I became familiar with the crupper when I was five because my fiendish pony Winsome needed one.

She also required side reins as I lacked the necessary power to prevent her from eating grass instead of doing anything else such as walking or trotting. My saddle basically had leather guy-lines front and back. I may have fallen off from time to time, but my saddle remained well-positioned. 

Winsome tolerating the ill-fitting Christmas blanket. I loved that she and I matched and my dad probably wanted breakfast. 1978.

Looking now at this photo of my five-year-old self astride my fat gray pony got me thinking about what an odd name crupper is.

Due to my love of alliterations, and my belief that everyone loves them, I decided to find two more words that start with a C and end in ER. 

The Crupper

A handy piece of tack that prevents the saddle from slipping forward. A crupper is frequently seen on our fat little ponies who lack sufficient withers to stop the saddle from ending up in some ludicrous position.  

My trusty Penguin dictionary is all over this horse stuff and happily offered up, “Crupper: a leather loop passing under a horse’s tail and buckles to the saddle to prevent the saddle from sliding forwards.” It neglected to mention that a crupper is also part of a driving harness, but we can’t expect a dictionary to know everything.

Now, the crupper sits across the top of the croup of a horse, which begs the question, why the different spelling? Who’s in charge of this stuff anyway?

Once again, I turn to my dictionary which explains that croup is not only an infant/child respiratory ailment but also an animal’s rump or hindquarters. Those two things are so far apart I do wonder how they got the same name. 

Nevertheless, since the crupper runs across the croup one would conclude the two must be related.  

I looked in all the usual places but was let down and forced to do a random internet search of the word crouper, which I believe I made up. According to some questionable sources, crouper is the obsolete form of today’s crupper. Drop an ‘O’ and add a ‘P’ and presto you have the same word. I guess. It makes enough sense for me to be happy with the answer. 

The Cribber

Every barn has one and with the best will in the world, it seems impossible the get a horse to stop cribbing. Though we do try. In vain.

Since I had such great luck with crupper, I immediately went to my dictionary and there it explains that cribbing is a verb that means to copy or cheat without permission. It’s also a child’s cot, a cattle stall, a rack in which to keep fodder, or if you’re super cool a house and if you’re less cool a card game. But nothing about these definitions says anything about horses, habits or windsucking. 

Etymonline.com and a general internet search yielded nothing and so I asked the more pointed question, “why is windsucking called cribbing?” Turns out windsucking isn’t called cribbing at all, as they are two different things, though closely related. But what I did learn is that another name for cribbing is crib-biting, which is the first time I have heard that term. 

I’m going to go out on a limb here and bet it’s called crib-biting because horses commonly crib in their stalls (crib) and they look as though they are biting on the edge of their crib (stall), hence crib-biting. To further the speculation, I suspect that the term crib-biting was converted into cribbing, somewhere along the line.  

Cribbers or crib-bitters grab onto something and then suck in air (while wrecking their teeth) while windsuckers can suck in air without the benefit of bracing against something like a fence post or part of their stall. Admittedly, I’ve been using these words interchangeably forever, however, I shall now refrain. I have to say in all my years with horses I have only met one or two horses that windsuck yet dozens upon dozens that crib. 


The Canter

Oh, the canter. What mysteries does this word hold? 

We all know it’s a smooth three-beat gait that is slower than a gallop. When I went in search of the origin of the word, I wasn’t expecting to find anything overly remarkable. But, thanks to etymonline.com I stand corrected. 

Canter is the contraction of canterbury, which used to be a verb back in the 1670s. One might have said, for example, “I’m going to ride a canterbury pace to…Canterbury.”

Never in a million years would I have guessed that’s where the word canter comes from.  

And There You Have It

Three weird words demystified.