Horse Terminology 101 | Words Every Equestrian Should Know

In the world of horses, there are literally hundreds of words that you’ll likely never hear anywhere else. Familiarizing yourself with common horse terminology can help propel your horseback riding career, so I decided to compile some of the most commonly used horse-related words here.

Horse Anatomy Terminology

Barrel: The barrel is like the torso of the horse; its job is to protect the internal organs. This would be considered the area of the ribcage.

Cannon: The cannon refers to the cannon bone found in the horse’s leg. If you’re unfamiliar with horse terminology, then this bone is essentially the horse’s calf. It is found in all four legs of the horse extending from the knee to the ankle. (a.k.a the fetlock.)

Colt: A colt is a young intact male horse. Any un-neutered male horse is considered a colt until around the age of 4.

Conformation: The conformation of a horse refers to how the horse is built. If a horse has good conformation, then their body is correctly proportioned and there are no faults. If a horse has bad conformation, then that means the bone structure may be disproportioned.

Coronet: The coronet is a layer of skin that encircles the top of the hoof. This is where the hoof grows from.

Crest: The crest is the muscley or fatty area on the ridge of the horse neck where the mane grows from.

Croup: The croup is the rump of the horse. The croup goes from the tallest point of the horse’s backside to the dock of the tail.

Dock: The dock is considered the exterior start of the tail. It’s where the vertebrae start to extend past the body of the horse to form the tail.

Equine: Equine is the scientific term for the horse species.

Feathers: Feathers refer to the long hairs at the bottom of the horse’s legs, usually seen on draft horses.

Fetlock: The fetlock is like the ankle of the horse. It’s the joint between where the cannon bone and the pastern meet.

Filly: A filly is a young female horse, usually under the age of 5.

Foal: A foal is a young horse still dependant on its mother.

Forehand: forehand refers to the front half of the horse and how it carries itself on its front legs.

Forelock: A forelock can be considered a horse’s bangs. It’s a tuft of hair that falls over the horse’s forehead. Its main purpose is to keep flies, water, and debris out of the horse’s eyes.

Frog: A horse’s frog is what makes the horse able to jump so high…just kidding. The frog is a tissue found in the horse’s hoof that is in the shape of a triangle. It helps with traction, absorption, and circulation.

Gelding: A gelding is a male horse that has been neutered.

Hand: A hand is a unit to determine a horse’s height. A hand is 4 inches long.

Haunches: Haunches refers to the back half of the horse and how it carries itself on its back legs.

Hock: The hock looks like it’s the knee to the back legs of a horse, but it’s not. It’s a joint that appears to point backwards and it allows for the proper bending of the hind leg.

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

Mane: The mane is the hair that sprouts from atop the horse’s neck. Its purpose is to protect the horse from flies and from weather, also adding a warm layer during cold days.

Mare: A mare is a female horse.

Muzzle: A muzzle is a horse’s nose.

Pastern: The pastern is the part of the leg between the hoof and the fetlock.

Point of Hip: The point of hip is the joint of where the rear legs meet the pelvis.

Poll: The poll is the part of the neck right behind the horse’s ears. There are two pressure points on either side of the poll that allows you to ask the horse to put it’s head down.

Stallion: A stallion is a male horse that has the capability to breed and produce offspring.

Stifle: The stifle is the knee of the horse. An untrained eye wouldn’t even be able to find this joint, as it’s almost hidden into the muscles of the horse. Its function is like that of a knee; it is the joint between the upper and lower part of the leg.

Weanling: A weanling is a young horse that has been weaned from its mother, meaning that it has been separated from its mother so it can learn to be independent. This process usually takes place at 6 months of age.

Withers: The withers is a ridge that runs between the horse’s shoulders. It is usually the tallest point of the horse where the animal’s height will be determined to.

Yearling: A yearling is a young horse that is one year of age.

Horse Markings Terminology

Appaloosa: An Appaloosa is a breed of horse known for its loud markings, the white sclera of their eyes, striped hooves, and mottled skin.

Bald Face: Bald face is a term referring to particular marking on a horse’s face. A bald face marking will look like a white blanket draped over the front of the horse’s face. The marking will go past the eyes.

Bay: Bay is a color that refers to horses that have a darker brown body with black muzzle and legs.

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

Buckskin: Buckskin is a color of horse that looks resembles the color of a tanned hide.

Chestnut: Chestnut is a horse color that looks red.

Dappled: Dapples are visual patterns seen in a horse’s coat. Dapples look like half-circles that are a different shade from the rest of the coat.

Dun: Dun is a color of horse that looks tan.

Mottled: Mottled refers to numerous areas of differently pigmented skin found mostly in Appaloosas.

