Equine Glossary

10298349_sAbove the bit

Where the horse evades the rider’s aids by raising the head above the level of the rider’s hands. This reduces the amount of control the rider has over the horse.


The way a horse moves at various gaits.


Signals or cues by which the rider communicates his wishes to the horse. The “natural” aids include the voice, the legs, the hands, and weight. “Artificial” aids include the whip and spurs.

Ambling/Gaited Horses

The term amble or ambling is used to describe a number of four-beat intermediate gaits of horses. All are faster than a walk but usually slower than a canter or gallop. They are smoother for a rider than either the two-beat trot or pace and most can be sustained for relatively long periods of time, making them particularly desirable for trail riding and other tasks where a rider must spend long periods of time in the saddle.

Though there are differences in footfall patterns and speed, historically these gaits were once collectively referred to as the “amble.” Today horses that are able to do an ambling gait are referred to as “gaited horses.” Some breeds naturally perform these gaits from birth; others can be trained to do them.


Breed of horse exhibiting one of a number of distinct coloration patterns of spots on the body. Develeped by the Nez Perce Indians and named for the River Palouse. Coloration patterns include leopard spot, blanket, snowflake, frost.


Ancient and graceful breed of horse, originating in the deserts of the Middle East and having a strong influence on many other breeds, including the Thoroughbred.

Barrel Racing

A timed event in Western Riding where horse and rider complete a cloverleaf pattern around three barrels


Coat color – deep reddish brown with black mane and tail

Belgian Draft Horse

Breed of heavy horse, originating in Belgium and used for heavy draft work. Also known as the Brabant.


Mouthpiece, of made of metal but may be made of rubber or other man made material and held in place by the bridle, by which the rider conveys instructions to the horse.


Elongated white marking down the front of the horse’s face. (Also called a stripe)

Boarding Stable

Equestrian facility where horse owners may keep their horse for a monthly fee


An equine group bred selectively for consistent characteristics over a long period of time


Item of equipment worn on the horse’s head, enabling the rider to communicate his wishes through use of the bit and the reins

Brood Mare

A mare used for breeding purposes


Three-beated gait of the horse in which one hind leg strides first (the leading leg), followed by the opposite diagonal pair and finally the opposite foreleg. Called the lope in Western riding.

Carriage Driving

Carriage driving, using somewhat larger two or four wheeled carriages, often restored antiques, pulled by a single horse, a tandem or four-in-hand team. Pleasure competitions are judged on the turnout/neatness or suitability of horse and carriage.

Classical Dressage

Classical dressage evolved from cavalry movements and training for the battlefield, and has since developed into the competitive dressage seen today. Classical riding is the art of riding in harmony with, rather than against, the horse. Correct classical riding only occurs when the rider has a good seat and a correct and well-balanced body position, moves with the horse’s motion, and gives and times the aids correctly. The origins of classical dressage lie in the natural ability of the horse and its movements in the wild. In fact, most modern definitions of dressage state that the goal is to have the horse perform under saddle with the degree of athleticism and grace that it naturally shows when free.


Breed of heavy horse originating in Scotland and used for heavy draft work


The name used to describe the heavy European breeds of horse descended from the prehistoric Forest Horse


Male horse (3 years old and under)

Combined Training

Equestrian competition held over one or three days and including the disciplines of dressage, cross country, and show jumping. Also known as Eventing.


The shape of a horse’s body. A horse with good conformation is stronger and more likely to stay sound than one with weak conformation.


Condition in which the hind foot strikes the opposite front leg or hoof.

Draft Horses

A draft horse, draught horse or dray horse (from the Anglo-Saxon dragan meaning to draw or haul) is a large horse bred for hard, heavy tasks such as ploughing and farm labour. There are a number of different breeds, with varying characteristics but all share common traits of strength, patience and a docile temperament that have made them indispensable to generations of pre-industrial farmers. Draft horses and draft crossbreds are versatile breeds used today for a multitude of purposes, including farming, show, and other recreational uses. They are also commonly used for crossbreeding, especially to light riding breeds such as the thoroughbred. While most draft horses are used for driving, they can be ridden and some of the lighter draft breeds are capable performers under saddle.



