Horses 101: A Quick Lesson on Horse Terms


     After riding horses for 15 years, I have most of the lingo down pretty well.  I have no problem talking to another horse person about the ‘mare that ran out at the oxer on course at an Event’, but I’m well aware than not everyone in the general public is quite as fluid in equine jargon as I am.  And that’s totally fine with me.  To help those people become a bit more ‘horse savvy’, I’ve put together a quick equine vocabulary lesson which, in theory, will make my articles easier to understand.



Stallion – an uncastrated male horse

Gelding – a castrated male horse

Mare – a female horse (it is not common to spay horses unless it is medically necessary)

Colt – a male foal

­Filly – a female foal



Dressage – a discipline of horseback riding performed on the flat that gets its name from the French word for “training” – the sport demonstrates the communication between horse and rider and demonstrates the ability of the horse to perform difficult movements with the highest degree of collection – levels Training, First, Second, Third, Fourth, Prix St. Georges, Intermediare I, Intermediare II, and Grand Prix

Show Jumping – a discipline of horseback riding in which the horse and rider navigate a course of obstacles in an arena in the fastest time possible – neither the horse nor the rider are judged on their style or equitation

Three Day Eventing / Horse Trials – an equestrian sport that encompasses the disciplines of Dressage, Cross Country, and Show Jumping – Cross Country (XC) is jumping natural looking obstacles on varying terrain within the time allowed – one of the most dangerous of the equestrian sports because the jumps are designed not to fall down

Western – a discipline of horseback riding in which a large Western saddle is used – several variations

Western Pleasure – a form of show riding in which the rider presents their horse to show their suitability and smoothness of gaits – associated with very slow gaits and a very low headset

Reining – sometimes known as “cowboy Dressage” – the horse and rider (in western apparel) perform a series of circles, lead changes, and other patterns at the canter and gallop – energetic and exciting sport to watch

Ranch Work – the least glamorous of all Western sports, ranch work includes team penning, cutting, and other activities that are used on cattle and horse ranches throughout the country – the “typical” cowboy sports



Flat Racing – the most common form of racing in the United States – mainly competed in by Thoroughbred horses – distances of races vary from a short sprint to more than 1 ½ miles

Harness Racing – only Standardbred horses compete in this form of racing – race at either a trot or a pace – horses pull a cart (called a sulky) in races



Walk – the slowest of the horses gaits – 4-beat gait (each foot hits ground independently) – sequence: L hind, L front, R hind, R front

Trot – the second slowest of the horses gaits – 2-beat gait (2 feet hit the ground at the same time) – sequence: L hind and R front, R hind and L front

Pace – a variation of the trot in which the legs move in lateral pairs instead of diagonal pairs (i.e., L hind with L front and R hind with R front)

Canter – the second fastest of the horses gaits – 3-beat gait (2 feet hit the ground independently, 2 feet hit the ground together) – sequence: R hind, L hind and R front, L front (sequence can be reversed as well)

Lead – the horse has 2 directions in which he can canter – if the L front foot hits the ground independently, he is on the Left Lead – if the R front foot hits the ground independently, he is on the Right Lead

Gallop – the fastest of the horses gaits – 4-beat gait (each foot hits the ground independently) – sequence: L hind foot, R hind foot, L front foot, R front foot (like canter, the horse can gallop on two different leads)


     Tack and Equipment

Halter – the head collar the horse wears around the stable and in the pasture – used for leading

Lead Rope – a piece of material (most commonly cotton, nylon, or leather) used for leading the horse

Shank – a lead rope with a chain on the end with a clip – used for leading difficult to handle horses – chain goes over the horse’s nose or under their chin depending upon the control needed

Bridle – the headstall (English or Western styles) that the horse wears when being ridden or driven – holds the bit in the horses mouth

Bit – the piece of metal (synthetic material and rubber coated metal are also used) that goes in a horses mouth when they are ridden – gives the rider help in controlling the horses speed, headset, and the direction in which they travel – attached to the reins

Reins – the straps of leather that are attached to the bit – the rider holds them in their hands to help control their horse

Saddle – the large leather or synthetic supportive piece of equipment that is put on the horses back when riding – English, Western, and Side Saddle styles – held on by a strap called a girth of cinch


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