Joe Takach

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A thoroughbred’s ears offer many clues to his mental disposition as well as to his upcoming performance.  These invaluable signals are readily visible to all handicappers including satellite players.

The most desirable ear position is pricked upwards and straightforward. 

This positive position shows that the horse is interested in his present moment activities and unless momentarily distracted by something behind him, his ears will remain in this position until loading into the starting gate.

Pricked ears are the normal position of a “ready” horse.  Any deviations from this “norm” signal that something could be amiss.


Pinned ears strongly suggest extreme anger.  The ears are swept back and flush against the head. 

The horse simply doesn’t want to be where he is at this moment for any number of reasons.  If he’s sore and knows he’s about to be asked for 45 speed to the half, he’ll pin his ears.  He simply doesn’t want to go thru this “racing thing” in pain.  Or, perhaps his groom rudely awakened him 45 minutes ago from a deep sleep and he simply wants to go back to bed.

Usually accompanying pinned ears are many other signs of irritation to include head tossing, foot stomping, east/west tail swishing, heavy kidney sweat, front leg sweat and overall fractiousness.   

Angry horses with pinned ears are wasting precious energy (both mental and physical) needed for the upcoming race.  Even if they become tractable and calm down 2-3 minutes to post after a solid pre-race warm-up, they’ve probably left their race in the paddock

Few, if any, offer more than token resistance during the actual running of the race.  They’ve been acting like losers ever since they entered the paddock and confirm their negative posture with a substandard performance.

Simply put, stay off them!!!!


Flickering ears are also a no-no!

While not as annoyed as the angered horse with pinned ears, a horse with flickering ears is distracted by something.

It could be nothing more than a mental distaste for racing, or it could be mild discomfort from an aching ankle or knee.

The ears flicker because he simply isn’t paying attention to his surroundings and forthcoming event.  He could care less who wins this race.  This is frequently reflected in the way he quickly falls to the rear of the pack once the gates open despite the forward urging of his jockey. 

Accompanying this very negative ear position is a lack of energy of any kind when entering the paddock area.  Usually these horses barely shuffle along while kicking up the loose dirt as they make their way to the saddling stall.  Their heads are dropped low and rarely rise above their shoulders.

They look like also-rans and run the same.

Stay off them!


Total lethargy is evidenced by flopped over ears.

This negative ear position can be brought about by soreness or extreme tiredness.  These horses usually enter the paddock with their heads so low, you wonder how they continue to move forward without falling over.

If you look very closely at their faces, you see half-closed eyes and a very sad look.  Every step appears laborious.  Absolutely nothing about their posture suggests readiness of any kind. 

Horses with flopped over ears most often retreat from the break and play caboose crossing the wire.

Stay off them!


Pricked ears are the only acceptable position.  They signify both good health and a positive attitude for the upcoming race.  They will complement the entire deportment of the “ready horse” and give him that wholesome look. 

Stated in handicapping jargon, horses with pricked ears win countless more races than horses possessing negative ear positions!

As always, a caveat is in order.

Momentary ear movement away from the pricked position on the “ready horse” is perfectly normal and acceptable. 

If a “ready horse” hears something unfamiliar and is distracted, his ears might turn towards the sound until he satisfies his curiosity.  Or, he might turn his ears backwards when his jockey is attempting to communicate with him or the outrider.  His ears will quickly return to the pricked position once the distraction is gone.

Again, pricked ears are the only correct position-----the winning position!

Next week we’ll take a look at tails and how they offer essential clues to an upcoming performance.


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