Horse Words Defined

By special request, today we will we attempt to define the strange jargon of the sub-species equestrian.  These are people that start out like regular human beings, and are at some point transformed by the horses in their lives.  Scientists are still unsure if it is from excessive inhalation of manure fumes, being pricked and scratched too many times by hay, or if it is a reaction to horse hair itself that causes the transformation to begin, but one thing is for sure… once the process is started, it is very, VERY hard to reverse.  The strange vocabulary develops as the transformation progresses, leaving outsiders befuddled trying to follow conversations (and blogs) relating to horses.  Are you among the confused? Here is a bit of a cheat sheet to some of the vocabulary found in Liam’s story. 

All of these definitions are in my own words, and as the words are used by me in regards to my work with Liam. They are also simplified for ease of understanding (and so I don’t stay up late writing an entire book). I realize there may be other understandings of some of the words, or they may take on a different meaning when used in regard to a more advanced horse and rider. I’m not Webster, I’m just trying to help a little.

 Pelham: A type of bit used with two reins. The snaffle rein attaches to the mouthpiece of the bit, and works directly on the horse’s mouth.  The curb rein attaches to the shank that hangs below the mouthpiece, which gives leverage, tightening the curb chain under the horse’s chin, as well as pulling down on the crown piece of the bridle behind the horse’s ears.  Here is Liam’s pelham, specifically it is a Happy Mouth (brand name, manufactured of apple-flavored plastic instead of metal) snaffle (single joint in the mouth piece).

Double-Jointed Snaffle Bit:  This bit is much simpler than the pelham.  The piece that lays in the horse’s mouth is similar to the snaffle pictured above, but it has two joints instead of one. This allows it to conform better to the shape of the horse’s mouth, and makes it a softer bit (the single jointed snaffle can start to have a nutcracker effect if too much pressure is used on the reins).  On the other hand, some horse’s don’t like the way they wrap around the tongue. The rings on the sides of the mouth piece are known as “loose rings” because the spin freely, the reins attach to these and allow the horse a lot of freedom since no part of the rein or bit is fixed, there is lots of wiggle (not a technical term) to the feel of this bit.  This bit is a Herm Sprenger brand bit, and is Liam’s usual dressage bit.  It is known for being made of a particular type of metal, known as Aurigan, which is an alloy used in more expensive bits because it is supposed to have a sweet taste to it and encourages salivation (a good thing).

Round and Soft: These words describe the way I would like Liam to go, whether he is walking, trotting, or cantering. 

Round means I feel like I am sitting on the top of an arch created by his body, his back legs supporting his body from up underneath it and not out behind it, his back raised up under me, and not flat or sagging.  It is the equine equivalent of good posture, and when he carries himself this way he not only uses his muscles to support his frame, thus saving his joints from pounding wear and tear, but he also carries himself in the best balance to enable himself to perform athletic maneuvers comfortably, like small circles or changing directions. 

Soft means that he is carrying the bit in his mouth and has a soft connection with my hands through the reins, as opposed to leaning on the bit and putting a million pounds of pressure on my hands, or avoiding the bit altogether by putting his head up in the air and giving me no connection to his mouth through the reins. It’s the equine equivalent of holding hands, a steady presence that can give instruction through a gentle squeeze; not gripping and jerking, but also not attempting to walk hand-in-hand without touching at all.  It is possible to be soft by not round, harder to be round but not soft.  Usually when soft is lost, so is the balance necessary for round.

Here is a picture that gives an idea what round and soft look like. His body looks like I am sitting on the top of a bouncy ball, lots of energy coiled under him and body shape like a rainbow (go up the back legs, over the back, and down the front legs). You can maybe tell it’s soft because his face is perpendicular to the ground, which it should be either vertical or just a touch in front of the vertical if he is properly carrying the bit, and by the way I am sitting you can tell he is not pulling too much on my hands.

Here is not soft and round.  His head is up, avoiding contact on the reins (not holding my hand!), and his back is more flat looking, like a table top. He has a nice big stride, but he is more flattened out running than he is carrying himself.  Imagine him trying to do a sharp turn from where he is in the picture above versus the picture below.  Above, he looks like he could pivot around his back legs, below he would fall into the turn like a motorcycle, and probably trip himself.

