The Words I Use With Horses: A Translation

In my last post I asked for input on what you believe a young horse should learn, and one commenter suggested teaching my youngster a word for reassurance to use when we’re faced with something scary.That got me listening to myself as I moved

In my last post I asked for input on what you believe a young horse should learn, and one commenter suggested teaching my youngster a word for reassurance to use when we’re faced with something scary.

That got me listening to myself as I moved through work with all three of my horses. Those that know me might say I talk a lot, and after paying attention to the constant conversation I have with my horses, I’m sure Jack, Marathon, and Athena would agree.

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The following is a short glossary of terms and phrases I use as I go about grooming, mucking, and riding:

 Horse Names

The longer you live with me, the more names you get.

Jacky Boy, Jack Jack, Jay-Jay, Jack-Attack, and Jackass: Jack, my 11-year-old homebred Quarter Horse gelding once known in the show pen and dressage arena as Identically Dynamic.

Merry Man, Mr. Mare, Big Man: Marathon, my 13-year-old Hanoverian who’s primary job is as my  mid-level dressage horse (I rely on nicknames because “Marathon” is a mouthful, but my husband insists than I don’t call Marathon either Mary or Mare, hence the spelling variations and masculine additions of “Man” and “Mr.”)

Atty, Atta-Girl, No Drama Mama: Athena, a nearly 3-year-old Oldenburg cross and my most recent project. And no, she doesn’t know her name yet—I wonder why?

Son, Big Son: Any male horse.

Girl, Sweet Girl: Any female horse.

Verbal Cues on the Longe

Some of these carry over to riding, too.

Walk: Walk now, please.

Trot, cluck-cluck: Trot now, please.

Canter, kiss-kiss: Canter, and yes I really mean it.

Go big: Whatever gait you’re doing, do it with more impulsion. I mean move it.

Easy, (insert gait here): Slow it down.

Reverse: Pivot toward me and go the opposite direction at the same gait.

Whoa: Stop your feet and look at me.

Good: You’re doing it right, so keep doing what you’re doing.

Basic Manners and Daily Conversations

Hey, quit: You know better than to do what you’re doing, so stop.

Get: Leave me alone, I’m cleaning your paddock. I don’t want to scratch your butt (Marathon), feed you carrots (Atty), or have you dump over the nearly full wheelbarrow (Jack).

Easy look: This something new might look scary, but I promise it’s not.

Hoof: Pick up your foot.

Over: Move out of my way, please.

Stay: I forgot something in the tack room/horse trailer/pickup, but you already have your bridle on so stand where you are and don’t move (more simply known as “ground tie”).

Back: Back up until I say “Whoa.”

Step: You’ve reached the end of the trailer while backing and need to step down.

Wait: You and I both know what we’re doing next, but I need you to hold on until I give you the all-clear (this usually has to do with unloading from the trailer or, when riding, a flying lead change).


As a dressage rider, I’ve learned to curtail my talking in the saddle and only rely on a few sounds during training.

Cluck: Walk.

Cluck-cluck: Trot.

Cluck-cluck-cluck-cluck-cluck-cluck-cluck … (you get the picture, and hopefully it’s not of a setting hen on a clutch of eggs): Lengthen or extend your trot, depending on your level of training.

Kiss: Canter.

Good boy: You’d doing what I’ve asked right (although Jack thinks this means “good enough, you’re done now” and usually throws on the brakes).

I know, from my years with horses, that often it’s not about what you say, but rather how you say it, the context of the situation, and your corresponding body language. But, reviewing this list of words and phrases I use with my horses, I’m struck by how intuitive and communicative they really are, and how well they adapt to our human reliance on verbal communication. As always, horses amaze me.

What common words or phrases do you use with your horses?

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