Equine Photography Tips: Get Those Ears Up!

I recently sent out a newsletter that had one short equine photography tip.  Although it was a short statement, it described the most important action to get a good equine portrait: "get those ears up." I believe it is extremely important as it changes the whole attitude and expression in the horse's face. The eyes brighten, the face tightens, nostrils flare, and the horse look alive.  Look at the difference (ignore the loose fitting halter):

I got several inquiries on how I get horses' ears up. There are several different methods I use, depending on the environment and the horse.  Older, laid-back horses can be the most difficult and I really haven't determined any breed, age, or gender that is the easiest.  I use all sorts of treats, squeaky toys, and most importantly, a helper (or 2).  One of my favorites is a pool noodle; I find it easier to use than a broom or rake.  I use it in several ways. It makes an interesting noise when shaken and it is long enough to touch a horse's nose and quickly draw it away, so it is not in the photo.  I also have used the hole at the end to add a pom pom or plastic bag.
Some of the devices I use when I have no helper is squeaky toys (either one designed for babies or dogs, either works). It is hard to work a camera and squeeze the toy at the same time.  Since I wasn't blessed with  three arms, I put it on the ground and use my foot.

Now my favorite and most-used is actually the cheapest and always with me.  I carry it on my phone, so if you are like me, you are lost without it. I use an app called Horse Shaker Deluxe, which makes real whinny noises.  Now I don't have to make my own noises and get those strange looks.  Sometimes it works too well and the horse might get a little uncontrollable while trying to figure out where it is coming from.  I love it when the horse's owner looks around to see where it is coming from; it's that real sounding.
When using these items, never show them to the horse until you are ready to take a shot.  Horses get bored easily so if you show it to the horse before they are ready, they already lost interest.