Driving, when applied to horses, ponies, mules, or donkeys, is a broad term for hitching equines to a wagon, carriage, cart, sleigh, or other horse-drawn vehicle by means of a harness and working them in this form. It encompasses a wide range of activities from pleasure driving, to harness racing, to farm work, horse shows, and even International combined driving competition sanctioned by the FEI. The term in harness often is used to describe a horse being driven.

Endurance Riding

Endurance riding is an equestrian sport based on controlled long distance races. It is one of the international competitions recognized by the FEI. There are endurance rides worldwide.

There are two main types of long distance riding, Competitive trail riding and endurance rides. In an Endurance ride, discussed in this article, the winning horse is the first one to cross the finish line while stopping periodically to pass a veterinary check that deems the animal in good health and “fit to continue.” In the United States, most endurance rides are either 50 or 100 miles long, though shorter rides are organized for beginners and a few longer, usually multi-day, rides exist. In the USA, the American Endurance Ride Conference (AERC) sanctions endurance rides. Winning riders complete 100-mile rides in 10-12 hours.

Any breed can compete, but the Arabian generally dominates the top levels because of the breed’s stamina and natural endurance abilities.

Competitive trail rides are shorter, and factors other than speed are considered, horses may not come in under or over a certain time, and veterinary checks, rider behavior and other elements play a role in the placings. (See Competitive trail riding)

Worldwide, rules vary. Endurance rides and races can be any distance, though rarely over 160km for a one-day competition.

English Riding

English riding is a term used to describe a form of horseback riding that is seen throughout the world. There are many variations in English riding, but all feature a flat English saddle without the deep seat, high cantle or saddle horn seen on a Western saddle nor the kneepads seen on an Australian Stock Saddle. Saddles within the various English disciplines are all designed to allow the horse the freedom to move in the most optimal manner for a given task, ranging from Classical dressage to horse racing. English bridles also vary in style based on discipline, but most feature some type of cavesson noseband as well as closed reins, buckled together at the ends, that prevent them from dropping on the ground if a rider becomes unseated. Clothing for riders in competition is usually based on traditional needs from which a specific style of riding developed, but most standards require, as a minimum, boots; breeches or jodhpurs; a shirt with some form of tie; a hat, cap, or equestrian helmet; and a jacket.

English riding is an equestrian discipline with many different styles. However, at the most basic level, most versions require riders to use both hands on the reins, rather than just one hand, as is seen in western riding. Riders also frequently “post” to the trot (rising and sitting in rhythm with each stride) in many circumstances, though there are also times English riders may sit the trot.



Female horse (3 years old and under)


A newborn baby horse before weaning


The different speeds a horse can travel. Every horse has 4 natural “gaits”, the (1) walk (2) trot (3) canter (4) gallop.


Castrated adult male horse (3 years and older)

Grand Prix Show Jumping

The Grand Prix is the highest level of show jumping. Run under FEI rules, the horse jumps a course of 10-16 obstacles, with heights and spreads of up to 6’6″. Grand Prix-level show jumping competitions include the Olympics, the World Equestrian Games, the World Cup Series and the Nations Cup Series. It is designed to test the stamina, precision, power, and control of both horse and rider. The courses usually include tight twists and turns, very high and colorful fences designed to test the riders as well as the horses. It takes a great amount of training and conditioning to get both horse and rider prepared for such an event, as well as many years of show experience and practice.

Gypsy Vanner Horse Breed


The traditional measurement unit for horses. A hand is 4 inches. Horses are measured from the ground to the highest non-moveable point on their anatomy – the top of the withers. Extra inches over a multiple of four are placed after a decimal point like so: 15.1 means 15 hands and 1 inch tall, which would be 61 inches. 16.3 would be 16 hands and 3 inches tall or 67 inches tall. This measurement is abbreviated to “hh” or “hands high” or just plain “h” for “hands”.


A Hanoverian is a warmblood horse originating in Germany, which is often seen in the Olympic Games and other competitive English riding styles, and have won gold medals in all three equestrian Olympic competitions. It is one of the oldest, most numerous, and most successful of the warmbloods. Originally a carriage horse, infusions of thoroughbred blood lightened it to make it more agile and useful for competition. The Hanoverian is known for a good temperament, athleticism, beauty, and grace.

