Everything you ever wanted to know about horses and horse terminology,
but were afraid to ask. Here's what you need to know about horses.
Above the Bit When a horse raises its head and stretches forward
so that its mouth and the bit are above the rider's hand.
Aids Prompts given to the horse by a rider using body weight,
legs, hands or voice.
American Horse Shows Association (AHSA): The national equestrian
federation of the United States.
AHSA Hunter Seat Equitation Medal A one year horsemanship
competition for junior riders which culminates at the
Pennsylvania National Horse Show in Harrisburg, PA each October.
Riders must qualify for the finals by winning a specified number
of AHSA Medal classes throughout the year.
Amateur Owner Show divisions which are restricted to
non-professional adult riders who ride horses owned by themselves
or members of their immediate family.
Ass The correct term for the donkey, burrow, or jack stock.
Back at the knee A conformational fault in which the foreleg is
bowed backwards at the knee.
Bascule The arc the horse forms with its head neck, and back
while clearing an obstacle.
Bay A color of horse. Black mane and tail, black lower legs, and
reddish brown over the rest of the body.
Bedding Wood shavings, shredded newspaper, straw, sand or other
materials used to line the floor of a stall.
Bell boots: Protective boots that cover the hooves.
Bit Metal bar on a bridle that goes in the horses mouth and is
used to control the horse while riding.
Blaze a broad white stripe down the face
Bowed hocks A conformational fault in which the hocks on the hind
legs are turned too far outwards.
Bowed tendon a permanently swollen tendon. Does not result in
lameness but tendon will not be as strong.
Breed A distinct genetic entity. Recognized members of a breed
are entered in an official stud book.
Brown A color of horse, with a mixture of black and brown hairs
on the body and black points.
Bucking A vice in which the horse kicks out his back legs, both
at the same time, usually to unsettled the rider or rid himself
of irritating tack.
Burro Spanish for common donkey.
Canter One of the four natural gaits of a horse. Slower than a
gallop, this is a three beat gait.
Cavesson An item used in training a young horse. Similar to a
strong leather headcollar in appearance, it has a padded noseband
with three swiveling metal rings, to which the lunge or side
reins are attached.
Chestnut A color of horse, reddish brown with a similar colored
mane and tail, or the bony protrusion on the inside of forearm of
Clean round The completion of a prescribed course of jumps
without time faults or jumping faults. When more than one horse
has a "clean round," a jump-off occurs.
Cob A small, strong horse descended from draft horses. About 15
Colt A male horse under 3 years old.
Combination Two or three obstacles to be jumped in quick
succession, separated by one or two strides. A combination is
considered to be a single obstacle.
Combined Training Also called "Three Day Eventing", an English
style of riding competition which includes dressage, stadium
jumping and a cross-country course.
Conformation The build of a horse, the way he is put together. A
horse with good conformation will look proportional.
Coronet Surface of the hoof
Cow hocks A conformational fault in which the hocks on the hind
legs are turned inward towards each other.
Cribbing A vice in which the horse grabs onto a horizontal
object, stretches his esophagus and sucks wind. This behavior is
learned and can range from occasional to obsessive.
Crop A stick, sometimes with a leather loop at the end, used by
Curb thickening of the ligament on the back of the hind leg. May
or may not result in lameness.
Curb bit A single-bar mouthpiece that is attached at each end to
upright bars (as compared to rings on a snaffle bit). These bits
give more control but are not as gentle on a horse’s mouth as a
snaffle bit. They are usually used in Polo and Western riding
Curry comb A plastic or rubber comb with several rows of short
flexible bristles. Used for removing loose hair and dirt.
Dam The mother of a horse.
Dock The area at the top of the tail.
Donkey English word meaning "a little dun animal".
Dorsal stripe a dark stripe along a horse’s back. Common on early
horses and seen today on some buck skin or other dark skinned
Dressage French word that means training. A discipline of riding
that is sometimes referred to as ballet on horseback. Involves
subtle control and compulsory movements. The Grand Prix level is
the Olympic level and is the highest level of dressage a horse
and rider can achieve.
Dun A color of horse. Light to medium sand colored with dark
skin. Usually has dark points (mane, tail and lower legs.)
English A style of riding that includes many sports such as
dressage, racing, jumping, combined training, saddle seat, trail,
pleasure and more. Characterized by a saddle that is smaller and
plainer than a Western saddle with no large pommel to test your
hands. The rider holds a rein in each hand and steers the horse
by gently pulling on the rein on the right rein to turn right, or
the left to turn left.
Eohippus small (14"), earliest ancestor of the modern day horse.
Equitation Classes in which the rider, not the horse, is judged.
The rider must demonstrate good seat and hands, and sufficient
management of the horse to perform the required tests, either
over fences or on the flat, in a smooth, controlled, and accurate
manner. Riders are classified according to their age and previous
winnings in equitation classes. The grading sequence from easiest
to most difficult is: Leadline, Short Stirrup, Maiden, Novice,
Limit, Intermediate, and Open.
Farrier A professional who shoes horses.
Farriery The practice of shoeing horses.
Fault Penalty assessed in jumper classes for mistakes such as
knockdowns, refusals, and exceeding the time allowed.
