All those Strange Terms:
Horsemanship uses a specialized, precise vocabulary. Keep in mind that
exact meanings may vary depending on time and locale, and whether it's
a Western United States or English context.
Horses have more parts than head back and legs. It might indicate the
importance of the horse that each feature has a specific name as is demonstrated
in this drawing.
- 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.
- 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.
- The arc the horse forms with its head
neck, and back while clearing an obstacle.
- A color of horse. Black mane and tail, black lower legs, and reddish brown over the rest of the body.
- Wood shavings, shredded newspaper, straw,
sand or other materials used to line the floor of a stall.
- Bell boots:
- Protective boots that cover the
- Metal bar on a bridle that goes in the
horses mouth and is used to control the horse while riding.
- 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. See also "Cow Hocks"
- Bowed tendon
- a permanently swollen tendon. Does
not result in lameness but tendon will not be as strong.
- A distinct genetic entity. Recognized members
of a breed are entered in an official stud book.
- A color of horse, with a mixture of black
and brown hairs on the body and black points.
- Spanish for common donkey.
- One of the four natural gaits of a horse.
Slower than a gallop, this is a three beat gait.
- A color of horse, reddish brown with a
similar colored mane and tail, or the bony protrusion on the
inside of forearm of each foreleg.
- A small, strong horse descended from draft
horses. About 15 hands high.
- A male horse under 3 years old.
- The build of a horse, the way he is
put together. A horse with good conformation will look proportional.
Each breed has its own conformation, for example a Thouroughbred is
dishfaced, and an Oldenburg is heavily muscled.
- Surface of the hoof.
- Cow hocks
- A conformational fault in which the
hocks on the hind legs are turned inward
towards each other.
- 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.
- A stick, sometimes with a leather loop
at the end, used by hunter/jumper riders.
- 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 disciplines.
- Curry comb
- A plastic or rubber comb with several
rows of short flexible bristles. Used for removing loose hair
- The mother of a horse.
- The area at the top of the tail.
- English word meaning "a little
- 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 horses. See horse colors.
- French word that means training. A
discipline of riding that is sometimes referred to as ballet
on horseback. The best example during our Regency period would
have been the Austrian Lippizaner horses. 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
- A color of horse. Light to medium sand colored
with dark skin. Usually has dark points (mane, tail and lower
- small (14"), earliest (prehistoric) ancestor of
the modern day horse.
- A professional who shoes horses.
- The practice of shoeing horses.
- The long hairs of the fetlock that cover
the hooves of some draft horses. Clydesdales have the thickest and most
- The "ankle" joint of each leg.
- A female horse under 3-4 years old.
- A male or female under a year old.
The female is a 'filly foal,' the male a 'colt foal.' In the West,
all foals may be called 'colts,' so the female is a 'filly colt'
and the male a 'horse colt.'
- The fleshy triangular underside of the hoof.
- Gait ('Paces' in England):
- The different ways a
horse can move. The standard natural gaits are: walk, trot, canter and
gallop. There are also bred or trained additional gaits: pacing,
ambling, running walk---describe precise and different ways in which
a horse moves its legs. A horse can only do one pace at a time!
Gait is the repetitive limb coordination pattern
used in locomotion.
- Asymmetrical gait - gait in which the limb
movements on one side are not exactly repeated
on the other side. Example: Canter, Gallop.
- Symmetrical gait - gait in which limb movements
on one side are repeated on the opposite side half
a stride later. Example: trot, pace.
- Stance Phase - when at least one foot is in
contact with the ground.
- Swing Phase - when the hoof is lifted and brought forward.
- Suspension Phase - when no hooves are on the ground.
- Overlap Time - the longer the limbs are off the
ground (stride suspension phase) relative to the
time on the ground (stride stance phase) the
smaller the overlap.
- Walk - 4 beats symmetrical gait
- Trot - 2 beat diagonal symmetrical gait
- Pace - 2 beat lateral symmetrical gait
- Canter - 3 beat asymmetrical gait
- Gallop - 4 beat asymmetrical gait
- Running Walk - 4 beat gait characteristic of Tennessee Walking Horse
- Paso Fino - slowest 4 beat gait of the Paso Fino (A Latin American bred horse)
- Paso Corto - medium speed 4 beat gait of the Paso Fino
- Paso Largo - fastest 4 beat gait of the Paso Fino
- Slow Gait - slow 4 beat gait performed by the
American Saddlebred. Very tiring gait for the
horse and somewhat rough to ride.