Heavy Horse

Any large draft horse, such as the Shire, the Clydsdale, the Belgian Draft

Hind Quarters

The part of the horse’s body from the rear of the flank to the top of the tail down to the top of the gaskin. Also called simply the quarters.


The art of equitation or riding


Hunt seat is terminology used in the United States and Canada to refer to a style of forward seat riding commonly found at American horse shows. Along with Dressage, it is one of the two classic forms of English riding. The Hunt seat is based on the tradition of fox hunting. Hunt seat competition in North America includes both flat work classes and jumping classes. The rider’s ability as well as the horse’s movement and form are judged as they work either “on the flat” or “over fences” (jumps). Hunt seat is also the generic term used to describe any form of forward seat riding, including that seen in show jumping and eventing.

Hunt seat is an extremely popular form of riding in the United States, headed under the USHJA (United States Hunter/Jumper Association) and the United States Equestrian Federation. It is also popular in Canada. While hunt seat showing is not an Olympic discipline, many show jumping competitors began by riding in the hunter divisions, before moving into the jumper divisions.

Icelandic Horse Breed


A horse with an injury that interferes with his performance and/or health


Riders of all ages, with all breeds of horses and ponies can participate in this discipline while experiencing the beautiful Headwaters countryside.  Together, the horse and rider navigate routes across varied terrain, negotiate natural obstacles and encounter the splendor of Horse Country.

TREC is an international equestrian trail riding techniques competition that tests the skills, confidence, and abilities of horses and riders or driving teams over various terrains and obstacles. The three phases of a TREC competition include Optimum Speed & Trail Orienteering, Control of Paces, and a Cross-Country Obstacle Course.

The sport of TREC, or Le TREC has its origins in France as a sport designed to test the skills of trekking guides working in the equestrian tourism industry. TREC is the acronym for Technique de Randonnée Equestre de Compétition.


The Lusitano is an ancient Portuguese breed of horse that until the 1960s shared its registration with the Spanish horse, the Andalusian. Both are sometimes called Iberian horses, as their land of origin is the Iberian peninsula. These Iberian horses were developed for use in war, dressage and bull fighting.

In the 17th century the Spanish ceased fighting bulls from horseback and at that time began to selectively breed horses for saddle and parade use: flashy gaits, strong bones and powerful presence. Lusitano are extremely proficient at the high levels of dressage; including the high-school movements of piaffe, passage, pirouettes, flying lead changes and half pass. The Lusitano is also noted to have very comfortable gaits.


Adult female horse (3 years and older).

On the Bit

A horse is said to be “on the bit” when he carries his head in a near vertical position and he is calmly accepting the rider’s contact on the reins.


Small enclosure in which horses are turned out for grazing


Coat color in which the body can be varying shades of gold, with a silver or white mane and tail

Paso Fino

Breed of horse, originally from Spain, known for it’s comfort and endurance


This term is used when describing the color of a horse. The “points” of a horse are his mane, tail, lower legs and the tips of his ears.


A full-grown small horse (14.2 hands and under).


A horse with both parents being of the same breed

Quarter Horse

Breed of horse, originating in the United States and popular for ranch work, racing and riding in all equestrian disciplines.


The part of the horse’s body from the rear of the flank to the top of the tail down to the top of the gaskin. Also called the hind quarters.


Horse bred for racing. Can be Thoroughred, Quarter Horse, Arabian, Standardbred.


Type of Western riding in which advanced movements such as spins and slides are executed in various patterns.

Show Jumping

Show jumping, also known as “stadium jumping” is one of three elements that make up the eventing discipline; the other two being dressage and cross country jumping. Jumping classes are commonly seen at horse shows throughout the world, including the Olympics. Sometimes shows are limited exclusively to jumpers, sometimes jumper classes are offered in conjunction with other English-style events, and sometimes show jumping is but one division of very large, all-breed competitions that include a very wide variety of disciplines. Jumping classes may be governed by various national horse show sanctioning organization and international competitions are governed by the rules of the Fédération Équestre Internationale (FEI).


