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Q: I have a 4-year-old Quarter Horse filly. When I approach her with the grain bowl, her ears go flat back. If I walk away with it, her ears come back up. Is this her being disrespectful? If it is, what would be the best method to correct this behavior? – Siri
A: A horse that pins her ears at you when you feed her is a disrespectful horse. It’s that simple. The best fix for any behavioral problem is to teach the horse the Fundamentals exercises. The horse being dominant is just a symptom of a cause. Earn her respect by moving her feet forwards, backwards, left and right, and the problem will likely take care of itself.
If that doesn’t nip the problem in the bud, then you can set a bucket of grain in the middle of the roundpen or other open area and hustle her feet around it. Make her work up a bit of a sweat. You want this to not be fun for her. Show her that even though there is food in the picture, she still has to respect you and you can control her feet.
Then let her rest beside the food. As long as she has a good attitude, meaning she’s not snarling at you, she gets to rest and relax. If she pins her ears back at you, you put her back to work. When she stops pinning her ears and has a good attitude, then you can let her have the food.
You may read that and think I’m being too harsh to your horse. After all, the horse isn’t physically hurting you when she pins her ears. But let’s face facts, a horse being grumpy and pinning his ears is just as bad as him striking out at you or kicking you. What does a horse do after pinning his ears? He backs the threat up with his hind feet.
Horses always warn that they’re unhappy by pinning back their ears. If they’re ignored, then they back up and act like they’re going to kick. If they’re still ignored, then they kick.
There’s not much difference between a thought and an action. A horse will always give you a warning that he’s about to be disrespectful. It’s your responsibility to read his body language and act accordingly.