Gameface or painface?

Aslan moves around with his ears backwards very often. It used to make me insecure when I just had him. And many comments on my Instagram are also about it. So this newsletter is about Aslans facial expression during trainings and what they mean.


Aslan isn’t the only horse who does it. I know a lot of horses who have their ears in their necks during the training. As a little girl with no experience with horses, I learned that ears forwards mean ‘happy’, ears sideways means ‘listening’ and ears backwards means ‘angry’. But now I know there’s a lot more to that.


The ears forward can mean that a horse is happy, but it could also be a horse that is fixating on something they’re scared of while building a lot of tension.


The ears sideways can mean that a horse is listening to you or that his attention is with you, but it can also just be relaxed.


And the ears backwards can mean that a horse is angry. We are used to seeing stressed riding school horses put their ears back right before they bite us. But what do you see in the rest of the body?


When you only look at the ears of the horse, you never see the whole picture. Their whole body can tell you so much. Which muscles are tensed? Is the tail swishing? Is the neck high or low? What are their legs doing? How are they breathing? Are there wrinkles around their eyes, nose or mouth? How are their eyes looking? Is their nose wide open?


With this link (click) you can see one of my Instagram reels (even if you don’t have an account).


In this reel I share two clips of my training with Aslan.


In the first you can see he has his ears back, but his muscles in his neck are relaxed, he holds his head low and the rest of his facial expressions look relaxed.


In the second clip you can see Aslan reacting to another horse in the herd. His ears go further back, he lifts his head and looks to the horse, there’s tension in his neck and he’s licking and chewing.


I got Aslan checked by many different professionals ever since I got him. Osteopaths, Physical therapists, vets, acupuncturists, healers and more… I wanted to make sure he wasn’t in pain or feeling discomfort. They all say he didn’t have any physical problems.


I also know that Aslan does like the trainings. He’s a very expressive horse and lets me know when he doesn’t like something. However, with most trainings he stays with me in liberty, instead of walking away from me or grazing on the edges of the arena. He does have moments where I didn’t give him a break in time. That’s when he’ll walk away from me. But he still always comes back to continue the training.


That’s how I know Aslan is just looking focused. I call it his gameface.


But it’s good to know that it could have also been a way for him to express his pain or discomfort. That should never be neglected.


Now that you know this, maybe you can try to see if horses you see online or at the barn have a gameface or a painface. Or maybe they don’t have either and just look happy and relaxed. That does look better on photo haha!

2 Responses

  1. Right here is the right blog for anyone who would like to understand this topic. You realize so much its almost hard to argue with you (not that I actually will need toÖHaHa). You certainly put a brand new spin on a subject thats been discussed for years. Wonderful stuff, just great!

  2. Thank you, Pete! 🙂 Hope you’ll consider joining my Course to learn more!