- Rack - fastest 4 beat gait performed by the
American Saddlebred. Very smooth gait to ride.
- The fastest of the four natural gaits of
a horse. This is a four beat gait.
- A male horse that has been castrated.
- The strap around the horse's belly
which secures the saddle to the horses back.
- A color of horse that ranges from white to dark gray. Includes dapple. All grays have black skin.
- Used to describe a horse that has had a rider
but is in the early stages of training. Can also describe a beginning
- 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 mane and
This would be a daily process during the London "Season"
before anyone would drive through the Park during the fashionable
- A bitless bridle used as reins. Pressure
on the nose and jaw are used to control the horse.
- A harness of leather or rope 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.
- A hand is 4 inches. Height is measured at
the withers, the highest point on a horse's back just before
his mane starts.
- horses are measured from the ground to the top of
the withers in 'hands.' One hand is four inches.
The average horse is 15 to 16 hands. 17 hands is very tall and only unusual
specimens reach 18 hands. Some horses, especially in the West, are smaller.
Ponies are usually less than 14 hands, two inches, though the words
'horse' and 'pony' can be used in variable ways in different
- The hybrid animal produced when a female
ass (jennet) is crossed to an older smaller stallion.
- The "knee" of the hind legs.
- pick A metal or strong plastic tool with a
pointed end for picking debris out of the underside of hooves.
- the surface of the hoof. Horns can be pale,
dark or mixed, and all colors are similar in hardness.
- Male of the ass species.
- Female of the ass species.
- A slow trot, mostly in Western disciplines.
- A condition in which a horse does not carry
weight equally on all four legs, due to disease or injury.
- inflammation of the laminae (the inside
lining of the hoof)
- 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.
- A slow canter, used mostly in Western
- An adult female horse or pony over age four.
- A leather strap that goes from the girth
to the bridle underneath the chin which prevents a horse from
throwing his head up.
- a stall Cleaning out the manure and soiled
bedding in a stall.
- 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 Shire.
- 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.
- Over at the knee
- A conformational fault in which
the foreleg is bowed forward at the knee.
- 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
- A gold colored horse with blond or white mane and tail.
- The area between the hoof and fetlock joint
on all four legs.
- bit A bit that include a chain that goes
under the chin. Two sets of reins are used with this bit.
- A conformational fault in which the
hooves are turned in towards each other.
- A color of horse. Large patches of brown or black and white. Also called a paint.
- Mane, tail, and lower legs. Sometimes includes
- 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.
- A full grown horse that is 14.2 hands or under.
- A single-footed, extremely rapid and smooth
four-beat gait unique to the American Saddlebred and the National
- the riding shirt worn under the
hunt coat or jacket.
- 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.
- A Western style of riding demonstrating
tremendous agility in turning, stopping, lead changing and more.
- A shaved mane. Usually found on the Three-Gaited
American Saddlebred and Western horses.
- A color of horse that has white hairs mixed with black (blue roan), bay (red roan),or chestnut (strawberry roan).
- 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
- 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.
- a white marking between the nostrils
- white extending up to the fetlock
- A bone enlargement of the hock resulting
in lameness in one or two hind legs.
- A conformational fault in which the
hooves are turned away from each other.
- A male horse that has not been gelded(castrated).
Also called 'entire' and in the West, a 'stud' horse.
- any white marking above or between the
- white extending up to the cannon
- The amount of ground the horse covers
in one "step".
- a narrow white stripe down the face
- A stallion that is kept for breeding purposes.
- The equipment worn by the horse including
saddle and bridle.
- These days 'Thoroughbred' is a distinct breed
of horse,(first studbook published: 1791), 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.
Many breeds are quite modern, so shouldn't be used in a historic
context. Check first!
- 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.
- A metal clasper applied to the top lip that
is used to temporarily restrain a horse, usually for medical
- An eye that has no pigment or a blue tint.
Vision is not affected by the color of the iris.
- A horse type, often also referred to as sport
horses. The are the result from crossing heavier draft-horse(cold
bloods) breeds with lighter Thoroughbred or Arabian "hot-bloods". They
became an entire class of horse as well as breeds, such as the Swedish
Warmblood. All coach horses are warmbloods, draft horses are too slow,
and even for a curricle, an Arabian or Thoroughbred is too light.
- The slight ridge in a horse's back
just before the mane starts. This is where height is measured
on a horse.
- in the year after the birth year. Incidentally, a
yearling is too young to ride! Most saddle horses aren't worked
hard until they're at least four years old, though breaking and
training may start earlier.
©D.W. This site last updated August 2001 by