Sidesaddle riding is a form of Equestrianism that uses a type of saddle which allows a rider (usually female) to sit aside rather than astride a horse, mule or pony. Sitting aside dates back to antiquity and developed in European countries in the Middle Ages as a way for women in skirts to ride a horse in a “modest” fashion while also wearing fine clothing. It has retained a specialty equestrian niche even in the modern world.

Sound – A horse without any injuries that interfere with his performance and/or health

Sport Horse

Sport horse is a term used to describe a type of horse, rather than any particular breed. The term generally refers to horses bred for the traditional Olympic equestrian sporting events of dressage, eventing, show jumping, and combined driving. The precise definition varies. In the United States, horses used in hunt seat and show hunter competitions are often classed as sport horses, whereas the British show hunter is classified as a show horse.

Horses used for western riding disciplines, saddle seat, or any form of horse racing is generally not described as sport horses.


Small metal devices worn on the rider’s boot to help enforce the leg aids. Come in a range of severety, from very mild blunt spurs to severe roweled models.


Uncastrated adult male horse (3 years and older).


Standardbreds are a breed of horse best known for their ability to race in harness at a trot or pace instead of under saddle at a gallop. Developed in North America, the breed is now recognized worldwide for its harness racing ability. They are solid, well-built horses with good dispositions that are also used under saddle for a variety of equestrian activities. Standardbreds tend to be more muscled and longer bodied than thoroughbreds, and are considered to be of more placid disposition, as suits horses whose races involve more strategy and changes of speed than in thoroughbred racing. Standardbreds are considered people-oriented and easy-to-train horses. They are generally a bit heavier in build than their thoroughbred cousins, but have refined, solid legs and powerful shoulders and hindquarters. Standardbreds have a wide range of height, from 14.1 to 17 hands (57″-66″), and most often are bay in colour.

There are two basic types of standarbreds: trotters and pacers. As the name suggests, the trotter’s preferred racing gait is the trot, where the horses’ legs move in diagonal pairs, when the right foreleg moves forward so does the left hind leg, and vice versa. The pace is a two beat lateral gait; pacers’ forelegs move in unison with the hind legs on the same side. However, the breed also is able to perform all other horse gaits, including the canter, and pacers can be retrained to trot.


All equipment used on a horse (bridle, saddle, halter, etc.)

Tennessee Walking Horse

Breed of horse originating in the American south, bred for comfort and exhibiting characteristic gaits.



Moderate-speed gait in which the horse moves from one diagonal pair of legs to the other, with a period of suspension in between.


Equestrian sport involving gymnastic exercises done on the back of a moving horse.


Upright fence with no spread. Can be rails, planks, gate, or wall.


A slow four-beat gait.


A half-bred, or part-bred horse, the result of an Arabian or Thoroughbred cross with other breeds. Also one of a number of specific breeds of horse which were developed by crossing hotblood and coldblood horses to produce a more refined, but athletically strong and capable horse, such as the Swedish Warmblood, the Dutch Warmblood etc.


The gradual process of separating a foal from its mother.


A colt or filly who is 6 to 12 months old

Western Riding

Western riding is a style of horseback riding that evolved from the ranching and warfare traditions brought to the Americas by the Spanish Conquistadors, and both equipment and riding style evolved to meet the working needs of the cowboy in the American West. American cowboys needed to work long hours in the saddle over rough terrain, sometimes needing to rope cattle with a lariat (or lasso). Because of the necessity to control the horse with one hand and use a lariat with the other, western horses were trained to neck rein, that is, to change direction with light pressure of a rein against the horse’s neck. Horses were also trained to exercise a certain degree of independence in using their natural instincts to follow the movements of a cow, thus a riding style developed that emphasized a deep, secure seat, and training methods encouraged a horse to be responsive on very light rein contact.

Though the differences in equipment appear dramatic, fewer differences between “English” and Western riding exist than most people think. Both styles require riders to have a solid seat, with the hips and shoulders balanced over the feet, with hands independent of the seat so as to avoid jerking the horse in the mouth and interfering with its performance.

“Western Riding” is also the name for a specific type of event within western competition where a horse performs a pattern that combines trail and reining elements.


Point at the bottom of the horse’s neck from which the horse’s height is measured.


A horse who is between 1 and 2 years old