Horse Terminology 101 | Words Every Equestrian Should Know

Last Updated on March 2, 2022 by Allison Price

Horse-related words are numerous and you will likely not hear them anywhere else. It can be a great way to improve your horseback riding skills. I have compiled a list of some of the most common horse-related terms here.

Horse Anatomy Terminology

The barrel: It is similar to the horse’s torso; it protects the internal organs. This is the area around the ribcage.

Cannon The cannon is the cannon bone in the horse’s hind leg. This bone is the horse’s calf if you don’t know what horse terminology means. It can be found on all four legs of horses, from the knee to your ankle. Also known as the fetlock.

A colt is a young, intact male horse. A colt is a male un-neutered horse that has not reached the age of four.

Conformation: A horse’s conformation refers to the way it is built. A horse with good conformation means that their body is well proportioned and they have no faults. Bad conformation can indicate a disproportioned bone structure.

Coronet The coronet is the skin layer that surrounds the hoof’s top. This is the place where the hoof begins to grow.

Crest The crest is the area of muscle or fat on the horse’s neck from which the mane grows.

Croup The croup refers to the horse’s rump. From the highest point on the horse’s backside, to the dock of his tail, the croup runs.

Dock The dock is the exterior end of the tail. It is where the vertebrae extend beyond the horse’s body to form the tail.

Equine:Equine refers to the scientific name for horse species.

Horse Terminology

FeathersFeathers are the long hairs on the bottom of horses’ legs. They are usually found on draft horses.

Fetlock The fetlock looks like the ankle of a horse’s foot. It is the joint where the cannon bone meets the pastern.

Filly A filly is a young, female horse that is usually less than 5 years old.

Foal A foal is a young horse that still depends on its mother.

Forehand forehand is the horse’s front half and how it rides on its front legs.

Forelock A forelock is a horse’s bangs. It is a tuft or hair that falls above the horse’s forehead. It’s designed to keep water, flies and other debris from the eyes of horses.

Frog The horse’s frog allows him to jump high…just kidding. The horse’s hoof contains a tissue called the frog that is the shape of a triangle. It aids in traction, absorption and circulation.

Gelding A gelding refers to a male horse who has been neutered.

Hand: The hand is a unit that determines a horse’s height. Hands measure 4 inches in length.

HaunchesHaunches is the back of the horse. It describes how the horse carries itself on its back legs.

Hock The hock appears to be the knee of the horse’s back legs, but it is not. It allows the hind leg to be properly bent by a joint that seems to point backwards.

The hoof is the horse’s foot. It is vital for horse’s weight distribution and body circulation.

Mane The mane is the hair that grows from the top of the horse’s neck. It serves two purposes: to protect the horse from weather and flies, and also add warmth during colder days.

Mare A mare is a female horse.

Muzzle A horse’s nose is the muzzle.

Pastern The pastern is the portion of the leg that lies between the hoof (or fetlock) and the foot.

The Point of Hip: The point of hip refers to the area where the back legs meet the pelvis.

Poll: This is the portion of the neck that lies just behind the horse’s ears. The poll has two pressure points that allow you to ask your horse to lower its head.

Stallion A stallion is a male horse with the ability to breed and produce offspring.

Stifle The stifle refers to the knee of a horse. Untrained eyes would not be able find this joint because it is almost hidden in the muscles of horses. It functions in the same way as a knee, it is the joint that connects the upper and lower parts of the leg.

A weanling is a young horse who has been weaned away from its mother. This usually happens at six months old.

Withers The withers are a line that runs between the shoulders of a horse’s head. This is the point at which the horse’s height is determined.

Yearling A yearling is a young horse who is less than one year old.

Horse Markings Terminology

Appaloosa – The Appaloosa horse breed is known for its loud markings and white sclera. They also have striped hooves and mottled skin.

Bald face:Bald is a term that refers to a particular marking on a horse’s face. The horse’s bald face will look like a blanket covering the front of his face. The marking will extend beyond the eyes.

bay:Bay refers to horses with a darker brown body and black muzzle.

Blaze A white strip running down the middle of the horse’s face.

Buckskin –Buckskin refers to a horse color that looks like a tanned hide.

Chestnut – Cherry is a horse colour that appears red.

DappledDapples can be seen as visual patterns in horse’s coats. Dapples are half-circles of a horse’s coat that have a different color from the rest.

: a color that appears tan on horses.