Feathers The long hairs of the fetlock that cover the hooves of
some draft horses.
Federation Equestre Internationale (FEI) The international
sanctioning body of equestrian sport, whose rules govern any
official international competition; including the Olympic Games,
the Pan American Games, the World Cup and qualifying events, and
the World Equestrian Games (World Championships).
Fetlock The "ankle" joint of each leg.
Filly A female horse under 4 years old.
Foal A male or female under a year old.
Frog The fleshy triangular underside of the hoof.
Gait The four different ways a horse can move: walk, trot, canter
Gallop The fastest of the four natural gaits of a horse. This is
a four beat gait.
Gelding A male horse that has been castrated.
Girth The strap around the horse’s belly which secures the saddle
to the horses back.
Grade Horse A horse with a mixture of breeds in his ancestry.
Gray A color of horse that ranges from white to dark gray.
Includes dapple. All grays have black skin.
Green Used to describe a horse that has had a rider but is in the
early stages of training. Can also describe a beginning rider.
Grooming Maintenance of a horse's coat, including clipping,
brushing, washing, trimming mane and tail, and any preparation of
the coat for showing such as braiding main and tail.
Hackamore A bitless bridle used as reins. Pressure on the nose
and jaw are used to control the horse.
Halter A harness of leather, rope or nylon that fits over a
horse’s head. This is much like a bridle without the bit or
reins. It is used for leading a horse.
Hand A hand is 4 inches. Height is measured at the withers, the
highest point on a horse’s back just before his mane starts.
Hand Gallop Brisk Canter.
Hinny The hybrid animal produced when a female ass (jennet) is
crossed to a male horse (stallion).
Hock The "knee" of the hind legs.
Hoof pick A metal or strong plastic tool with a pointed end for
picking debris out of the underside of hooves.
Horn the surface of the hoof. Horns can be pale, dark or mixed,
and all colors are similar in hardness.
Hunter Horses, usually Thoroughbreds or part Thoroughbreds, that
are judged on the style in which they negotiate obstacles as well
as on their ability to do so. (Jumpers are only judged on
ability.) Both "working" and "conformation" hunters are judged on
their ability and performance. However, the conformation hunter
is also judged on its physical attributes and beauty.
In and out A two-jump combination, separated by one or two
Jack Male of the ass species.
Jennet Female of the ass species.
Jog A slow trot, mostly in Western disciplines.
Jumper A horse judged solely on ability to jump obstacles.
Beauty, manner and style are not considered in judging, rather,
jumper classes are purely athletic tests of speed and strength.
Jumping order The start order or "order of go." The order is
usually created by draw so that each competitor has an equal
chance of attaining a favorable position. Riders near the end of
the starting order have the advantage of seeing how the earlier
riders complete the course.
Jump-off Competitors tied for first place after the first round
of a jumper class "jump off" in a timed round on a shortened
course. The winner has the fewest faults and the fastest time.
Junior Rider under the age of 18.
Knockdown When a horse or rider, by contact, lowers any element
which establishes the height of an obstacle. If the horse
dislodges an element of a jump but does not lower the height of
the jump, no jumping faults are incurred.
Lame A condition in which a horse does not carry weight equally
on all four legs, due to disease or injury.
Laminitis inflammation of the laminae (the inside lining of the
Lead change The "lead" is the foreleg of the horse that is
farthest in front during a canter. A good rider can signal the
horse to change his lead.
Liverpool An obstacle containing a water element.
Lope A slow canter, used mostly in Western disciplines.
Mare An adult female horse or pony over age four.
Martingale A leather strap that goes from the girth to the bridle
underneath the chin which prevents a horse from throwing his head
Mucking a stall Cleaning out the manure and soiled bedding in a
Mule The hybrid animal produced when a male ass (Jack) is crossed
with a female horse (mare). A Saddle Mule is bred from mares of
riding horse breeding. A Pack or Work Mule is bred from mares
with some draft blood. A Draft Mule is the largest mule, bred
from draft mares such as Belgian, Percheron, Clydesdale, and
Navicular disease A disease of the navicular bone (a small bone
at the end of the leg) which leads to lameness. Caused by
improper shoeing and excess stress on the hooves.
Neck Rein A method of guiding the horse by placing the rein
against its neck, moving the horse in the opposite direction.
Both reins are held in one hand.
Off course A deviation from the course as outlined on the posted
Open Advanced divisions in which competitors are not restricted
by previous winnings. Optimal time The time in which any phase of
the endurance test of a three-day event must be completed.
Finishing under the optimal time is not rewarded, but exceeding
the time results in penalties.
Over at the knee A conformational fault in which the foreleg is
bowed forward at the knee.
Oxer A single fence composed of two or three parts to produce a
spread, or width, effect. A "square" oxer is equal in height in
both the front element of the spread and the back.
Palomino A gold colored horse with blond or white mane and tail.
Pastern The area between the hoof and fetlock joint on all four
Pelham bit A bit that include a chain that goes under the chin.
Two sets of reins are used with this bit.
Pigeon-toed A conformational fault in which the hooves are turned
in towards each other.
