Study Shows Horse Ear Position Indicator of Jumping Success
 By Winniefield Park   •   17th Oct 2013   •   4,534 views   •   0 comments
Study Shows Horse Ear Position Reflects Jumping SuccessOne thing that surprises most non-horse people is that horses actually have very expressive faces. As you get to know a horse, you start to see how it expresses what it is thinking through its ears, eyes and muzzle. One of the easiest things to recognize is what a horse is thinking and looking at, by the way it holds its ears. Pictures of different ear sets are standard in many books aimed at beginner horse owners. Ears held flat back can mean anger or annoyance, ears forward means attention, eagerness or curiosity. A horse that holds both ears to the sides, with its head and neck up may be winding up for an explosion, while ears held to the side with the head drooping down shows relaxation. Ears held to the back in 'neutral position' means the horse is paying attention to its rider. Ear position can tell handlers and riders a lot.

A recent study out of the University of Guelph showed a link between ear position and success over jumps. The research set out to assess how ear position predicts how a horse is responding to its rider and surroundings. Beyond what a horse is thinking at the moment, how can ear position indicate what will happen next? To explore this idea, the study attempted to relate ear position to clearing a jump successfully.

The researchers watched video recordings of seventeen horse-rider teams over twenty-two jumps in one Grand Prix class. They looked for three different ear positions at take-off, over and landing: forward, split with one ear forward and one ear back, and back. Each ear position was given a score. When the results were calculated, it was found that horses with ears that were forward during all phases of the jump had no jumping faults. Ear position did not appear to matter during the approach and take-off of a jump. However, “ears positioned either back or split when over or landing after the jump was related to significantly more jumping faults at each obstacle.”

This may help us a bit in understanding that, although we can set our horses up for a jump, once the horse has started to take flight, we need to leave it alone so it can give its full attention to clearing the obstacle. Good release and position in the saddle for those moments when both horse and rider are in the air are perhaps the best things that can be done, rather than fiddle or try to influence the horse in any way. Taking the horse's full attention away from the jump will likely result in a fault.

A horse that has its ears back or split is being distracted by the rider. We can see this if we watch as horses come into a jump at a bad angle, awkward distance or is in any way unbalanced. Really good jumpers are surprisingly adept at recovery— and their ears flip forward instantaneously, if their riders know when to stop trying to influence them. Science confirms what really good riders may already know instinctively.

Image Credit: © Chris Van Lennep |
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