Mottled:Mottled is a term that refers to many areas of differently pigmented skin, found mainly in Appaloosas.

Overo:Overo refers to a type or paint pattern that is applied to horses. This is when a horse has white markings.

Paint A paint is not a color on a horse’s coat, contrary to popular belief. The American Paint Horse is the registered breed. Pinto markings are common on these horses.

Palomino – palomino is a horse’s hair that looks yellow or gold.

Pibald: piebald is a black-and-white paint coat that can be found on horses.

Pinto:Pinto is a horse with white splashes on its body and a different colored coat.

Roan: Ron is a horse-coated coloring that uses white hairs and natural color to create a faded appearance.

Snip A snip refers to a white marking that is found on the nose of a horse.

Socks:Socks are white markings that extend from the horse’s hoofs up to the top of the fetlock.

Sorrel: Sorrel is a horse with a reddish orange coat.

Star: The star is a white mark that appears in the middle of a horse’s forehead.

Stockings –Stockings refer to white markings on horses’ legs, which extend from the hoofs to just below the knee or the hip.

Tobiano: Tobiano refers to a type pinto marking with white streaks running down one side of the horse’s back.

Horse Gear Terminology

Billets:Billets connect the girth and the saddle.

Bit: A bit is a piece of horse tack held in the mouth of a horse by a bridle or reins. Bits are made of rubber or metal and allow riders to communicate with their horses while they ride. You adjust the pressure by using your reins to increase or decrease the bit’s pressure.

A body brush: This is a small, soft-bristled brush that’s used to brush the skin of a horse’s body. It brings natural oils to the surface of the horse’s skin and shines the coat. This brush is usually used last when grooming horses.

A breast collar: This piece of horse tack is used to prevent a horse’s saddle sliding back. The breast collar wraps around the horse’s front and connects to the saddle’s billet holes. A strap is also available that connects to the rest the apparatus and goes around the horse’s buters.

Bridle: A bridle allows you to control your horse as you ride. The bridle will be fitted with a bit and some reins.

Browband A browband is a piece made of leather that covers the horse’s eyes and goes under their ears. The bridle is attached with a browband.

Cinch: A cinch wraps around a horse’s barrel and attaches it to a saddle to prevent it from falling off their back. This term is used to refer to western tack.

Cooler:Coolers, a type of horse blanket, is used to wick away moisture from horses. These blankets are usually used after horses have had a rigorous workout to keep them from becoming too cold.

Curry Comb A curry comb is a tool used to remove dirt and other debris from horses’ coats. The curry comb is used to move the horse around in a circular motion. This allows horses to release natural oils.

Fly Blanket Fly blankets, also known as fly sheets, are blankets placed over horses to stop insects from bothering them. Fly blankets are usually made of lightweight materials.

Fly mask: A fly mask is a covering that covers the horse’s eyes to keep them safe from sun and flies. The mask is made of a net material so that the horse can see clearly even when it’s on.

Girth A girth works in the same way as a cinch but the term is used to refer to the English tack. The girth wraps around the horse’s barrel and attaches to the saddle from either side. It is responsible for holding the saddle in place.

Half pad: A half pad is a pad that fits between the saddle pad and the saddle pad. This pad provides a layer of cushion and absorption that the saddle pad cannot.

Halter A halter allows you to control the horse’s movements.

A hoof pick: This tool is used to remove dirt from horses’ hooves.

Horse Blanket A horse blanket acts as a blanket for your horse in cold weather. The blanket is designed to cover the horse’s entire body. It has straps that wrap around the horse’s chest and barrel and around their hind legs to keep it in place.

Latigo Strap A latigo strap can be found on the left side or a western saddle. It’s used to fasten the cinch.

Lead Rope: A lead rope is a rope that has a clip at the end which can be fastened to a harness. The horse is led by a lead rope.

Noseband A piece that is found on an English Bridle is called a noseband. It wraps around horse’s nose and attaches beneath.

Reins:Reins refer to leather pieces that attach to the bit. They can be ridden up to the bit and into your hands, allowing you the ability to cue your horse properly with your hands.

Saddle: The saddle is the piece tack the rider uses to sit on the horse’s back. Saddles provide comfort and security for the rider.

A saddle pad is a blanket under the saddle. It protects the horse’s back, provides extra cushioning and absorbs shocks.

Stirrups –Stirrups allow you to place your feet when you are riding. Stirrups allow riders to remain on the bike and provide security.

