"Canter" Does Not Equal "Shot Out Of A Cannon"

May 5, 2017 - 8:15 AM

I’ve read a number of articles that claim horses can develop an incredible grasp of human vocabulary, and can understand and respond to many words and phrases.

I had my most recent horse for nearly 20 years, and we became like an old married couple that finished each other’s sentences. He learned, and responded to, many commands.

However, some horses I’ve worked with seem to have very creative interpretations of things. I’m not sure which vocabulary textbook they’ve downloaded onto their Kindles—but their definitions don’t jive with mine. So, for the benefit of both equestrians and equines, allow me to clarify.

“Move”
It means: Kindly take one step in the direction I am pressing you.

It does not mean: Make me chase you around the crossties with the currycomb.

“Foot”
It means: Please pick up the foot associated with the leg I am touching.

It does not mean: You pick your left hind up, you put your left hind down, you pick your left hind up, then you shake it all around. That is known as the Hokey Pokey, and is not what it’s all about.

It also does not mean: Shift all your weight on to that foot as I try to lift it and make me look like I’m attempting to pull a 1,400-lb rutabaga out of the garden.

It also does not mean: Hand me your foot and then insist that I hold up ¾ of your body weight.

It also does not mean: Tip your foot ever so slightly up onto your toe so that I can’t say you didn’t pick it up, but I also can’t get to it with the hoof pick. Then lean on it so that dragging it to a more accessible position would require the same effort as shoving the lid off of King Tut’s sarcophagus.

You’re OK”
It means: The thing I am asking you to walk past is not going to kill you.

It does not mean: You’re going to die. Run.

“Over”
It means: You are in my space. Move a step away from me.

It does not mean: Jump away from me so fast that you actually fall over.

It also does not mean: Move one step to the side. Then move one step to the rear. Then move one step forward. Repeat until I issue the “quit” command.

“Quit”
It means: Whatever you are doing, stop it and just stand still.

It does not mean: Substitute one annoying behavior for another one until I give up in exasperation

“Put that foot down”
It means: Stop pawing. Period.

It does not mean: Put that foot down, pick up the other foot, and resume pawing, while casting me a sarcastic stink-eye that acknowledges, “I put that foot down.”

“Easy”
It means: That thing you think you hear is not going to kill you.

It does not mean: You’re going to die. Run.

“Come on”
It means: There is no invisible monster in the corner of the arena. You can walk over there.

It does not mean: If you get too close to the corner, a monster is going to spring up like an evil jack-in-the-box and devour you. The only way out is to use the element of surprise. Wait until the last second, then whirl and bolt in the opposite direction. Bonus points if you spin me off and it eats me instead.

“Whoa” or “Ho”
OK, this one can be ambiguous, as the meaning depends somewhat upon the accompanying tone of voice

Said in a soft, comforting tone, it means: You seem to be a bit tense. Take a breath and calm down.

Said curtly, it means: I’m not kidding. You’re starting to make me nervous, here. Calm the hell down.

Bellowed like an air horn, it means: OMG, my horse has lost his s***. We’re going to die. If anybody can hear me, dial 911.

It never means: I’m expecting this ride to go really well.

“Back”
It means: walk backwards at a slow, steady pace until I issue another command.

It does not mean: Take me skeeching down the barn aisle.

(Vocabulary lesson Du Jour: Skeeching: grabbing on to the rear bumper of a moving car and letting it pull you, your shoes or boots sliding on top of the [usually snow-covered] streets. Not recommended, but it’s what we kids who grew up in the snowbelt did in the winter time) 

“Halt”
It means: Cease all movement.

It does not mean: Cease all forward movement. Sideways, backwards, circular, upward, downward, or any other combination of those movements is not covered and requires an addendum.

“Walk”
It means: Move forward with purpose.

It does not mean: Move forward with purpose for five seconds, then lose all focus and drag me to the nearest edibles.

“Trot”
It means: Perform the gait where diagonal limbs strike the ground at the same time and propel you forward.

It does not mean: Become a four-legged pogo stick

“Canter”
It means: Perform a pleasant, three-beat, forward movement.

It does not mean: Act like you’ve been shot out of a cannon.

It also does not mean: Grudgingly offer the bare minimum of effort with your front end and think I won’t notice your back end is still trotting.

“Up”

It means: Please step up the ramp and get onto the horse trailer.
It does not mean: Stand up on your back legs and perform your best “Hi ho, Silver” impression while bystanders run for cover and the hauler doubles his fee.

“ArrrrgggghhhhEeeeeeeeAhhhhhh” (a series of high-pitched wails accompanied random spastic movements.)
It means: GET OFF MY FOOT.

It does not mean: Stand like a statue and stare at me as if you’ve no idea why I’m convulsing and pummeling you with my fists.

“It’s Fine”
It means: That thing you see way over in the far end of the pasture is not going to kill you.

It does not mean: You’re going to die. Run.

After years of trying to fit in with corporate America, Jody Lynne Werner decided to pursue her true passion as a career rather than a hobby. So now, she’s an artist, graphic designer, illustrator, cartoonist, web designer, writer and humorist. You can find her work on her Misfit Designs Cafepress site. Jody is one of the winners of the Chronicle’s first writing competition. Her work also appears in print editions of The Chronicle of the HorseRead all of Jody’s humor columns for www.coth.com here.

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