Overo: Overo is a type of paint pattern on a horse. It is when there are white markings on a predominantly darker horse.

Paint: Contrary to popular beliefs, a paint is a breed of horse rather than just a color marking found on their coats. The registered breed is known as the American Paint Horse. These horses usually have pinto markings.

Palomino: Palomino refers to a horse’s coat that appears to be yellow or gold.

Piebald: Piebald refers to a black and white paint coat found on a horse.

Pinto: Pinto refers to any horse that has splashes of white over its body along with a different color.

Roan: Roan is a horse coat coloring that refers to white hairs mixed with the natural coat coloring to create a faded look.

Snip: A snip is a white marking specifically found on a horse’s nose.

Socks: Socks refer to white markings that stretch from the horse’s hoofs to just above the fetlock..

Sorrel: Sorrel refers to a horse that has a reddish, orange coat.

Star: A star is a white marking found in the middle of the horse’s forehead.

Stockings: Stockings are white markings found on horse’s legs that stretch from the hoofs to just under the knee or the hock.

Tobiano: Tobiano is a type of pinto marking that exhibits splashes of white stretching across the back of the horse and down the other side.

Horse Gear Terminology

Billets: Billets are the straps on English saddles that connect the girth to the saddle.

Bit: A bit is a small piece of horse tack that is held in a horse’s mouth by means of a bridle and reins. Bits are usually made out of metal or rubber, and help a rider communicate instructions to their horse as they ride. This is done by increasing or decreasing the amount of pressure to the bit by using their reins.

Body Brush: A body brush is a small brush with very soft bristles that is used across a horse’s body to bring natural oils to the surface and increase the shine of the horse’s coat. When grooming a horse, this brush is typically used last.

Breast Collar: A breast collar is a piece of horse tack that is used to keep a horse’s saddle from sliding back. Breast collars wrap around the front of the horse and connect to the billet holes of a saddle. There is also a strap that goes across the horse’s withers area and connects to the rest of the apparatus.

Bridle: A bridle is a piece of tack that goes on a horse’s head that allows you to control it as you ride. A bridle will have a bit and reins attached to it.

Browband: A browband is a piece of leather that goes above a horse’s eyes and under their ears. Browbands are attached to the bridle.  

Cinch: A cinch is a piece that wraps under a horses barrel, and attaches to a saddle to keep it from coming off of their back. This term is used when referring to western tack.

Cooler: Coolers are a type of horse blanket that is used to wick moisture away from a horse. They are typically used after a horse has had an intense workout to prevent them from getting excessively cold from their sweat.

Curry Comb: A curry comb is a grooming tool that is used to loosen dirt and other debris from a horse’s coat. Curry combs are used in a circular motion on a horse. This helps release natural oils in their bodies.  

Fly Blanket: Fly blankets also referred to as fly sheets, are blankets that are draped over a horse to prevent insects from pestering them. Fly blankets are typically made out of very lightweight materials

Fly Mask: A fly mask is a mask that goes across the horse’s face in order to protect the eyes from flies and from sunlight. The mask is made with a net material that allows the horse to continue seeing properly even with it on.

Girth: A girth has the same principle as a cinch, except the girth is the term used when referring to the English tack. A girth attaches to the saddle on either side, wrapping around the barrel of the horse. Its job is to hold the saddle in place.

Half Pad: A half pad is an extra pad that goes between the saddle and the saddle pad. It offers an extra layer of absorption and cushion that just the saddle pad can’t offer.

Halter: A halter is a contraption that goes on the horse’s head that allows you to lead them.

Hoof Pick: A hoof pick is a tool used to pick dirt out of a horse’s hooves.

Horse Blanket: A horse blanket is like a coat for your horse when it’s cold. A horse blanket covers the horse’s body and has straps that go around the horse’s chest, around their barrel, and around their hind legs in order to hold the blanket in place.

Latigo Strap: A latigo strap is found on the left side of a western saddle. It is used to fasten up the cinch.

Lead Rope: A lead rope is a rope with a clip on the end that can fasten to a halter. A lead rope is used to lead the horse.

Noseband: A noseband is a piece found on an English bridle. It wraps around the nose of the horse and fastens underneath.

Reins: Reins are pieces of leather that hook to the bit. They run up from the bit and into your hands while you are riding; allowing you to properly cue the horse with your hands.

Saddle: A saddle is the piece of tack that the rider will sit in while they’re on the horse’s back. Saddles are made for the comfort and security of the rider.

Saddle Pad: A saddle pad is a blanket that goes under the saddle. Its job is to protect the horse’s back and provide extra cushion and absorption.

Stirrups: Stirrups are holders that you place your feet in when you ride. Stirrups help the rider to stay on and add security to their ride.

