Equestrian Terminology and Their Origins – Part 2
Do you ever get confused by horse terms and wonder where they came from? If you don't, we're sure your non-horse friends are baffled by some of the words you use when talking about your beloved horse.
Here is the second part of the series of our favorite horse terms and the history we were able to dig up on them.
Withers: Though not an uncommon surname, withers in the horse world refer to the high ridge of the back of the horse, located at the lower end of the mane between the shoulder blades. One of the strangest things about this term, is why is it plural when there is only one? This term likely came from the twelfth-century Old High German word widar for "against or back," which also has ties to the Old English word wither, which means "against, contrary or opposite." Considering that horses during this time were commonly used as draft animals, it makes sense that the term referred to the location in which the harness collar rests against when a horse is pulling a plow or wagon. Why we use withers instead of wither remains a mystery to us.
Mucking: Ever been stuck in the muck? If you are a horse lover, the answer is most likely, yes! The phrase "mucking out stalls" starts with the root word muck. Muck came from the mid-13th century Old Norse word myki or mykr for "cow dung" that later influenced the Middle English muc or muk. The verb mukken meant "to dig in the ground" or "to remove manure." There is also an early reference to Mucker as "one who removes muck from stables" and was used as a surname during the 13th century.
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Shod: It sounds funny to non-horse owners when you say your horse is shod, but the origin of this term is rather simple. Shod is a past tense and past participle of shoe (flashback to your middle school grammar lessons) and means "to provide or fit with a shoe or shoes." The origins of this term go way back to the origins of shoe before the 2nd century; however, references to shod don't show up in writings until around the 14th century.
Hinny: A hinny is a domestic equine hybrid that is the offspring of a male horse (a stallion) and a female donkey (a jenny). It is the reciprocal cross to the more common mule, which is the product of a male donkey (a jack) and a female horse (a mare). The hinny is distinctive from the mule both in physiology and temperament. The earliest origins of hinny are unclear, though they seem to be connected to the Latin term hinnus meaning "mule." The Latin term mula was also used over the centuries, but it is unclear why hinny stuck and mula didn't.
Gaits: There are five natural gaits of horses. These natural gaits include the walk, trot, canter/lope, gallop and back. Many breeds perform these gaits. They include stock horse breeds like the Quarter Horse, Paint Horse, Appaloosa, etc. and hunter or English type horses such as the Thoroughbred, Arabian, Saddlebred, Morgan, etc. The term gait meaning "manner of walking, carriage of the body while walking" comes from the mid-15th century and originated with the Old Norse term gata meaning "way, road, path."
Walk: Slowest of the gaits, the walk is a four-beat gait where each foot hits the ground independently. The pattern of this four-beat walk may be as follows: right front, left hind, left front, right hind or right hind, right front, left hind, left front. This one is pretty clear and ties directly to Old English merger of two verbs that mean "travel on foot" used in the 13th century.
Trot: Second slowest, the trot is a two-beat diagonal gait where the horse's legs work in paired diagonals. The pattern of this two-beat diagonal gait may be as follows: right hind and left front, then left hind and right front or left hind and right front, then right hind and left front. An Old French word, "trot" is a derivative of Old High German trotton "to tread."
Canter/Lope: Second fastest, the canter/lope is a three-beat gait where one pair of feet strike the ground simultaneously and the other two feet land independently. The canter/lope will either be on what is referred to as a right or left lead. If the horse is on the right lead then the hoof pattern is left hind, right hind and left front simultaneously, then right front. The opposite foot pattern represents the left lead as follows: right hind, left hind and right front simultaneously, left front. In general, horses are to be on the right lead when circling to the right and the left lead when circling to the left. Canter is believed to be a contraction of Canterbury. Recorded references to this term from the 1630's refer to the "easy pace at which pilgrims ride to Canterbury." The origins of lope are much earlier, starting in the 13th century from Old Norse hlaupa "to run, leap, spring up."
Gallop: Fastest of the gaits and although the gallop or run appears to be only a faster canter, it is in fact a different gait containing four beats. Like the canter, the gallop also has a right and left lead. The footfall pattern of the gallop on the left lead is right hind, left hind, right front, left front. Likewise, the right lead footfall would be left hind, right hind, left front, right front. Gallop comes from the 13th century Old French word galloper "to gallop," that is probably from an older Frankish word wala hlaupan that means "to run well."
Back: When a horse backs naturally without interference from the rider, they perform a two-beat diagonal gait. The back has a similar hoof pattern to that of the trot, only backwards. The footfall pattern of the back might be the right front moves with the left hind and the left front moves with the right hind. The origins of this use of back are a bit tricky as the term has many meanings and has shifted over the centuries. It is however, most likely from the 14th century term abak.