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Hey, Cowboy Bob,

I have recently purchased a yearling mare. My two-year-old gelding is, of course, the leader of the two horses. He shows some aggression to her by sometimes chasing her, and of course his ears are back when he does this. Now when I walk up to my yearling, she plasters her ears back. I believe that she has picked this up from my two-year-old. What is the best way to teach her not to put her ears back all the time? When I had purchased her, she had not been worked at all, so she is getting a lot of TLC and ground work towards manners. Can you give me any advice?

- R. E.


The position of a horse's ears can tell you a lot about what's going on in that walnut-sized brain of theirs. Ears forward mean attention and alertness to whatever they're lookin' at. One ear forward and one pointed to the rear show a bit of anxiety and uncertainty about what's takin' place around them. Both ears directed to the rear mean they're not paying attention to what's ahead, but are worried about what may be behind them. And both ears flat back on the head are a danger signal - the animal is angry, scared, hurting or any combination of those.

Until the yearling has figured out her position in the herd pecking order, you'll probably continue to see that sort of anxiety/fear reaction. She is on red alert against the posibility of another horse trying to out-rank her.

When you're around, however, her sole focus should be on you. If it isn't, it's a sign that she hasn't learned to trust you as her protective lead brood mare. This may mean that you'll have to take on the other, more aggressive, horses if they try to harass the yearling while you're with her.

For the sake of discussion, let's say your two-year-old comes up and tries to nip or kick at your yearling while you're working with her. At that point, you need to show both of them that you out-rank the gelding and can firmly put him in his place. Immediately drive the gelding clear out of the herd and hold him there. Every time he tries to approach the herd, use your lasso or a longe whip to drive him away. After a while, he will try to come to you with a submissive attitude. When that happens, restore him to the herd -- and your good graces -- with pats and soft words. Return your attention to the yearling, moving her around in front of the gelding to show them both that she's off-limits to aggression when she's with you. [While you do this, remember my rule: Nothing comes within kicking range!]

As you work with her, and her attention becomes more focused on you, her ears will come up and aim toward you.

Happy Riding!

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