Sweat Scraper: A sweat scraper is a tool used to whisk away excess water or sweat from your horse’s body. It has a thin rubber or metal edge that runs the way of the horse’s hair.

Tack: Tack is the term that refers to the equipment used when horseback riding. These pieces would include a bridle, saddle, saddle pad, and girth.

Throatlatch: The throatlatch is a strap on the bridle that goes under the horse’s jaw and buckles on the side. This strap helps to hold the bridle on the horse’s head.

Horseback Riding Terminology

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

Canter Lead: A canter lead refers to the predominant leg stretching forward during the canter. If the horse is on the right lead, then the right front leg will seem to reach farther in front of the horse than the left. Likewise, if the horse is on the left lead, then the left front leg will reach farther than the right.

Diagonal: A diagonal is the beat that you post to during the trot. There is a “correct” diagonal, this would be the beat that rises and falls with the horse’s shoulder that is to the outside.

Dis-Engaging the Hind-End: Dis-engaging the hind end refers to taking the power and the momentum out of the horse’s hindquarters. When this happens, the horse will steps it’s hind legs away from the pressure and one over the other. Dis-engaging the hind-end can keep your horse from rearing, bucking, or taking off as all of these actions require momentum from the hind-end.

Engaging the Hind-End: Engaging the hind-end is when your horse pushes itself into its gaits from the hind-end. This means that the horse is reaching its hind legs under itself, which would cause more momentum going forward.

Flying Lead Change: A flying lead change is when the horse changes its canter lead in the middle of a canter stride.

Gait: A horse’s gait refers to their movements. Most horses have four distinct gaits in the English world: walk, trot, canter, gallop. In the western world, riders also include a jog and a lope.

Gallop: A gallop is a four-beat gait. It is the fastest gait of a horse.

Getting the Horse on Contact: Getting your horse on contact means that your horse will respect the pressure of the bit, which will cause them to round their neck and stretch into the bit. This is an aspect of your horse carrying themselves correctly.

Half Halt: A half halt is when the rider sits up and puts slight pressure on both reins as if asking the horse to halt halfway. This is usually done to get a horse collected that has strung itself out while under saddle. It can also cause the horse to balance its weight to the hind-end, which is the proper way a horse should carry itself.

Hand-Gallop: A hand-gallop is a four-beat gait. It is just a controlled version of a gallop.

Jog: A jog is a two-beat gait like the trot, except jogs are more controlled and collected and slow. This is a gait mastered in the western riding disciplines.

Lope: A lope is a three-beat gait like the canter, except lopes are usually more controlled and collected. This is a gait mastered in the western riding disciplines.

Posting: Posting is when the rider controllably stands and sits to the trot gait. This is done to avoid bouncing on the horse’s back.

Trot: The trot is a two-beat gait. This is the next gait up from a walk.

Turn on the Forehand: Turn on the forehand is when your horse pivots its body around its front legs. The front legs stay still while the back legs step one in front of the other in order to pivot around.

Turn on the Haunches: Turn on the haunches is when your horse pivots its body around its hind legs. The hind legs will stay still while the front legs step one in front of the other in order to pivot around.

Horse Disciplines Terminology:

Cross Country: Cross country is an English riding discipline most popularly known as an event in eventing. In cross country, the horse a rider gallop through a set path to face obstacles like jumps, ditches, banks, and water obstructions. The course can be up to a few miles long. This discipline is used to test the horse’s bravery and most importantly, its endurance.

Cutting: cutting most commonly refers to the act of horse and rider separating cattle from the herd; however, this action has been turned into judged events.

Dressage: Dressage is considered the highest level of training that a horse and rider can achieve. This is one of three events found in eventing and it’s to showcase the horse’s level of training, willingness to perform, the control that the rider has, and the effortlessness of the horse’s movements. Horse and rider will perform a predetermined test in front of a panel of judges who will rate them on each of the qualities above.

Equitation: Equitation is a hunt seat class that solely rates the rider instead of the horse. Riders compete on the flat and over jumps to see who has the best position and who can correctly communicate their cues to the horse. This is a class found in hunt seat competitions.

Eventing: Eventing is a discipline that requires horse and rider to compete in three different events: dressage, cross country, and showjumping. This particular discipline is to show you and your horse’s skill and versatility between the three different events.

Foxhunting: Foxhunting is an old English riding sport mainly designed to keep horses in shape. Flights of horses and riders will use hounds to track a fox. Today throughout America, an artificial scent is widely used to stir the hunt.

Groundwork: Groundwork is the training you do with your horse while you’re on the ground. It is considered one of the foundations of horse training, as the relationship that you have with your horse on the ground must be mastered before the relationship that happens when you’re in the saddle.

