Mystical, humorous or deliberately elusive – the terms we use in the horse business can leave a rider scratching her head. As a young rider, I was a coach’s worst nightmare – “What do you mean by that?”, I’d ask.
I rarely got a meaningful answer.
“Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.” Einstein.
When coaching, when a rider hit’s a sticking point in training her horse, I’ll often ask her to explain the aids she uses for that maneuver. If she struggles to put it into words, we’ll unpack the idea and isolate the pieces step-by-step. For example, for a rein-back, I may ask 1. How are you using your reins? Steady, pulsing, or releasing with each step? Are you using your legs as well? If so, before or after your reins? At the girth or behind the girth? Alternating or simultaneous? What part of your leg?
Training a non- English speaking horse partner is complicated enough without including unclear terms which prompt riders to give unclear signals and horses to be clearly stressed out. If we can’t describe our aids in such a way someone who’s never ridden could understand, chances are the aid is fuzzy to the horse too! I love those light bulb moments – my student grasps the “phonics” of a certain skill, communicates with distinct cues, the horse relaxes – and responds.
So why do we do it? Why do we horse professionals have these weird terms?
Here are some of my ideas:
- Unique terms define my personal brand
- A little mystery makes my clients more dependent on me
- I know how to do it, but struggle to explain it
- Jargon adds some comic relief to the conversation. Some horse trainer lingo is just – funny!
So here are some of the top terms I’m often unscrambling for folks:
Pick up his belly. Dropping his shoulder. Drive him into the bridle. Disengage his hip. Engaging his back. Ride him in front of your leg. Put him on the bit. And the ever elusive half- halt.
Complex or confounding?
So what about scientific academic language?
Researchers I hear at equitation science conferences, employ plenty of scientific terms. These may seem befuddling in their own way, yet this complexity is designed to cut through any fuzziness to the exact meaning like a scalpel.
I guess that’s the key – are the terms we use meant to create mystery or to uncover and unpack the mysteries of humans interacting with horses?
The best gift I can give to the riders AND the horses I work with is to communicate clearly, saving them from having to ask, “What do you mean by that?”