When Horses Pin Their Ears Back, What Are They Signaling?

Last Updated on February 23, 2022 by Allison Price

One horse we had would prick its ears whenever a human approached it. My daughter was intrigued by this behavior and asked me, “What does it signify when a horse pins his ears back?”

When threatened, angry or to show dominance, a horse will pin its ears back. This is the most aggressive sign that a horse can transmit with its ears. Horses preparing for an attack or fight flatten their ears against the head.

Horses’ ears position can indicate comfort, fear, anger, or danger. Horses can send signals through their ears. Ears pinned back, forward and flopped down send different messages.

Horses communicate with their ears

Horses have survived for thousands of years due to their ability to communicate and their instincts. Horses’ survival has been made possible by their ability to communicate with each other.

Horses are prey animals. Their ears can not only detect danger approaching but also send visual signals. Horses communicate their emotions through the movement and positioning of their ears. Cues can be easily identified because horses’ ears, unlike other hooved animals are not covered with horns and antlers.

When Horses Pin Their Ears

To prepare for trouble, a horse pins its ears.

Flattened ears indicate aggression. This is a mechanical “ear protection” that prevents the ears from being bit or torn during a fight.

Pinching the ears can be used to signal other horses that they are ready to attack. Horses that receive this message may back off or flatten their ears to indicate they are ready to fight.

Mares pin their ears to defend their foals

Mares are prone to pinning their ears to protect their foals from strangers. Mothers may also kick, charge or bite anyone who gets too close.

Horses will pin their ears if they are sexually aggressive. Stallions flatten their ears when trying to seduce mates and mares do the same when trying to be close to a sire.

It has been suggested that horses think humans are angry because our ears are flat. They don’t flop or relax. Try to get your horse off of the place where he is agitated.

When threatened, a horse pins its ears.

Horses will flatten their ears if they sense a threat. It can be real, learned, or triggered by humans or other animals. It is most often a reaction to past events.

Horses that were abused or broke are more likely to pin their ears when being approached by humans. Horses associate mistreatment and pain with people and will respond aggressively to being approached. It can be very complex and requires patience and time to resolve.

Horses can feel threatened by other horses who are in close proximity to them. To assert their ownership of food, they pin their ears. Although this behavior is more common in older horses, it is not necessarily a sign of aggression.

Horses will pin their ears when they hurt.

Horses with arthritis, muscle stiffness, or injuries can also exhibit aggression. Horses with a reduced mobility can become defensive and pin their ears to send a warning message.

Consult a veterinarian if your horse becomes aggressive suddenly or slowly. Chronic pain may be the reason. It can become more severe if the behavior isn’t controlled.

If a horse is aggressive and lashes out, while other horses are moving away, it can be interpreted as a sign of bad behavior or retreat.

To show dominance, a horse will pin his ears.

Horses can be aggressive towards others in order to maintain and establish their social status within a herd. To warn lower-ranking horses to stay away, the leader will often lower his head and flatten his ears.

The hierarchy will be upset by the addition of a horse to a group. To establish their positions, the horses in the group will be aggressive towards the new horse as well as each other.

Horses will attempt to dominate people

Horses may show dominant behavior towards people in order to improve their social standing. A stabled horse might tuck his ears in competition with another horse if you bring a bucket of feed.

From their mothers, foals learn to distinguish between acceptable and unacceptable behaviours. If they behave aggressively, they will be disciplined. If the mother isn’t available to care for the foal, then someone else will.

Foals that are allowed to take their own way will grow up unruly and try to dominate others by biting and charging at them.

Horses that are tightened and scared run the risk of injury to themselves, their rider and other horses. You should pay attention to your horse’s signals and keep her away from other horses, where she feels safe.

This behavior can quickly escalate into kicking, fleeing/taking flight when horses get closer.

Allison Price
Allison Price

I’m Allison, born and raised in San Diego California, the earliest memory I have with horses was at my grandfather’s farm. I used to sit at the stable as a kid and hang out with my Papa while he was training the horses. When I was invited to watch a horse riding competition, I got so fascinated with riding!