Gymkhanas: Gymkhanas can be thought of as relay races in the horse world. Gymkhanas usually consist of teams who compete against each other in timed events, such as going through an obstacle course. Another term you may hear to describe this event is “playday.”

Horsemanship: Horsemanship is a class where the human demonstrates their ability to handle the horse. This class consists of on the ground and in the saddle and it’s predominantly found at western shows.

Hunters: Hunters is a class that judges the horse specifically. These classes compete on the flat and over jumps as the judges inspect the horse’s movement and form. This is a class found in hunt seat competitions.

Hunt Seat: Hunt seat is a type of riding form found in the English riding style. Hunt seat requires a “light” seat from the rider, meaning that they aren’t going to sit as deep as dressage riders would. Hunt seat consists of hunters and equitation classes on the flat and over fences.

Lunge: Lunge means to work the horse around you in a circle while you’re on the ground. This can be done freely in a round pen or with a lunge line in more open areas.

Parelli: A type of horse training method focused on training the horse the most natural way possible.

Pleasure: Pleasure classes are found both in the English and the western show rings. Pleasure refers to the horse’s way of going. Essentially, the horses are judged on if they appear to be a pleasure to ride.

Reining: Reining is the dressage class to the western riding style. In reining competitions, the rider guides the horse through patterns like spins, circles, halts, and backs. It’s to showcase the horse’s trained talent as well as the rider’s control over the horse.

Show Jumping: Show jumping is one of the events in eventing, but it can also be a singular class at many horse shows. This is a timed event where horse and rider have to follow a set course over a number of jumps. This is to exhibit the horse’s skill and finesse.

Medical Horse Terminology

Horseback Riding Words

Bowed Tendon: A bowed tendon is an injury found in the horse’s legs. it’s when the tendon is injured and then heals incorrectly, having the appearance of bowing out.

Choke: Choke is when the horse’s throat is blocked. While the horse will still be able to breathe, it won’t be able to consume any substance.

Coggins Test: A Coggins test is run to see if the horse carries antibodies for Equine Infectious Anemia, an incurable and contagious disease. A negative Coggins report is required to attend most competitions and to be able to board your horse at a boarding stable.

Colic: Colic is abdominal pain your horse may face caused by gas, ingestion of dirt and sand, dehydration, and even stomach ulcers. Colic is considered a serious medical emergency and the veterinarian should be contacted when you discover that your horse is colicking.

Deworm: Deworming is when you rid your horse from internal parasites by using deworming paste or medication. Horses are usually dewormed twice a year as a precaution.

Farrier: A farrier is a professional who works on a horse’s hooves. Their skillset includes trimming, shoeing, and corrective shoeing.

Founder: Founder is when a horse experiences inflammation in the tissue around the bone found in the interior of the hoof. This is usually caused by obesity in the horse.

Heaves: Heaves is when a horse may be allergic to some of the particles it’s inhaling so the respiratory system will become inflamed. This makes it harder for the horse to breathe and it will cause the horse to continuously cough.

Hives: Hives are fluid-filled bumps that form over the horse’s skin. They are caused by an allergic reaction, either to bug bites or something ingested.

Lame: Lame is a term used to describe when a horse’s gait is off due to pain that the horse is experiencing in any region of the leg.

Laminitis: Laminitis is a serious foot problem that horses experience. When a horse has Laminitis, the tissues and materials between the hoof wall and the interior bones has become inflamed or has started to deteriorate.

Splint: A splint looks and feels like a bony knob on your horse’s leg. They are actually a swelling on the splint bone due to the horse being overworked or experiencing trauma to that leg.

Stocked Up: Stocked up refers to a condition in the horse’s legs. If a horse’s legs are stocked up, they’ll look swollen; however, they won’t be warm to the touch and there won’t be any exterior wounds around the stocked up area. The horse won’t appear lame, but maybe a little stiff. Stocked up legs are caused by inactivity which results in bad circulation.

Teeth Floating: Teeth floating refers to the procedure used to file down a horse’s teeth when the outside ridges on the teeth have become sharp. Due to the way a horse chews, the teeth naturally wear to form jagged edges to the outside, which can cause ulcers and sores in the horse’s mouth. Because of this, horses will require a veterinarian to file down their teeth regularly.

Thrush: Thrush is a fungal infection that eats away at the horse’s hooves. Horses usually contract this by standing in manure or water for long periods of time.

Tied Up: Tying up is when the horse experiences muscle cramping through it’s back and hind-end. This can be extremely uncomfortable for the horse. The muscles do not relax and continue to spasm and contract.

Veterinarian: A veterinarian is a trained professional who performs medical services to your horse.

If you made it through the whole list, well done! You’ve clearly shown yourself to be an avid equestrian. If you would like to keep learning, check out my article here for 50 tips for new horse owners.