The Language of Dressage

[I’m in Italy this week, likely stuffing myself with pasta and gelato, and probably with questionable internet access, so please forgive me for not responding to comments.  Your regularly scheduled Murray programming will return next week.  In the mean time, there’s an EGUS post coming and re-features of some of my past content that I hope you will enjoy.]

I’m a little obsessed with words — I don’t think anyone is surprised by that.  I am really careful about the words I use to describe riding, and if you pay attention, you’ll probably see (and hear) that I never talk about horses going “in a frame” or having a “good headset”.  This is because I think that using these words limits our understanding of how the horse is actually using himself.  When we talk about “the frame” all most people are looking at is the neck and head of the horse and they are ignoring the most important part: the engine in the back!  Headset is even worse — by its very nature the word limits you to one tenth of the horse’s body!

My obsession was validated when a welfare researcher visited my university and gave a talk about how words affected our perception of behavior and welfare states in domestic animals.  In short, Dr. Wemelsfelder had pig farmers use either a fixed vocabulary or create their own vocabulary to describe pig emotional states in videos.  What she found was that participants in the study were much more inclined to use more words when they could define their own vocabulary, and identified many more behaviors and emotional states when they could use their own vocabulary.  This was validated by having different observers rate the same pigs in the same way completely independently!

After chewing this over for a while, I wrote an article about how language influences our understanding of riding, which was arguably my first toe-dip into the equestrian blogosphere.  I think it’s an important idea, especially for people who are becoming more serious about their riding, to think about, as it can fundamentally influence not only your appreciation of riding but your own riding.

Read the full article at Horse Junkies United!

2 thoughts on “The Language of Dressage”

  1. Yes, yes, yes, a million times yes! I absolutely love everything about this. So many people get caught up in what the head and neck are doing, but really the head and neck are just the result of what the rest of the body is doing. Wonderful article! I would love to find someone like Tina to do seminar at my barn.


  2. i agree that it’s important to choose words carefully. esp as someone who is new to dressage, it’s really important for me to understand how the whole body is working rather than just describing the most visually obvious outcome..


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