Horse & Rider Editor Juli Thorson, an ears-up pro, shakes some feed at this Paint gelding–and voila!–Juli’s magic has this guy’s ears up and at full attention, ready for his shoot! | Photo by Cappy Jackson

In the September ’09 issue of Horse & Rider, professional photographer Cappy Jackson revealed her expert tips for snapping the perfect conformation picture (for sale or personal reasons). One of her suggestions: Arm yourself with a variety of props to get your horse’s ears up and alert.

Here Horse & Rider staffers and readers share their tips for getting a horse’s ears up, forward, and photo-worthy.

On our On Staff at Horse & Rider blog, readers shared their tried-and-true tactics:

  • Shake a plastic bag or milk carton filled with rocks or treats. “Pretty much any object your horse has never seen before will hold his interest, because he has to figure out whether it’s something to be feared or something to eat,” writes blogger “Nuzzling Muzzles.”
  • An anonymous reader swears by the Fisher-Price?: See ‘N’ Say children’s toy that makes animal sounds.
  • Blogger “Holly” says she’s clicker-trained her horse to put his ears up and forward on command.

Contributors to the Horse & Rider forum also posted their favorite ears-up techniques:

  • “Mo,” Tennessee, crinkles the plastic of an empty water bottle. She also tosses the nearest article of clothing up in the air to get her horse’s attention.
  • Nicole, North Carolina, garnered a tip from watching pro-photogs at horse shows. “Use a plush toy horse on a stick that whinnies when you squeeze its ear,” she suggests.
  • “Solaris,” also of North Carolina, keeps a plastic bag hidden in her pocket. She crunches and crinkles it when it’s photo time.

After years of experience overseeing photo shoots, Horse & Rider Editor and Associate Publisher Juli Thorson has developed a veritable arsenal of “ear-getter-uppers”:

  • Rattle a metal bread pan with grain in it or an empty soda can filled with coins.
  • Flash a large mirror or whisk a broom underneath a horse’s nose, then pull it back quickly while getting out of the shot.
  • If your horse is a peppermint fiend, bring a handful and rustle the cellophane wrappers.
  • Shake a sheet of fluttery paper or a long stick with shiny Mylar tassels tied to it.
  • Offer a handful of teaser grass. Works especially well on horses who don’t get turned out much and crave the green stuff.
  • Bring some kind of music player with recorded mare and stallion sounds from a breeding barn. Juli dubs this virtually failsafe gadget, the “Ear-o-matic.”
  • Lead another horse in front of the one being photographed.
  • Give a blast on a good, old-fashioned shrill whistle.

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