Sweat scraper: A horse’s sweat scraper is a tool that removes excess sweat or water from the horse’s body. It is made of a thin metal or rubber edge and runs along the horse’s hair.

Tack:Tack refers to equipment used for horseback riding. These items would include a saddle pad, girth, bridle and saddle.

Throatlatch The throatlatch is a strap that attaches to the bridle and goes under the horse’s jaw. It also buckles at the side. This strap holds the bridle onto the horse’s head.

Horseback Riding Terminology

Canter A three-beat gait, a canter, is a three beat gait. This is the next step up from the trot.

A canter lead is the dominant leg that extends forward during a canter. The right lead will appear to be longer than the left. The same applies to horses that are on the left lead. If the horse is standing straight up, the left front leg will extend further than the right.

Diagonal A diagonal is the beat you post to while trotting. If you want to use the correct diagonal, it would be the one that rises with the horse’s shoulder and falls with his outside.

Disengaging the Hind-End. Disengaging the hind-end refers to taking power and momentum from the horse’s hindquarters. The horse will step its hind legs to relieve the pressure, one over the another. You can stop your horse from rearing, jumping, or bucking by disengaging its hind-end. All of these actions are dependent on momentum from the hind end.

Engaging The Hind-End.Engaging your hind-end means that your horse pushes into its gaits starting from the hind end. This is a sign that your horse is reaching under its hind legs, which will increase momentum moving forward.

Flying lead change: When a horse’s canter lead changes in the middle or a stride, it is called a flying lead change.

Gait: Horses’ gaits refer to their movements. In the English world, horses can walk, trot or canter and gallop. Riders in the west include a lope and a trot.

Gallop A galloping is a four-beat gait. This is the horse’s fastest gait.

Getting Your Horse on Contact. If you want your horse to respect the pressure of your bit, it will require them to wrap their neck around the bit and extend into it. This is a way to ensure your horse behaves correctly.

Half-Halt: When the rider stands up and applies slight pressure to both reins, the horse will stop halfway. This is done to collect a horse that has strung while being saddled. This can cause the horse’s weight to be balanced to its hind-end. This is the correct way for a horse to carry himself.

Hand-Gallop A four-beat gait is called a hand-gallop. This is a controlled version a gallop.

Jog A jog is a 2-beat gait similar to the trot but with a slower, more controlled pace. This gait is used in western riding disciplines.

Lope A lope, or three-beat gait similar to the canter is a lope. However, lopes tend to be more controlled and collected. This is the Western riding discipline’s preferred gait.

Positioning: Placing is when the rider stands in control and follows the trot gait. This is to prevent the horse from bouncing on your back.

Trot The trot is a 2-beat gait. This is the next step up from a walk.

Turn on The Forehand:Turning on the forehand means that your horse turns its body around its front legs. To pivot around, the front legs remain still and the back legs move one after the other.

Turn on The Haunches:Turn On the Haunches refers to when your horse turns its body around its hind leg. To pivot around, the hind legs will remain still and the front legs will move one after the other.

Terminology of Horse Disciplines:

Cross Country is an English riding discipline that is most commonly used in eventing. Cross country is where a horse and rider race along a path that crosses obstacles such as jumps, ditches or banks. It can take several miles to complete the course. This discipline tests the horse’s courage and, most importantly, endurance.

Cutting:cutting is most commonly a horse-rider act that separates cattle from their herd. However, this action can be turned into judged events.

Dressage: dressage is the highest level of horse-rider training. This event is one of three in eventing. It’s meant to show the horse’s ability to move and how well trained they are. The test will be performed by horse and rider in front of a panel judges, who will give them a rating on each of these qualities.

Equitation is a hunt-seat class that rates riders and horses only. Riders compete on the flat or over jumps to determine who is in the best position and can communicate with the horse. This class is found in hunt-seat competitions.

Eventing:Eventing requires horse and rider compete in three events: cross country, dressage and showjumping. This discipline is designed to demonstrate your horse’s versatility and skill in all three events.

Foxhunting Foxhunting was an ancient English riding sport that was primarily designed to keep horses fit. Horses and riders will use hounds in order to track a fox. Artificial scents are widely used today to stimulate the hunt in America.

Groundwork: groundwork is training your horse while on the ground. This is a foundational part of horse training. It’s important to understand the ground relationship you have with your horse before you can establish a relationship when you get in the saddle.

