An Entirely Random Horse-Knowledge Dictionary
People agree upon almost nothing in the horse world, but they would probably come together over the fact that confusing terminology and misconceptions seem to be part of, if not central, to riding and horse care. (This can be confirmed by any non-horse significant other. They've probably suffered more than anyone from listening to these mysterious terms over and over again, and are still in the dark as to what "swapped off" could possibly mean.
With winter whipping around outside, here's a chance to expand or confirm your horse knowledge without ever leaving the hearth (and this still can be an enjoyable read for those of you who haven't been pushed out of the saddle by bitter temperatures). This Horse-Knowledge Dictionary is an admittedly random selection of horse terms, a smorgasbord of some serious and not-so-serious terms and training concepts that horsepeople seem often to be a little in the dark about. Enjoy!
While the term "second track" is used most frequently in the dressage world, the concept it represents is understood by most trainers, especially of green horses and riders. Ridden about three feet inside of the outermost riding track of an arena, the second track is for the purpose of creating independence in both horse and rider from the wall of the arena. Both green horses and riders will subconsciously use the wall of the arena as a crutch, and will subtly lean toward it. Riding on this second track breaks that hold, which creates a more balanced and independently moving horse and independently thinking rider.
"Taking a joke" is more about a generous horse or pony and not too much about being a comic. This funny phrase refers to the horse's ability to compensate or recover from an inaccurately ridden distance to a jump. Pet your horse lots and lots when this bad distance occurs. And, it's all right. Just improve your impulsion to the next jump and that should help solve finding yourself in "taking a joke" territory.
When it comes to talking about straightness in the horse, it may be more helpful to think about "alignment." The horse is wide at its hips, more narrow at the shoulders, and even more narrow at its poll. It is not beneficial to ride the horse in a truly straight line, as a "straight line" of hips and shoulder and poll is very uncomfortable for both horse and rider and is undesirable on a curved line. So, think of aligning the insider shoulder or foreleg with the inside hind leg. This is usually accomplished through riding the shoulder-fore. That technique, being so important, is best studied with a competent riding instructor and through reading.
Flexion is not 'bend.' Flexion is the 'creasing' between the jowl and the neck, courtesy of the special vertebrae, the atlas and the axis, that allow the head to turn left and right without making the rest of the neck do so. The neck can be perfectly straight when flexion is employed. Bend is the (hopefully) equal bend of the horse's spine, say, on the curve of a circle. Flexion needs to be in place before asking for bend.
While discussing this concept of bend, the idea of the spine actually bending is misleading. The spine can shift, or bend, from side to side and up and down, but what happens mostly when "bend" in the thoracic (in front of shoulder blade to final rib) portion of the spine occurs is mostly a shift of the rib cage to the outside of that circle you're working on. That successful shift gives the rider a nice spot to sit in. Yes, the neck portion of the spine bends well -- watch any horse knock off a fly or scratch the top of its back -- but the thoracic portion of the spine is comparatively more rigid. And these two disproportionate levels of flexibility mean the rider has to ride the spine uniformly as best she can and to not mistake the neck's mobility for suppleness throughout the entire body of the horse.
Longitudinal means front to back, so longitudinal suppleness implies suppleness from tail to nose. Lateral means side, so lateral suppleness means suppleness along the side(s) of the body, or suppleness left or right. (Speaking broadly, in veterinary terms, lateral indicates the outside of the body or leg, while medial indicates the inside of the body/leg.)
Keep in mind that the horse is asymmetrically supple and asymmetrically strong, and they are "handed," as humans are, meaning that the horse's ability to shift the ribcage to the left or right will feel uneven. This is normal, and a tenet of training is to help the horse build toward symmetry.
The distance in a one-stride in-and-out is usually set at approximately 24 feet (for horses). But, the big difference is that 24 feet is for an in and out that is set at a height of at least 2'9". An in-and-out set at 2'6" or below should have a distance of about 21 feet. When jumping a new in-and-out, the rider should have a ground person to adjust the distance, as the horse should be able to jump it comfortably without twisting or reaching to get over the "out."
A horse that is "girthy," meaning one that pins its ears and looks as if it will bite the handler when the girth is tightened, is often thought to be badly behaved and in need of discipline. In fact, it can mean instead that the horse has stomach ulcers. These need to be treated with medication to reduce acid production, not a slap on the neck.
It's a good policy to understand the source of any "bad" behavior on the part of the horse. There is often a very good reason behind that sort of behavior, and any horse owner should think "What is behind this crabbiness?" first, always.
And last, but not least, for you teachers out there: A young student once stopped mid-lesson and asked, perplexed, "What is the difference between 'coming across the diagonal' and 'posting diagonal'?" To her, since the directives often occurred together in a lesson and employed the same words, the two events were maybe the same thing? That was a funny moment for both teacher and rider, as it never occurred to the one that they could be confused and it never occurred to the other that they were separate ideas.
Readers, please weigh in with your comments and thoughts on this Random Horse-Knowledge Dictionary. TheEquestrianCorner.com appreciates your input and continued interest in our blogs and newsletters!