Neu Perspectives

Out of the Horseman’s Mouth

Cowboys visiting about a horse.

Horsemen and cowboys communicate with a unique lingo, and it pays to be fluent in their dialect.

Cowboys visiting about a horse.
Cowboys and horsemen use a terminology all their own. Photo by Ross Hecox.

Cowboys, though talented in many areas, aren’t known specifically for their sophisticated grammar.

I’ve grown to accept this and move on with my life. Every time I hear a “them cattle” or an “ain’t gonna go”, I politely swallow my journalism degree and years of correcting English language errors for a grade and just listen to the story.

However, now that I am immersed in a—should we say—more casual diction and approach to the English language, there are specific things that I hear and read in the horse world that I cannot just ignore. Most of the terminology we use has logic and sense behind it, and even the most educated horseman can come across as uninformed when he misspeaks on certain topics.

I’ve been there—at one point, I didn’t have a clue! I’ve mixed up terms and sounded like I knew even less than I really did. But I’ve had corrections and guidance and I’m grateful for the help. See, nowadays, between the casual approach to writing via social media and simply speaking with my fellow horse people and cowmen, it seems that certain things have slipped and we could all use a little reminder of how to approach certain topics.

When speaking about how a horse is bred, there is really only one correct way to say it. Most folks know that the dam is the mother (mare) and the sire is the father (stallion). A horse is always out of its dam. He is by his sire. For example:

“My bay gelding is OUT OF a Dual Rey mare and BY Metallic Cat.” (I wish.)

Now, realize that I would not refer to the above bay horse as anything besides a Metallic Cat gelding. Metallic Cat (the direct sire) is BY Highbrow Cat and OUT OF a Peptoboonsmal mare. This does not mean that my gelding is a Pepto, or a Highbrow Cat. He is a Metallic Cat because that is his one and only sire.

Another thing that can be confusing is the half sister/brother situation. In the horse world, if two horses share the same dam, then they are half siblings. If they share a sire and a dam, they are full siblings. However, if they are both by the same sire, they are not referenced as half brothers or sisters. Of course, they are still technically genetic siblings, but they are only called brothers and sisters (half or full) if they share a mother. If they share a father only, they are simply “by the same sire.”

The height of a horse is another area where terms can go askew. A horse is measured in 4 inch increments called “hands.” For example, a horse would be said to stand 14 hands tall (56 inches). Another inch and he would be 14.1 hands, then 14.2, and 14.3. He cannot be 14.4 or 14.5. If he is 14 and a half hands then he is 14.2. An inch greater than 14.3 becomes 15 hands, and the cadence continues.

Also, (this one is a bitter pill to swallow), most often, we do not get “bucked off” of our horses. If she kicks up, crow-hops, hogs around, bolts, trips, spooks, ducks out, or I just merely cannot keep my backside in the saddle, I have fallen off. If she bogs her heads, cracks in two and kicks her pretty little hind feet in the air, then that’s bucking. And only if I come out of the saddle at that point have I been bucked off.

I don’t mean to sit up on my high horse (pun intended) and talk down to anyone regarding equine terms. I was once in the position of not knowing and I’m glad others took the time to explain my mistakes to me. It takes time and care to get it right, and it sure does help with selling horses, job opportunities and general conversation with other horsepeople when you’ve got it down pat.

Because, hey— if you don’t come across as educated and intelligent regarding your horse’s breeding, height and method of forced dismount, there ain’t hardly none of them cowboy-type folks gonna take you too seriously.


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