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The Language Barrier

Or, things they don’t tell you about horseback riding.

Pexels/CC

I began learning to ride a horse in my mid-40s — years ago. Navigating the mysteries of the horse, the stressful “no-two-tack-combinations-are-the-same” equipment and then the actual riding of a horse was/is complex enough for my road-weary mind. Layer on the “no-two-trainers-teach-the-same way” conundrum. Head buzzing in my moments of puzzlement, I realized I was learning a new language. They didn’t tell me that.

Snatches of grade school Spanish, high school French, trip-motivated basic conversational Italian tapes did not prepare me for:

  • Names of the myriad pieces of tack
  • Seat bones
  • Inside leg/outside leg
  • Post
  • On the diagonal
  • Half halts
  • Open your hips
  • Close your hands
  • Impulsion
  • Collection
  • Extension
  • Above the bit
  • On the fore hand
  • Hand canter
  • Chukker
  • Nearside/Offside

Seasoned riders, be fair, consider these terms from the first time a newbie swings her leg over a horse. For example:

Inside/outside leg. Inside what? Inside the fence? No, I was told, inside the arena. What if you aren’t in an arena? Compare that to the polo terms “nearside” and “offside.” The “nearside” is actually off the opposite side of where you hold your mallet. The “offside” is on the side of where you hold your mallet. And I’m just trying to hit the ball and not tumble off any side.

Seat bones. Not to get graphic, but I found there were several bones down there that can get sore when they press into the saddle. Yes, Virginia, I’m built for speed, not comfort. I was sure I had four seat bones. I thought I was a mutant. My instructor explained that the “other” two bones are pelvic bones. Don’t sit on those or you could launch off the front of the horse.

Open your hips/close your hands. My instructor asked me why I was riding with my knees spread when I was sitting the trot. “You said to open my hips.” There are two meanings to the direction to “open your hips” depending on if you are riding or jumping. Great. None require riding with one’s knees akimbo. My flapping my hands together and apart, waving the reins in and out, were met with that same question mark brow. “You said to open my hands.” Oooh — I was to squeeze the “baby birds” a little looser.

I was sure that the call to hand canter at the Scottsdale Arabian Show meant that gallopy sound made when a clap of hands is followed by a dual slap of thighs. Collection is not what you do with a shovel in a stall. Impulsion is not the urge you feel when all your friends own horses and you don’t.

I am proud to say that I am able to elicit “what are you talking about” looks from my non-riding friends when I use some of these terms. I am reduced to size when a not-used-before-by-me piece of bridle equipment is handed to me.

Yes, they tell you to read books and articles to learn the equestrian lingo. I have found that a patient, knowledgeable instructor who thinks wacky like I do works better for me.

Go riding.

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