GymkhanasGymkhanas are relay races in horse racing. Gymkhanas are usually made up of teams that compete against one another in timed events such as running through an obstacle course. This event may also be called “playday”

Horsemanship – horsemanship is a class in which the human shows their ability to ride a horse. This class is primarily found at western shows and consists of riding on the ground or in the saddle.

Hunters: hunters is a class that judges horses specifically. These classes compete on the flat or over jumps, and the judges evaluate the horse’s form and movement. This class is used in hunt seat competitions.

Hunt seat:Hunt seats are a type of riding form that is common in English riding styles. Hunt seat riders need a more comfortable seat. They don’t have to be as deep as dressage riders. Hunt seat is comprised of hunters and equitation classes, on the flat or over fences.

Lunge lunge is a way to have your horse work around you while you are on the ground. You can do this in a circle pen, or in more open areas with a lunge.

Parelli Horse training methods that aim to train horses in the most natural way.

Pleasure: Pleasing classes can be found in both the English and western show rings. Pleasure is the horse’s ability to go. The horses are judged based on their ability to enjoy riding.

Reining. reining is the dressage style that corresponds to western riding. Reining competitions are where the rider leads the horse through patterns such as spins, circles and halts. This competition is intended to show the horse’s ability and the rider’s control of the horse.

Show jumping: show jumping is one event in eventing. However, it can also be a class at many horse shows. This event is timed and horse and rider must follow a course that covers a variety of jumps. This is an opportunity to show the horse’s finesse and skill.

Terminology for Medical Horses

Bowed Tendon A bowed tendon occurs when the horse sustains an injury to its legs. It occurs when the tendon becomes inflamed and fails to heal properly, giving the appearance of bowing out.

Choke is when the horse’s throat becomes blocked. The horse won’t be able breathe but it will not be able consume any substance.

Coggins Test This test determines if the horse has antibodies for Equine Illness Anemia. It is an incurable and contagious condition. To board your horse at an boarding stable , you must have a negative Coggins test.

Colic: Colic refers to abdominal pain that your horse might experience due to gas, dirt, sand, dehydration or stomach ulcers. Colic is a serious medical emergency. If your horse starts colicking, contact the veterinarian immediately.

Deworming: This is the process of getting rid of internal parasites in horses using either deworming paste, or medication. As a precaution, horses are typically dewormed at least twice per year.

Farrier A farrier works with horses’ hooves. They are skilled in trimming, corrective and shoeing horses.

founder:Founder refers to horse suffering from inflammation of the tissue surrounding the bone in the inside of their hoof. This is often caused by obesity.

Heaves:Heaves refers to a horse’s reaction to particles inhaled. The horse’s respiratory system may become inflamed. It makes breathing difficult for horses and causes them to cough.

Hives are fluid-filled bumps which form on the horse’s skin. These are usually caused by allergic reactions to bug bites, or food.

Lame:Lame refers to a condition in which a horse’s gait becomes erratic due to pain in one or more of his legs.

Laminitis –Laminitis can be a serious foot condition in horses. Laminitis is a condition in which the tissue and materials between the hoof wall of the horse and its interior bones become inflamed, or have begun to deteriorate.

Spilt: A horse’s leg is covered in a splint. The splint bone is actually a swelling caused by the horse’s injury to his leg or being overworked.

Stocked-up: Stocked-up refers to horse’s legs. Stocked up horses’ legs will appear swollen, but they won’t feel warm or have any external wounds. Although the horse will not appear stiff, they may be a little lame. Bad circulation can cause stocky legs.

Teeth Floating –Teeth floating is a procedure that allows horses to have their teeth filed down when the ridges outside of the teeth become too sharp. Horses chew differently than humans, so the teeth can naturally develop jagged edges. This can lead to ulcers and sores. Horses will need to have their teeth cleaned by a veterinarian.

Thrush is a fungal infection that causes the horse to lose its hooves. This is usually contracted by horses who are exposed to water or manure for prolonged periods.

Tie Up: Tieing up refers to horse muscle cramping in its back and hind-end. This can cause severe discomfort for horses. The horse’s muscles don’t relax, and they continue to contract and spasm.

Veterinarian A veterinarian refers to a professional who provides medical services for your horse.

Allison Price
Allison Price

I’m Allison, born and raised in San Diego California, the earliest memory I have with horses was at my grandfather’s farm. I used to sit at the stable as a kid and hang out with my Papa while he was training the horses. When I was invited to watch a horse riding competition, I got so fascinated with riding!