 Reaching Into Contact: Similar to soft, means he is holding my hand, versus avoiding contact, or like pulling his hand away when I go to hold it.

More to follow!

(Grandpa – Thanks for the great blog post idea! Hope this helps!)


4 thoughts on “Horse Words Defined

  1. Christy, I really think you should start submitting articles to the IDCTA Scribe. I am sure that people would love to read about your training adventures with Liam!

  2. Professor Christy,
    Thanks for Lesson One in your class program on “Horse as a Second Language”. Beautifully done, with good explanations and very helpful pictures. Your Grandmother is in the process of registering hoping there’s still space in the lecture hall. She’ll be a big help to me. She’s been exposed to the language and has even ridden several horses. (And of the “last” times I rode a horse was at a Dude Ranch in Texas where the savvy mount I had tried to wipe me of its back by riding between two trees just far enough apart for him but not enough for me.)

    In preparation for your classes I’ve made notes from your posts that include the expressions that definately make “Horse” a second language for me.

    Please see the notes below:

    Horse Language Classes
    Summary of Puzzling Horse Words and Phrases
    Sunday Fun Day June 1, 2008
    asked him to walk round and collected, into a soft contact
    he gave me some beautiful trot work, remaining round and soft
    Then he gave me some of the best canter work I have ever gotten from him. Just like the walk and trot, it was round and balanced, and he stayed light in my hands
    We did a little more trot, then a little canter the other way, then another walk break.
    make a few new good habits (like moving off my leg instead of throwing his head up in the air…
    we spent a little time on the haunches-i

    A Beautiful Ride June 4, 2008
    Liam was soft and round and relaxed again
    I wanted to try riding Training Level Test 1
    we rode it in a schooling show
    we only rode the two Intro Level tests
    All the parts of the test flowed together smoothly, including the transitions
    he is still not quite as off my inside leg

    An Interesting Discovery June 5, 2008
    I had been considering getting a new bit, something between my currently-working-wonders pelham and our previous bit, the super soft, double jointed KK snaffle with a bean in the middle.
    that would help transition us back to the KK, because in my mind, that is the ideal dressage bit…
    I got him a Happy Mouth loose ring snaffle
    I leaned forward and unbuckled my curb rein, dropping it on the mounting block as I rode by.
    He was strung out, laying on my hands and falling in around the corners, head up, nose tipped to the outside, racing on. I couldn’t sit quietly in the saddle, or rebalance him, or slow him down. It was just a mess!
    so he gets hollow and starts rushing on

    It’s Hot June 7, 2008
    No notes

    A Trip to the Track June 8, 2008
    almost all the racehorses out exercising had running martingales
    racehorses walk like trail horses going from the stable to the track, where they work out, then they walk like trail horses back to the stable

    Power Lines Down! May 30, 2008
    putting him in a paddock

    A Little Bit Stronger May 29, 2008
    got on Liam as usual, determined to have a productive, dressage-focused ride. We were going to work on our transition, staying soft and reaching into contact, and our half halts, and our haunches-in… and all the other things we’ve been working on lately.
    asked him to step over off the rail.
    he head stretched down into soft contact
    I attempted to half-halt
    I needed to try a stronger bit, or a running martingale, or a bit with a curb chain,
    my old Happy Mouth pelham
    approving of the apple-flavored plastic snaffle bit in his mouth.

    We were on the left lead, the harder one for us.
    without him hanging on my hands
    his canter felt entirely different. I think it was actually 3 beats.
    And I could sit to it
    And I could sit up. Without the whole weight of his front end in my hands it was quite effortless to sit up straight. And he felt more balanced too. And then when I wanted to stop, I just hardly asked with my seat and ever so lightly squeezed the rein. He came down to a trot, then a walk, then a halt. One after another, no hanging on the reins, no plowing on like a freight train down a hill. Just polite and obedient.

    An Honorary Gallop May 27, 2008
    Tonight I tacked up Liam
    lesson horse.
    I kissed softly to him, a cue I use to get him to canter on the lunge line
    in a stride or two he was in a rolling hand gallop
    His ears were pricked

    Good News! May 28, 2008 by Christy
    He is retiring from his riding instructor position

  3. Christy, I was just wondering what local tack shop you got your Happy Mouth bit from. I am at Wood End at least once a week (Stephanie and Sasha’s friend) and I could use one for my horse! Thanks! 🙂

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