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Gordopolis 11-16-2012 09:47 AM

Directing a horse with your heels
Hi there,

Bit of a noddy question but I'm sure you guys can help me:

I'm a writer of historical fiction, and I often refer to my characters 'heeling' their mounts into a canter/gallop etc.

I was wondering if this method is or at least was a genuine one (it is used widely in other fiction I have read). More specifically, if it was a real technique, how would you instruct a horse to turn left? Would you heel its left or right flank?

Many thanks in advance!


jumanji321 11-16-2012 11:55 PM

No, this isn't a proper term, at least not from what i have ever heard. Commonly a rider will say they cued the horse to canter or gallop unless it was by accident. I'm assuming you are referring to neck-reining for turning? In that case, you would say you used the opposite leg to apply pressure to make the horse turn while laying the reins across the horse's neck. If you are turning left you would move the reins toward the left and would apply pressure with the right leg.

SorrelHorse 11-17-2012 12:06 AM

We use a combination of legs, seat, hands, and voice to give cues. It's a little more complex than just "Press with this heel, go left" or "Squeeze and pick up the canter"

The actual cue for a canter would be a combination of pushing the horse's hip off of your leg and lifting the shoulder with your hands, sitting back and giving your faster cue.

In a nutshell...Pressing with your right leg moves the horse left. Pressing with your left leg moves the horse right. Zero finesse to that technique though without the other aids of seat and hands, also you have to pay attention to where your leg is on the horse in order to push the right button.

For a book or story? I don't think you have to get way technical like that. I think what you are doing is fine.

ponyboy 11-17-2012 06:21 PM

It's more realistic than using your knees to control to your horse which I've also seen a lot of books.

SorrelHorse 11-17-2012 10:21 PM

Yep...Definitely not knees....

bsms 11-17-2012 10:35 PM

Some of it depends on the time and place you are writing about. You could get away with a lot because a lot also depends on how the horse is trained, if at all. A cow horse from the 1800s might well go to a canter just by kicking him. My horse does it when she's trotting and I make a kissing sound. Works for us, but you'd sure look silly saying some cowboy in the 1800s "kissed his horse to a canter"! :lol: But if you were writing about a good horseman in England, the technique would probably be more refined.

Probably easiest to just write, "Jones pushed - or asked, or cued - his horse to a canter" and let the reader decide HOW Jones did it - unless it is a plot device.

Iseul 11-17-2012 10:37 PM

Just because I was browsing and I saw the knee comment..I've actually ridden a horse that would turn and stop from knee pressure bareback. Undersaddle it was seat and reins..but hop on that boy bareback and you could go bridleless. I thought it was pretty nifty, personally, lol.

Otherwise..I don't really have much else to add to this thread, apologies.
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Gordopolis 11-18-2012 12:47 PM

Thanks for all your advice guys. I'm actually writing a novel about the tail end of the Byzantine apogee period (late 11th century). I really just wanted to understand if suggesting that nudging (heeling/kicking etc) a horse in one flank to go in the opposite direction was fundamentally correct - and it sounds like that is the case. But all the surrounding info is really helpful too - it will help me add authentic detail to draw the reader into the world of Apion, the main character.

If anyone's interested, the first volume of the series is here:

Thanks again guys, :wink:

equiniphile 11-18-2012 12:58 PM

Instead of "heeling" the horse on the flank, "heel" the horse at the girth. The flank is too far back. :-)

bsms 11-18-2012 01:11 PM

If you are going that far back, you might need to take a less modern perspective. This is a picture from the 1300s:

If accurate, they rode in a style similar to the cowboys of around 1900:

They may have used opposing pressure on the shoulder for steering - push on the left shoulder to shove the horse right.

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