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Possibly Misinterpreted

I was chatting with a student the other day and she mentioned that her horse pinned its ears and kind of pressed up against the wall when she asked it to move into a canter. The horse she rides is an 11 year-old gelding, who is quiet and has been rode lots. She asked if I thought it was an understanding problem or a respect problem. I said probably a respect problem with a bit of understanding mixed in.  She then said when she gets off him and walks across the arena to get something he follows along without even holding a lead line.  I actually didn’t know why she even told me about the horse following her.  A bit more discussion revealed that she thought that if the horse followed her without being lead then he must be respectful.  I got thinking back how many times people told me what seemed to me to be completely unrelated stories about their horses right after I said they might have a respect problem.  The student might say “yeah but,” I can catch him easily, or he stands great to be brushed, or he always comes to see me when I’m in the yard, or I can lead him anywhere, or I can ride him all over my property.  I didn’t know why they would all of a sudden tell me these things.  None of these things equal respect or, at least, much respect.

I explained it like this.  If you knew someone that liked ice cream and you asked if they’d like to go for ice cream, I’m sure the answer would be yes.  They would probably even hurry if you said you were leaving right away.  If they came with you, it isn’t because of the respect they have for you; it’s because of the ice cream.  They may like you, or like what you’re taking them to do, but it’s not necessarily respect.  You are taking them to do what they want to do.  If you said to the same person, “Hey, can you come help me pick roots or rocks out of the field today?” and they said “yes” and if you said,  “We are leaving right away,” they hurried not to hold up the show, that would be respect.  Picking roots or rocks out of a field is not fun but it won’t hurt you either.  Actually it does you a lot of good but if you could choose between ice cream and picking rocks, you’d pick ice cream even though the rocks are better for you.

If you ask your horse to walk or canter and they do it willingly without a grumpy look on their face then, at least for that request, you have some respect.  The more you ask of a horse, the more respect it requires.  Catching a horse, leading it around, brushing it, going for a walk around the property does not require much respect, even though they may willingly do all of these things.  It really doesn’t require any effort from them.  It’s more effort for the human, especially the catching and brushing them part.  Heck, I could get caught easily too if I got my hair brushed once I was caught and maybe given a human crunchy while I had my hair combed (if I had hair that is).  They could possibly like us but not respect us.  So they come to see you but won’t do much.

Another possible misinterpretation: if a horse pins its ears at anytime when a person is with that horse, does that mean that there is a respect, confidence or understanding issue?  I believe it takes more than pinned ears to be able to guess at what a horse is thinking or feeling.  Some would say if they pin their ears it is a bad sign of some sort. Years ago, I might have said that as well.  When I watch all of the different times you might see a horse pin its ears, the reasons are vast and varied.  You can go on the Internet and watch cutting bred horses turned loose with a steer and the horse can pin its ears and start cutting the steer.  It might jump, buck, kick, come back and cut the steer again without any humans involved.  Another time you can see a horse pin its ears is when he chases a dog in the pasture.  Maybe a foal will pin its ears at another horse or at a human walking by.  You can also watch a herd of horses running back and forth across a pasture bucking, kicking, ears pinned at their very best friend in the herd.  Two horses that live together year round in the wild and will lie down beside each other for a nap.  Then one gets up bugs the other one until it gets up.  I’ve watched this happen at about the same time everyday.  Then the fun begins as they basically shadow box, neither horse really making contact but they spar with each other with ears pinned going through the motions until they’ve had enough.  Then they wander off together eating grass.  In each of these examples I believe the horse might be thinking something different.  Everything we think we know might not be as it seems.

I’m glad after working with thousands of horses that I still can’t be 100 percent positive when I’m trying to read and understand what a horse might be thinking. There is no way possible to read all horses and situations perfectly but we can get close most of the time if we let them do the talking and we do the listening.

Happy interpreting,

Glenn Stewart

What is your dream with horse? Whatever your dream may be, if you have the horsemanship, you can live the dream. It’s just that simple.  Join us The Horse Ranch this summer and live the dream!
Now accepting bookings for the summer horsemanship camps and High and Wild Adventure.  Glenn offering year round educational horsemanship programs at his facility near Fort Saint John, BC and is available to travel and conduct clinics.  Long-term study and professional programs are now available.  For more information visit www.thehorseranch.com.