There is a controversy bigger than Bitted vs. Bitless. Bigger than Shod vs. Barefoot. Bigger than Natural Horsemanship vs. Traditional Training. What is it? Tongue Clicking!

Two white horses with their heads to the ground, eating grass
You can’t hear it, but these horses are tongue clicking to each other. Honest!
Photo by Ibrahim Rifath on Unsplash

“Tongue Clicking?” I hear you shout. Actually, all I can hear are birds tweeting and one of my mares yelling her head off. Which makes me think the Shetland may have got out again.

I did not even know if there was a horsey-specific name for tongue clicking. Turns out, there isn’t. Horsey people use the same words that the rest of the English-speaking populace use: “clicking” or “clucking.” I don’t know why “clucking” though – it’s definitely a clicking noise. I’d better be careful lest I start another controversy!

When I asked about the word, they went off on a tangent in about 3 seconds. Typical horsey-people! Talk about a divided nation. Civil war, even. Mother turned against daughter. Sister against brother. Passions rode high and tempers rose hot.

It turns out that loads of horse riders are adamantly against the use of clicking your tongue as a vocal aid when working with or riding horses. I made it to age 52 and had no idea.

I wanted to find a short video on Youtube to demonstrate the noise I am talking about. I found lots of odd stuff but none of it was what I was looking for. This forced me away from the computer to film myself making the clicking noise.

Never work with children or animals, and definitely not with animal children. But needs must, so I bravely filmed myself clicking my tongue.

Why is the ‘to click or not to click’ debate so divisive? What is it people have against tongue clicking?

In Opposition of Tongue Clicking…

Some riders described the tongue click as “desperate”, “annoying”, “stupid”, “a bad habit”, “irritating”. I feel the emotion here, but it is not very informative.

“It can wind up sensitive horses.” That is a much more valid reason, especially since the sensitive horse is not necessarily the one you’re riding. When riding in company, i.e., on a hack, in a lesson, or warming up in a ring before entering your class, I have learned you should not click at your horse when another horse is close by. It could make their horse shoot forwards, which is potentially dangerous. The rider could also perceive it as disrespectful.

“They do not allow you to do it in the show/dressage ring.” I tried surreptitiously to tongue click without moving my lips and lowering the volume. I get their point. Tongue clicking is not a subtle noise.

“Clicking at your horse is as useful as clicking at a lorry going up a steep hill.” I disagree with this. Even if your horse has not yet associated the click with forward movement, you will still get her/his attention.

Some more tongue clicking. This time with Ciel as my beautiful assistant. I think we can say the tongue clicking got his full attention.

In Defense of Tongue Clicking…

I am an unashamed tongue clicker. I click at horses, dogs, cats, people, and a variety of inanimate objects. I am a firm believer in using vocal cues with horses. Horses are very intelligent animals, capable of understanding a large vocabulary. It is a shame not to incorporate this into our communication with each other as most horses readily respond.

As a groom who has worked for several yards where several languages were spoken, I find it handy that this universal cue exists. It is a sharp sound that gets horses’ attention. The theory has been posited (by whom we do not know) that when a predator steps on a dry twig it makes a noise as it snaps, thus alerting the horse. Horse trainers have replicated this with the tongue click.

However, if that were true, would not more horses be afraid of the tongue click? I would appreciate your views on this in the comments section below.

Some riders cannot use leg commands effectively and have to rely on voice commands. And some horses are too sensitive to the leg, making a voice command a safer option. A tongue click would be very useful in both these instances.

Woman standing in field between two horses.
I wonder if this young lady is a pro-tongue clicker or an anti-tongue clicker? We will never know.
Photo by Brooke Cagle on Unsplash

Tongue Clicking Conclusion

Some riders were taught to click and others were taught not to click. Have they based a like or dislike purely on tongue clicking with no deeper thought into why (or why not)? I suppose until I discovered the divisiveness of this tongue clicking malarkey I was in this category too.

I am intrigued by the whole concept of this tongue clicking controversy. I want to learn more! I implore every reader to go to the comments section and type “2 tongue click” OR “not 2 tongue click”. That is my question. Whether ’tis nobler…