Confusing terms people use around horses.

Are there terms that horse people use that confuse you?During a lesson the other day I said, “soften up” to the rider as she rounded the turn…and she immediately picked up on the reins to ‘soften’ her horse.

Houston, we have a problem.

I had intended for the rider to ‘soften’ her hands, to offer the horse a reward but my terminology wasn’t  clearly defined. The rider heard the word ‘soften’ and immediately associated the word with asking the horse to demonstrate softness and a willingness, to ask the horse to remove rigidity from its body.

This is one of the reasons why I encourage people to learn through two methods 1) follow one person’s program all the way through 2) study other peoples methods and figure out how they fit in with your understanding. Above all don’t punish your horse if you get confused. Also don’t punish your horse even if an instructor starts yelling at you in frustration.

Are there terms that you have heard that have confused you? Are there terms you have used that have confused others?


  1. Ami Defie on April 28, 2015 at 7:34 pm

    My riding instructors were both like Abby Lee Miller on Dance Moms. Brutal!

  2. Margie on April 27, 2015 at 9:42 pm

    interesting that you brought this topic up! Currently I am confused with the terms supple, engage, and forward. I have been trying to get help with my horses stop, which led to these terms that people have said regarding my horses lope prior to the stop. I still can’t put a picture with what they mean and sometimes I wonder if they have an exact meaning!

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  4. Judy Holtzman on April 26, 2015 at 9:46 pm

    I don’t encourage any of my students to give treats to horses. It can be a bad habit and some horses will look for treats and if he doesn’t get any they end up biting you.

  5. cannh624 on April 26, 2015 at 9:29 pm

    I too am a Visual/Kinesthetic learner. I remember one of my instructors “yelling” at me (because of distance, not anger) “knees in, heels down” which, for me, made me tense up my butt and made me bounce. She finally realized I wasn’t getting it, so she told me to imagine my butt was a ball. She had me visualize a beach ball. When it’s blown up tight, it bounces, when it’s not, it doesn’t. THAT was the visual I needed and thereafter when I found myself bouncing too much, I “Let the air out”! 🙂

    • Kyrah M on April 28, 2015 at 11:09 am

      LOL, that’s a great visual! I’m going to use it 🙂

  6. Jojo on April 26, 2015 at 6:40 pm

    Roll The Hind End
    Bend to the left, and the instructor points to their left which is my right.
    Shorten your reign….(Both? Left? Right?)
    What are you Doing?…….If I knew, I wouldn’t do it!!

  7. stonepony1 on April 26, 2015 at 6:33 pm

    I don’t know if anyone goes to auctions but at the ones I go to there are terms like: soft in the front, light in the front, well broke, cinchy, needs experienced rider, I am sure I am forgettting many. Soft in the front means the horse is foundered, Light in the front means the horse rares up, cinchy means the horse either is hard to saddle or bucks after saddling, well broke could mean anything from the horse really is well broke to the horse is ok to ride as long as all you want to do is follow another horse at a walk to trot, and there there is: needs an experienced rider, that horse could be anywhere from a very dangerous horse to one that is well trained but needs someone who knows what they are doing so the horse will not get confused.

  8. firnhyde on April 26, 2015 at 7:45 am

    My trainer doesn’t even yell across an arena in lessons, since he knows by now that I can handle things in the moment. He picks a corner to wait in and tells me what to do as I go by: “In the next corner, canter on, and remember to keep your hands up”. I prefer this because I don’t need to get stressed out by a yelling voice, and because on the rare occasions that he does shout I know it’s a dangerous situation and I need to act instantly and unquestioningly. That keeps us all safe.

  9. radiowomman on April 26, 2015 at 4:40 am

    I moved to Switzerland, and I have gotten unexpectedly poor reception about the way I teach.

    I spend a lot of time talking with the person, talking about the persons body, and how they feel, and talking about theory and mechanics, and physiology. I do quite a bit of explaining and “exercises” in the spirit of “centered-riding.”

    It seems like they are not used to that, they don’t seem to want to analyze their riding or the way they think about it… they just want to ride and be told what to do.

    I train horses. I do not train riders. I teach people and the people need to invest the time to train themselves.

    • Kyrah M on April 28, 2015 at 11:05 am

      Radiowoman, it sounds to me like you are teaching true horsemanship, whereas your new students just want to know how to ride. That laziness and lack of interest on their part must be incredibly frustrating for you :-(.

  10. Ian on April 26, 2015 at 3:43 am

    the problem is that there is so much jargon in the horse world, and some of it makes no lliteral sense. I watch dressage training videos and have no idea what they are talking about…and I am sure if they used plain english things would make more sense

  11. Kathy Doman on April 26, 2015 at 2:30 am

    Fired the yelling instructor very fast, and will not recommend them to any one. You lose your temper at children and horses you lose your job.

  12. Catherine on April 26, 2015 at 12:29 am

    When is it ever ok for an instructor to yell at the student in frustration?

    • Stacy on April 26, 2015 at 1:42 pm

      I have a friend that has lots of riding experience and has won lots…and she loves instructors that yell, lol.

      • marla2008 on April 26, 2015 at 5:45 pm

        I agree. There are people who like/need being yelled at. It’s inspirational to them, they feel directed and taken care of. It’s the kind of “tough love” used in the Army and I know some teens that really love that in a riding coach. I personally just canNOT learn if stressed out, judged or screamed at, I shut down entirely. Thank God I have a great coach that is equally brilliant with horses and people.