Pinto A color of horse. Large patches of brown or black and
white. Also called a paint.
Points Mane, tail, and lower legs. Sometimes includes the nuzzle.
Pommel The foremost section of a saddle that fits over the
withers. In a Western saddle, this is the "horn" which the rider
can rest his hands on.
Pony A full grown horse that is 14.2 hands or under.
Preliminary A jumper at the first level of development, who has
won less than $3,000.00.
Rack A single-footed, extremely rapid and smooth four-beat gait
unique to the American Saddlebred and the National Show Horse.
Rails The horizontal wooden poles used to create an obstacle.
Ratcatcher the riding shirt worn under the hunt coat or jacket.
Rearing A vice in which the horse stands on his hind legs with
both forelegs in the air, usually to unsettle a rider or rid
himself of irritating tack.
Refusal When a horse stops before an obstacle or runs out to the
side ("run-out") to avoid negotiating the obstacle. Refusals are
considered the fault of the rider and incurs faults.
Registry The breeding organization in which a horse has
Reining A Western style of riding demonstrating tremendous
agility in turning, stopping, lead changing and more.
Roach A shaved mane. Usually found on the Three-Gaited American
Saddlebred and Western horses.
Roan A color of horse that has white hairs mixed with black (blue
roan), bay (red roan),or chestnut (strawberry roan).
Round: Or "go" or "trip". A rider's turn in each class or event,
usually in a jumping class.
Schooling: Practicing or warmup session of a horse before a
Scope Colloquial: refers to horse's athletic ability, usually in
terms of jumping. A "scopey" horse has much jumping ability.
Sire The father of a horse.
Slow Gait A single-footed gait performed by the American
Saddlebred and the National Show Horse. Similar to the rack, it
is performed at a much slower speed with great collection.
Snaffle bit A simple bit, consisting of one bar or two bars
linked in the middle. Rings at each end attach to the reins.
Usually used in English riding styles.
Snip a white marking between the nostrils
Sock white extending up to the fetlock
Spavin A bone enlargement of the hock resulting in lameness in
one or two hind legs.
Splay-footed A conformational fault in which the hooves are
turned away from each other.
Sport Horse A large, muscular horse bred especially for show
competition of jumping, eventing, or dressage based on the
performance records in the lineage of sire and dam. Breeds
include Dutch Warmblood, Hanoverian, and Selle Francais.
Spread fence or "oxer". A jump with width. A horse must jump out
as well as up to clear the fence.
Stallion A male horse that has not been gelded.
Standard The upright section that holds the rail is called
Star any white marking above or between the eyes
Stocking white extending up to the cannon
Stride The amount of ground the horse covers in one "step".
Stripe a narrow white stripe down the face
Stud A stallion that is kept for breeding purposes.
Tack The equipment worn by the horse including saddle and bridle.
Thoroughbred A breed of horse, said to be descended from 3 Arab
stallions brought to Britain in the 17th century. Thoroughbreds
average 16 hands. Most racehorses are thoroughbreds.
Thoroughbreds make excellent hunter/jumpers.
Time limit Twice the optimal time, in the endurance phase of a
three-day event of horse trials. Exceeding the time limit results
in mandatory elimination.
Trot One of the four gaits of a horse. One foreleg and the
opposite hindleg are on the ground as the other foreleg and
opposite hindleg are moving forward. This is faster than a walk
but slower than a canter or gallop.
Twitch A metal clasper applied to the top lip that is used to
temporarily restrain a horse, usually for medical treatment.
U.S. Equestrian Team Organization that fields teams to represent
the United States in international competition in show jumping,
eventing, dressage, driving and endurance on behalf of the
American Horse Show Association (ASHA) for the United
States for all major international competitions, such as the World
Equestrian Games (world championships) and the Olympic Games.
Vaulting Gymnastics on a moving horse.
Vertical A fence with no spread, requiring the horse to make a
steep arc in its effort to clear the obstacle.
Vetting a horse Paying a vet to examine a horse to provide a
report on his health and soundness. A horse is said to have
"vetted" if the vet returns a report of good health.
Voluntary withdrawal Decision by the rider not to continue on a
course and to exit the ring or course, usually indicated by
pulling up and tipping the hat to the judge.
Wall A type of jump that simulates an actual brick or stone wall.
Walleye An eye that has no pigment or a blue tint. Vision is not
affected by the color of the iris.
Warmblood Type of sport horse resulting from crossing heavier
draft-horse breeds with lighter Thoroughbred-types.
Water Jump In three day eventing, an obstacle that includes a
large pool, about 18" deep, into which the horse jumps and
gallops out of, usually after landing from an initial jump. In
show jumping, an obstacle, usually a shallow water-filled ditch
approximately 10-14 feet in length, over which the horse jumps.
Western A style of riding that includes many sports such as
reining, roping, pleasure, trail and cutting. Characterized by
the cowboy style saddle with a large pommel. The rider holds both
reins with one hand, and steers the horse moving both reins
towards the direction of the turn.
Withers The slight ridge in a horse’s back just before the mane
starts. This is where height is measured on a horse.
Zebra A wild equine native to Africa with characteristic black
and white stripes