Defining horse jargon: Advanced riding terms

Eliminate confusing horse jargon by defining commonly used advanced riding terms.

English rider on horse
Photo by Taylor Fabus, MSU Extension.

In this article series from Michigan State University Extension, we will explore a variety of often confusing, horse-related terms. In a previous article, we covered defining horse jargon: beginner riding terms. Naturally, this next article in the series we will explore more advanced riding terms that are often misunderstood.

Collection

When studying the physical ability of a horse, you quickly learn that for a horse to do anything athletic, they must learn to engage their hindquarters (hind end) and lift their forequarters (front end), also known as “being collected” or “having collection”. As riders, we should aim to help a horse improve its athletic ability by teaching and helping them to maintain collection at all times. One sign of a collected horse is a rounded topline (resembling a slight downward arch from poll to tail, with the back being the high point of the arc). Riders can support a horse’s collection by asking them to give to pressures from the bit (bend at their poll and neck slightly) while pushing and driving forward with their hind end (also described as engaging their loin, hindquarters, hind legs, hocks, etc.).

A horse that is uncollected may appear to be travelling downhill, with their withers or head and neck being lower than their hind end. These horses may also have a nosed-out appearance or show resistance to the bit. A horse that is uncollected, travelling downhill or “heavy on their forehand” will be more likely to stumble, trip or potentially fall. These horses will also have a much more difficult time performing athletic maneuvers such as transitions, lead changes, stops, jumps, etc.

Half halt

Half halt is probably one of the most-often defined yet still most confused terms in all of horseback riding. While experts across many disciplines will differ on their explanation of this commonly used riding term, I’ll do my best to simplify this complex riding aid. In short, a half halt is a coordinated effort to use leg, seat and hand aids together in order to gain a horse’s attention, increase their collection, improve their balance and prepare them for an upcoming maneuver. The methods in which a half halt can be taught or achieved may vary, but the results are often similar: a horse who is more in tune to its rider and ready to perform an athletic task.

Diagonal and posting

These terms are in reference to an English riding maneuver where a rider moves with the motion of the horse. While at a trot, a horse’s footfall pattern is a two-beat diagonal gait. This means that the left front and right hind leg move in unison, and the right front and left hind move in unison. This footfall pattern creates an opportunity for the rider to rise and sit in a two-beat rhythm, or post.

Which diagonal pair the rider should post (move up and down) with depends on the direction of the horse’s travel but typically a rider will be expected to move with the outside front leg and inside hind leg pair. Another common way this is described is “rise and fall with the leg on the wall”, which is referring to the front leg of the horse. A diagonal can also be described as left or right, and this is in reference to which front leg of the horse the rider is moving with.

Contact

The term contact is often referring to the amount of pressure that the reins, which are held by the rider’s hands, have on the bit in the horse’s mouth. Increasing contact means having a tighter rein while decreasing contact will be done by lengthening the reins. A tighter rein, or increased contact, will increase the amount of pressure on a horse’s mouth.

Maintaining constant pressure, or contact, is a skill that can take a rider many years to develop. It requires soft, forgiving hands that give and take pressure as a horse moves. A rider with educated hands can create a more trusting horse who responds to more subtle cues from its rider. In certain disciplines, such as western pleasure, a horse can be trained to work off very light pressure with the majority of its cues coming from the rider’s legs and seat.


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