How to Get Horses to Put Their Ears Forward – Equine Photography

Getting Horse to Put Their Ears Forward - Sophie Callahan Photography

This is one of the things I get asked most often. So, naturally, I thought I’d blog about it.

“How do you always you get a horse to put his ears forward?”

Firstly, the answer is that I don’t always. Clients often worry when their horses don’t spend the entire shoot with their ears pricked forward and the result can then be that the client spends more time fussing over the horses ears, than on looking relaxed and happy in the shots, themselves. And if you have a horse with uncooperative lugs, the last thing you want is for the owner to be looking frustrated, in that split second when our equine model finally does decide to flick his ears my way. Timing is everything in this situation, so the worse thing your client can do is stress over it.

And actually, there a lot of shots, when you’re aiming to capture a serene, intimate moment between horse and owner, when it doesn’t matter about ears. So there really is no need for you or your model to obsess over it at all times.

Getting Horse to Put Their Ears Forward - Sophie Callahan Photography

But obviously there are a lot instances when a smiley horse is certainly preferable to a grumpy horse. So, when you do need their ears forward, how do you do it?


I have a selection of ‘toys’, which come with me to every shoot. These include a variety of incredibly expensive, state of the art pieces of kit… (Kidding!)

1. A chewing gum tub, filled with stones.
It makes a really great, sharp noise when you rattle it and it’s small enough that it doesn’t get in the way. I probably use this most. I shake it, throw it in the air, roll it along the ground. Whatever I can think of to make a horse look at it.

2. A bottle, also full of stones.
Similar to my chewing gum tub, but it just makes a different noise, so if your equine model is getting bored with toy #1, you can bring this out and they are sometimes interested in the slightly different sound. You can also use it like a rainmaker, rather than short, sharp shakes. And you can squeeze it and it crackles, too.
However, obviously it’s bigger, so can be a bit more of a pain to hold and you do risk knocking out passers by, if you throw it around without looking first.

Getting Horse to Put Their Ears Forward - Sophie Callahan Photography

3. A squeaky dog toy.
You have to be a little careful with this one. Some horses don’t react to it at all, whereas some of them will act like you’ve just shot them when you first squeak it. So, be cautious when you bring it out. But not many horses have encountered a squeaky toy before, so it usually does cause quite a bit of intrigue.

4. A bit of plastic wrapper.
I have no idea what was originally in this piece of plastic, but it’s particularly crackly, so it makes a great noise when you scrunch it up. If you’re working with a horse who knows that his treats come from packets, this works really well.

5. My keys.
When I get out of the car, I always put my keys into my toy bag. Firstly, it means that I always know where they are and secondly, if I’ve used up all of my other toys, I can always rattle and throw my keys. I have been known to lose them in long grass before, so make sure you’re more careful than I am, otherwise it could be a long day at the office and an expensive taxi ride home.

Getting Horse to Put Their Ears Forward - Sophie Callahan Photography

The other thing that works pretty much without fail and can be found at every yard, is a feed bucket with a handful of nuts in it, or even just some stones/keys/whatever you can get your hands on. Most horses recognise (and love) their feed bowls, so unless you’re working with a possessive feeder, you’re almost guaranteed their best ‘look how pretty I am, give me food’ face. However, also be aware of bolshy, dragging hooligans, who will take out anything in their path to get to their dinner.

It’s always a great help if you can draft in an extra pair of hands, if your client has a friend or family member there to help them. That way shaking, rattling, throwing toys, whilst also juggling a camera, isn’t all left down to you, and you can just focus on taking pretty pictures. But that isn’t always possible. So yes, I do often have to shake, rattle, throw, scrunch, dance about, wave and take photographs, all at the same time. You get used to it.

Getting Horse to Put Their Ears Forward - Sophie Callahan Photography

I also know people who’ve used sound apps on their smart-phones and people who make all kinds of noises themselves; growling, blowing raspberries, etc. But I wouldn’t want to be faffing about with my phone whilst trying to take photos and I haven’t found that me making noises commands enough attention. I’m much more of a grab, shake and throw kinda’ girl.

So, that’s how I do it. Nothing expensive. No rocket science or high tech equipment. Pretty much just a bag full of rubbish. But it works.


Got any other ideas? I’d love to hear your tips, too! Feel free to share in the comments.


If you liked this post, why not check out my social media pages for more…

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One Response to How to Get Horses to Put Their Ears Forward – Equine Photography

  1. We have found that having a friend with a dog in tow helped! They were most interested in seeing what the pup was up to!

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