  13. Jacky Millard on April 25, 2015 at 6:57 pm

    My dad and his mates were my teachers lol. Horsemen through and through. Left hand on the reins and either a stock whip, polox raquette or similar in my right hand so it would NEVER touch the reins. One leg each side and my mind in the middle. If per chance my right hand touched the reins it was reminded not to with a quick rap on the back of the knuckles with whatever was in reach. Or as I got older dad would gallop past me and take my bridle with him. (My horses were very safe and well trained and they were plentiful). They stopped picking on me when I started to do the same to them lol. And it’s then when I started having fun that everything fell into place and I didn’t have to think….. I know that all sounds a touch harsh but I would not change it for the world. I have competed successfully at rodeos and camp drafts and polocrosse as well as much more and have won a lot of awards for my horsemanship. My hands and feet never move and all my horses have awesome mouths that you could ride in a piece of cotton. I don’t know how he made it all come together but even now I see the proudness in his eyes and I would do it all over again in just the same way.

  14. Martha King on April 25, 2015 at 5:05 pm

    Yes Stacy I have terms that seem to be thrown around a lot in the horse world that cause me confusion. I’ve owned my horse for eight years, taken clinics including one of yours, been to every Columbus equine affair and I still don’t understand the difference in the following terms:

    Bit, shanks, mouthpiece. Is a bit and the mouthpiece the same thing; or is the bit the entire thing including the shank. No matter how much I read this always confuses me.

    Thanks, Marty King

    • Lori Martin on April 25, 2015 at 6:47 pm

      I believe that the bit refers to the whole thing, the shank is a part of a bit that has a shank, or the long part that goes along side the mouth, kind of a bar so to speak, the head piece attaches to the top of it, and the reins attach at a different spot, either the bottom of it on a curb bit or closer to the mouth on a broken bit (snaffle) style. The mouth piece refers to the part that goes in the mouth of the horse. I believe this is a correct answer to your question, hopefully I phrased it right 🙂

    • Stacy on April 26, 2015 at 1:46 pm

      Marty- Part of the issue is likely that people mix and match the use of the words. Check out this link to an article that explains bits.
      There is a photo/diagram that shows the bit (the whole thing) and then the parts of it including the mouthpiece and the shanks…but don’t be surprised if people randomly interchange the use of the terms 🙁

    • marla2008 on April 26, 2015 at 5:43 pm

      Google Daniel Dauphin and watch his videos about bits. They are the most educational pieces I have EVER seen on the subject, and I’m 46 and have been around horses forever.

  15. bpgagirl22vanow on April 25, 2015 at 4:56 pm

    When my gf and I were riding when we were kids, I was a natural and we just rode. I never needed any lessons. And if somebody had yelled at me, They’d have only done it once. Wouldn’t have ever gone back to them. That kind of person has no patience and doesn’t need to be training or coaching anybody!

  16. Amanda Mason on April 25, 2015 at 4:39 pm

    Some of the best advise I ever got came from a book. I have done private lessons and horsemanship classes at college. Luckily not much yelling. Still in a dressage book written a long time ago he addressed heels down. He said it was a matter of relaxing the thigh and the more the instructor tells the student to “heels down” the more tense the student gets making heels down impossible. I believe he saw a lot of yelling to state that instructors were causing tension in the rider. 🙂

  17. Rachel Babitz on April 25, 2015 at 3:05 pm

    sarcasm or an unkind tone can cause a student to lose interest in learning something that they love!.. The teachers tone could either make or break a student!

  18. An Andries on April 25, 2015 at 3:00 pm

    I am absolutely happy with my trainer, as he is a good horse trainer and a good people trainer… He knows how to push me to my limits especially (fear). What I do notice though, when I am watching other people getting training, is, what I call the zone-out, ” you are riding, feeling, paying attention to your horse, and you are actually paying a lot of attention to your horse, which makes you grow deaf to your trainer,…. I hear a lot and find myself also using a lot “What?!” And then most likely you are beyond that particularly moment.

  19. Kyrah M on April 25, 2015 at 2:44 pm

    My trainer never yells at, or scolds me, and I wouldn’t tolerate it if she did. 99% of the time she’s very clear with her instructions, but when I get too confused to know what to do, I will stop completely and ask her to demonstrate what she wants. I think one of the best things we did together was to identify my Myers-Briggs personality type and use that to determine my best learning style, which is visual-kinesthetic (see-do). I am very weak in auditory learning.

  20. Nicole Tiarks Tholt on April 25, 2015 at 2:43 pm

    I have 3 kids that I teach to ride my horse. I find my self stopping many times during the lesson to think how to re-word what I just said. Sometime I am silent for a long time trying to think….it is difficult to make my brain think like a brand new rider……

  21. marla2008 on April 25, 2015 at 2:41 pm

    I have this memory from childhood, crystal clear in my mind. I must have been about 11 or 12. I was riding in a posh, but stupidly small stables in the outskirts of Paris (yes, yes, Paris France, which is why it was so small), and the instructor was all but personable or warm. Probably in her later 40’s or early 50’s, and very ridid bodied, and minded. We were a handful of kids riding in there and learning to stop. She told us how to sit back and shorten the reins and hold, until the horse stopped, then “cease”. A boy in particular didn’t hold but downright pulled on his horse. The horse stopped, raised his head to escape the bad hands, and opened hi mouth. “Cease” said the instructor to the boy, and he pulled harder and the horse had a gaping mouth. “Cease” screamed the instructor louder (which proved she was stupid, the boy just wasn’t getting it”. Finally I assume she must have made a forward gesture with her hands as the boy released the horse. She then went to give the boy a thorough yelling session. I remember seing this scene and thinking, from the second time she had said “cease” and the boy was only pulling harder, that it was mean on her part to impose that on the horse, as it was very obvious the rider was confused and not going to get it, and the horse was only going to suffer in vain.
    Personally I do work with a coach whom I really like and admire, and he knows better than yelling at me. He’s very encouraging. I may get things wrong, he just explains over again. I’m 46 and I sure don’t pay 50 bucks an hour for someone to scream at me

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