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Franklin Levinson's

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Horse that lays his ears back at you

Dear Franklin:

I just purchased a 10 year old quarter horse gelding that was advertised as a calm, kid riding horse. I rode him in the area and out on trail and he did great. He was a very forward moving horse, did not spook once out on trail even when some harley motorcycles went by. A eleven year old was leasing him for about 2 months riding in the arena and trail. He also had a trainer working with him on his arena work because before he was only used for trail riding. The horse is a Idaho ranch horse. When I test rode him all I had to do is squeeze his sides and tell him to trot and he would very easily and also into a canter. I was told his only thing is he can act like a bully by putting his ears back at you around feeding time. I was also told he loads real easy. Well I went to pick him up and the trainer loaded him into the trailer and I left the feed door open so he could see out. I was writing the check when all of a sudden the trailer went crazy. The horse tried to go out the feed door. He had both feet in the manger. He pulled his front shoe off on one foot and was able to get his feet down after alot of thrashing. The trainer went in and backed him out. He came out pretty calm. The trainer said he had only loaded him in a slaint load trailer so he probably wasn't use to a straight load. My husband said we could work on this problem if we could get him loaded. The trainer put some grain in the manger walked the horse right back in with no trouble and we took off right away so he wouldn't have to stand there.

We didn't hear a thing from him for the 1 1/2 hour drive home. He unload easily. After getting him home, (at my daughters house) I was not able to get down to see him for a week. This was the first time I was able to ride him. He does put his ears back at you if he is eating and your in his stall (which is about 50 X 100) cleaning. But he does come up to you and let you touch him until he is finished with you and then he just walks away. My husband and I were in his stall moving a rubber mat back in place and we waved him off of it, he went a little distance away and stopped and layed his ear back, but did not advance toward us and we move the rubber mat with no problem. He also put his ears back at me while I was saddling him but I told him a angry no and he turned away. My husband was holding him while I mounted and he really didn't want to stand still while being held and tried to nibble, but my husband told him no and said you could tell he has been hit in the face before. Once I was mounted he was ok. He was well behaved while I was riding him at a walk, but refused to go into a trot. I tried kicking him and nothing happened. He just kept on walking. He tried to go in a different direction than what I wanted to go but I made him go where I wanted. I finally put on some spurs and just tickled his sides with them and finally got him into a trot but it was not the nice collected trot he had done before.

What can I do to fix these problems. I don't think he is mean, but he will test you because he is a dominant horse. He did not try to buck and anything else while I was riding him.


Hi Karen,

Your horse is communicating to you through this display. He is trying to tell you something and waiting for you to really get it. The exact origin of the attitude contained within the display will remain a mystery it seems. It is a 'trust' versus 'fear' issue no matter what the origin. When he displays this around food it is because he is afraid there will not be food for himself and feels he needs to protect what he has from others. Or he is a 'dominent' horse and is showing this dominence by controling the food resource. What I suggest in this particular case is for you to get really comfortable dancing with this horse on the ground by doing a lot of ground play with him. He should be soft and supple as well as very responsive to your cues and requests while on the ground. Once he is tuned up like this and easily compliant, hold a wand in your hand or lead rope and put out his food. If he pins his ears back him up a step and say NO!. When the ears come forward he gets to eat. Repeat this a lot until his ears are forward when you go to feed him. You need to be able to handle his initial resistance to being kept away from the food. Can you? Do you have the skill? I can help you if you don't.

Pinning his ears while being saddled and cinched up happens from being handled unconsciously, chiched too tight and too fast and restrained rather than taught compliance and cooperation. I would reintroduce the horse to a saddle. I would sack him out again and begin from the beginning with tack that fit right. I would spend a lot of time on the ground before riding him to get him over any concern he may have about the tack or me. I would do a lot of ground play with him under saddle to get him nice and forward. Reluctance to move comes from pain (from ill fitting tack or some other physical challenge that is going unattended), apprehension or anticipation of pain when moving will prevent a horse from wanting to move as well. Horses can reach their wall about pain and not go any furthur than that. It is certainly understandable. We do as well. If he pins his ears while you are mounting, he is anticipating either pain or that the experience of being ridden will be unpleasant and/or somehow. How good and confident a rider are you? If you are unsure, lack confidence or anything like that, that is likely to prompt the display as well. This could also be associated with low self-esteem, old abuse issues and lack of confidence. All of these things can really be helped a lot by appropriately re-starting this horse. He will come to trust whoever is doing the 'work' with him. This will also help him to trust humans more in general. getting him good and soft moving on the ground will help when he is ridden. If he was nice and soft and moving forward when you first rode him and was not later, something happened to shake his confidence. Could be the tack that was put on him or the way he was handled somehow. Spurs are a tool only. They are no excuse for lack of riding ability. So many people go to bigger bits, spurs, etc. to make the horse do something rather than take the time and appropriate steps to re-train or just train the horse to a place of trust. Once 'trust' is really established, everything becomes easier, softer, more compliant. The best things to do to establish trust with a horse are consistency, patience, skill, compassion, kindness, mindfulness, focus, empathy, thoughtfulness and showing great respect and acknowledgement for anad towards the horse.

Good Luck and please keep me posted.

Sincerely, Franklin

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