The Language of Horse
Updated: Oct 26, 2020
In the days when societies depended on horses for transport and the production of food, the ability to breed and train good horses was a highly valued skill.
Those who could train horses to work acquired an almost mythical status, they were sought out and valued by farmers and trades people for their ability to master their own fear and train the most difficult of horses.
The gypsy horsemen undoubtedly courted this air of mystery ... for example, they would carry a ball made from oats and honey, hidden under the armpit and feed pieces to the horse. Though often referred to nowadays as ‘tricks,’ these practices reflect a deep understanding of wild animals and how to build trust between human and horse.
One of the principle ways in which we communicate with a horse is through the reins of a bridle. The earliest images of horse wearing a bridle dates back to as early as 1400 BC in Syria, these early examples were bit less. The first bits were made of rope, bone, horn, or hard wood. Metal bits came into use between 1300 and 1200 BC, originally made of bronze.
Long-reining has become one of the pillars of horse training. The horse can be trained from the ground with reins attached initially to each side of the horse's noseband and later to the bit. We have learned to communicate with the horse in incredibly refined ways, from training them to cut and rope cattle, to creating with them the beauty and discipline of classical dressage.
Extract from The Long Acre.
Moss took the reins with her, “let her set the pace”, he said, “keep the left rein as you are, but just slacken off the right ... stay behind her shoulder, keep sending her forwards on the circle.” He had his hands on her hands now, carefully guiding them to exactly the right tension, “see that ear flick back, that’s her language, answer it, think like you’re the horse”. The mare began to settle, no longer fighting the reins, she came back to a free trot, her forelegs stretching in front of her, her neck arched.
“Now you have her”.
In America, the Nez Perce tribe began breeding horses in the 1700s. Like the gypsies in Britain, they had the fundamental qualities of physical and mental toughness, coupled with a unique understanding of wild animals. The Nez Perce became famous for breeding the Appaloosa horses. These spotted horses were carefully selected and bred from wild mustangs and later athletic horses from nomadic tribes in Asia were also bred into the strain. The Appaloosa horse today is widely held to come from these collective nomadic origins.
Nez Perce with Blanket Spot Appaloosa.
Glossary of other horse-related words used in The Long Acre:
A Vanner is a gypsy horse, suitable for pulling a bow-top wagon. Traditionally the gypsy Vanner was black and white or another colour and white, but they can be single colour.
Scopey is a term used to describe a horse that is athletic and jumps with ease.
A Caballero is a Spanish horseman.
Cavaletti are raised poled used for training horses and riders.
A Blanket Spot Appaloosa is a particular type of Appaloosa with a bay, chestnut or grey coat but with a distinctive white 'blanket' patch that is spotted over the back and quarters (image above).
A Red roan or Bay roan is another distinctive horse colour, describing a coat of chestnut or bay hair mixed with white (image below).
This blog is an alternative to a traditional glossary, providing background to The Long Acre.