Thursday, July 12, 2012

Lost in Translation

About 10 years ago I wrote several articles for the Washington International Horse Show's program book.  WIHS as it is called, is one of the "indoor" shows - you have to qualify for it - only the best of the best get to ride there.  It's a fun show since it is literally in downtown DC, not far from the White House.  The horses have to spend the night downtown on the streets of DC. It is a really unique experience.

Some of the articles were intended for readers who may not ride or go to horse shows as WIHS brings in a large non-riding population to spectate. 

One of the articles was called "A Language All It's Own" and I kinda reworked what I wrote then for the blog today.  Some of the words we use in the "horse world" are well, lost in translation.  You'll see what I mean.

( photo of an "Oxer")

"Oxer" puzzled my mother.  She thought it might be associated with the shirts my father wears to the office, the ones from Brooks Brothers.  The few times a year she makes the trek to a show, she shrugs her shoulders when the trainers and riders start talking in a language that sounds like Swahili.  

The horse world is a subculture.  Nowhere is this more apparent than in the nomenclature familiar only to those who participate in the sport.  The ability to understand and master a vocabulary that's not even found on the Internet is a feat you must master, even at an early age.  A horse crazy 10-year old will likely know what a "roll top" or "oxer" is before she masters past participles.

( - Roll top)

"Roll tops" and "oxers" are jumps used in hunter and jumper courses.  An oxer is a wide jump made with two pairs of standards and poles.  They are wider than "verticals" and I think harder to find the correct distance to.

Roll tops are often green, two to three feet high, and are usually found in a hunter course.  The front part of the roll top curves in a semi-circle, meeting the back at a 90-degree angle.  See the photos above. 

(Horse Country Chic Photo)

A "scrim sheet" can be found on show horses waiting outside a ring on a somewhat warm day.  Typically the sheet is in "farm colors" with a monogram, farm name, last name or even better - a prize from a well-known horse show (showing that you were champion or year end winner, etc).  The "scrim" can keep flies off the horse, keeps the horse's coat from getting bleached, or can help "cool" the horse.  The one above is probably nylon and shows the logo from a farm, the owner of this horse.  

 ( photo)

A "martingale" is not related in any way to a nightingale.  Instead, it's a leather contraption, buckled around the horse's neck just in front of the withers, with a separate piece running from the girth to the bridle's noseband.  The one above is a called a "standing martingale" and there are other kinds like a "running martingale" (which is only used on jumpers, not allowed in the hunters).  It keeps the horse's head from getting too high (which is not the look you want in a hunter).  Always made of leather.  Not sure where the name came from. 

 ( photo)

Have you heard of a "breastplate?" And no, we are not going into porn.  A breastplate is typically leather like in the photo above.  It goes around the horse's neck much like the martingale.  A smaller strap attaches to the front of the saddle on each side of the neck (you can't see that in this photo) and the center piece attaches to the horse's girth between the legs.  This keeps the saddle from sliding too far back on the horse's back.  You often see these used in fox hunting where the horses are doing a lot of running and also in steeplechase races.  

Here are few more words that have been lost in translation:

A kimberwicke?

It's a bit.  Not sure where the name came from. Sounds British.  Does anyone know?  This is a certain type of bit, that is a curb chain and the copper piece in the middle is like a roller ball.  Can you now name each part without a cheat sheet?  Test is tomorrow.


Hackamore?  This is a bridle without a bit.  You can't show in the hunters in one of these - against the rules.  Again, not sure how the name came into being.  Anyone know?


It's a jump - the blue part that holds water.  Only jumpers have to navigate these.  You horse can't be afraid of water to jump these.  Sometimes you jump only the water, no poles. Wonder if these came about before of after the Beatles?

 ( photo)

Have you added a few new words to your vocabulary?  I hope so.  Maybe next time you are around a "horse person" you might explain how sometimes things get lost in translation. 


  1. So true! We do have a strange language.
    And how many looks would you get in a non-horsey crowd if you said: "I put an egg-butt in his mouth today and he liked it so much better than the full-cheek. He was lighter and more relaxed and didn't bulge in the corners."

  2. Cynna, You are so right. Reminds me of my talking to my friend in the grocery line, telling her that my baby was due in 11 months (my horse baby that is). You should have seen the looks I got that day! Thanks for reading.


  3. I think 'hackamore' is an English corruption of the Spanish 'jaquima', which refers to the same piece of equipment. Not sure where the Spanish came from or what it means though!


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