communicate clearly that you understand their emotional state. This creates trust in your horse, leading to increased engagement with the horse.
  • Improved relationship: When you pay attention to your horses ears and understand their emotional state, you create a mutual connection with your horse, leading to a better understanding of what they like and don’t like. This shared connection helps create an enjoyable partnership, which improves both the riders and the horses well-being.
  • Safety: A better bond with your horse means that you can better understand when a horse is in distress or pain, helping to prevent accidents. With the horse acutely responsive to their environment, they can react poorly when in pain, leading to an unsafe environment for both the rider and the horse.

Tips for Building a Strong Bond with Horses

To create a strong bond with your horse, you can dedicate time, patience, and a gentle approach. Here are some tips to help you:

  1. Spend time with your horse: Horses are social creatures that thrive on interaction and company. Spending time with your horse will allow you to create a mutual connection and build your bond. Grooming, walking, or trail riding are simple and effective ways to spend time with your horse.
  2. Approach your horse gently: Horses are sensitive creatures with a unique sense of awareness of their surroundings. Speaking softly and using gentle tones around your horse can help them feel at ease. Slow and steady movements help to build trust and avoid spooking your horse.
  3. Emotional control: Horses have heightened emotional awareness and can often sense when their owner is feeling stressed or angry. These emotions can lead to horse behavior problems, making it essential to control your emotions when interacting with your horse. Horses appreciate a calm, assertive tone of voice and body language that projects confidence.
  4. Pay attention to your horses behavior: Observing your horses behavior can help you better understand what they like, don’t like, or when they’re feeling ill. Pay attention to their ear positioning, body language, and any changes in behavior or appetite. Anything out of the ordinary could be a potential flag that all is not well with your horse.


Understanding horse ear communication is integral to building a strong bond with your horse. By observing your horses ear position and understanding what it means, you can communicate effectively and create a mutual connection with your horse.

To create a strong bond with your horse, you can dedicate time, patience, and a gentle approach. By connecting with your horse on an emotional level, you create an environment of trust, safety, and mutual respect that brings both the horse and rider true enjoyment.

In summary, understanding horse ear communication, interpreting different ear positions in various situations, and creating a strong bond with your horse can lead to an overall better relationship, improved safety, and better care for your equine companion. In summary, understanding horse ear communication is crucial to building a strong bond with horses, promoting communication, trust, and safety.

By interpreting ear positions in different situations, riders and handlers can gain insight into equine behavior, leading to better care and less stressful environments for the animals. Building a strong bond with horses requires a gentle approach, emotional control, and paying attention to behavior, leading to improved relationships and better horse care.

Remember to take time to connect with horses and observe their ear positions, setting the foundation for a positive and lasting partnership.


Q: What are the benefits of understanding horse ear communication?

A: Understanding ear communication in horses leads to better communication, an improved relationship, and enhanced safety.

Q: What are some common ear positions in horses?

A: Some common ear positions include relaxed ears, pricked ears, pinned back ears, extended ears, drooped ears, swiveling ears, ears turned back, flickering ears, and drugged ears.

Q: How can you build a strong bond with horses?

A: Building a strong bond with horses involves spending time with them, approaching them gently, controlling your emotions, and paying attention to their behavior.

Q: Why is it essential to understand horse ear communication in different situations?

A: In different situations, ear positions can indicate a horse’s emotional state, their level of alertness, or their reaction to specific stimuli.

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