Equestrian Glossary - Horse Terms & Meanings

Equestrian Glossary: Horse Terms & Meanings

A glossary of equestrian terms and the terminology used in horse riding, dressage, showjumping, eventing and other ridden disciplines.

English Riding, Western Riding, Rodeo, Dressage, Showjumping, Showing or just good old pleasure riding, there is a wealth of discipline specific terminology and jargon used.

As a rider and particularly as a competitive rider, learning the correct terms helps you understand what other riders are referring to.

A better understanding leads to increased knowledge and a better ability to learn from the things you read and what trainers, farriers, veterinarians and other equestrian competitors and horse owners are saying.

Common Equestrian Abbreviations.

Table 1.EQ. Common Equestrian Abbreviations

  • AHS Arab Horse Society
  • BHS British Horse Society
  • BHTA British Horse Trials Association
  • BSJA British Show Jumping Association
  • BSPS British Show Pony Society
  • CB Cleveland Bay
  • CHAPS Coloured Horse & Pony Society
  • C/S Cob Size
  • FR First Ridden
  • F/S Full Size
  • HOYS Horse Of The Year Show
  • HT Hunter Trials
  • H/W Heavy weight
  • ID Irish Draught
  • KWPN Royal Warmblood Stud Book Of The Netherlands
  • LDR Long-Distance Riding
  • LR Lead-Rein
  • L/W Lightweight
  • MGA Mounted Games Association
  • M&M Mountain & Moorland
  • M/W Middleweight
  • NF New Forest
  • NPS National Pony Society
  • ODE One-Day Event
  • O/N Open Novice
  • PB Part-Bred
  • PBA Part-Bred Arab
  • PC Pony Club
  • PPC Prince Phillips Cup
  • PUK Ponies UK
  • QH Quater Horse
  • RC Riding Club
  • RCP Riding Club Pony
  • RH Riding Horse
  • RP Ridden Pony
  • SH Show Hunter
  • SHB(GB) Sports Horse Breeding Of GB
  • SHP Show Hunter Pony
  • SJ Show Jumping
  • SP Show Pony
  • TB Thoroughbred
  • TBX Thoroughbred Cross
  • WB Warmblood
  • WH Working Hunter
  • WHP Working Hunter Pony
  • XC Cross Country
  • 3DE Three Day Event

Alpahbetical Equestrian Glossary

Simply select the appropriate tab and browse through the equestrian terms and meanings in that section.

Equestrian Glossary - Horse Terms & Meanings

Action : The manner in which a horse travels and moves.


  • artificial – Spurs, whips, martingales and so forth.
  • natural – Legs, hands, seat, weight and voice, as used to control a horse.

Airs/Airs above the ground : Classical dressage. Includes pasade/levade and school jumps, courbette and capriole, which are only performed with specially suitable and trained horses

Appointments : Equipment and clothing used in showing horses.

Artificial gaits : Taught rather than natural gaits. Including the running walk, slow gait, rack and, in some instances, the pace. All are modifications of the walk.

Balance : The horse is carrying the riders and its own weight in the most efficient way. The weight is on the hind legs (the quarters) not on the front legs (the forehand).

Bend of neck – Neck bend : The horse’s neck is bent but the body is straight. A common fault when first attempting to shoulder-in.

Box : Stall or stable. A stable is a building in which livestock, especially horses, are kept. It most commonly means a building that is divided into separate stalls for individual animals. There are many different types of stables in use today such as the American barn which is a large barn with a door each end and individual stalls inside or free standing stables with the classic top and bottom opening (stable) doors.

Balance : Refers to the overall appearance of the horse. All parts of the body are in correct proportion to each other and result in a pleasing, balanced appearance.

Bearing Rein : Rein pushed against the neck in direction of the turn, neck rein.

Bits : The bit is the most important part of the bridle; the chief use of the other parts of the bridle is to hold the bit in place in the horses mouth. The bit provides communication between the rider or driver and the horse. more on the horse bit

Bloom : A condition of the hair and coat. They appear clean, healthy and finetextured with a distinct, clear shine. Healthy appearance.

Bosal (boh-zal) : Noseband of the hackamore, usually made of braided rawhide.

Bowed tendon : An inflammation and enlargement of the flexor tendon at the back of the cannon (most often found on the front legs).

Brace bandages : Resilient bandages on the leg of horses worn in some cases to support lame legs, and worn in other cases to protect a horse from cutting and skinning its legs while racing.

Brand : A mark of identification. A private registered mark burned, frozen or tattooed on the horse. Freeze marking is a common anti-theft deterrent used by horse owners.

Buck-kneed : Knees bent forward.

By or sired by : The male parent of a horse.

Canter :The canter consists of a series of bounds. In the correct canter three hoof beats should be heard.

Equestrian glossary

It is known as the right or left canter according to which foreleg is leading. In the right canter the left hind leg is placed on the ground (first hoof beat), then the right hind leg and left foreleg together at the same time (second hoof beat), followed by the right foreleg (third hoof beat). The left hind leg should leave the ground before the right foreleg is put down, then comes the left diagonal; finally the right foreleg, followed by its suspension.

In correct canter the entire weight is carried in the following sequence: one hind leg, two hind legs and one foreleg, one hind leg and the diagonal foreleg, one hind leg and two forelegs, one foreleg, all four legs in the air (the moment of suspension). This sequence of steps must be maintained at all tempos.

The canter is incorrect if four hoof beats can be heard, which happens when the hind leg is put down before the corresponding diagonal foreleg.

Calf-kneed : Opposite of buck-kneed. Knees angled backward.

Cast : When a horse lies down or rolls to close to a wall, so it is impossible or difficult for it to get up without assistance.

Catch rope : Working rope or lariat.

Cavesson :A noseband on a bridle.

Equestrian Glossary - the lunging cavesson

A lunging cavesson; for which there is no substitute, can be made from strong nylon web with three rings on the noseband. It is normally fully adjustable.

The lunge line, which is a necessity, should be approximately 30 feet long and is snapped to the center ring of the cavesson. It gives you control of the horse’s head.

A word of caution in using the cavesson. It must fit tightly and two jaw straps are preferred in order to keep it on and in order not to cut the eye on the off side.

Have someone observe this on your first use of it, especially on a horse that pulls

Coarse : Used to express a lack of quality or a rough, harsh appearance.

Coggins test : An agar gel-immunal diffusion test to determine equine infectious anemia (known as swamp fever).

Colic : Various conditions of the digestive tract in which abdominal pain is the chief symptom… see symtoms and treating horse colic

Collected : Controlled gait, a correct, coordinated action.

Collection : There is no short definition of collection. It is however the goal that all dressage riders aim for.

Colt : A young, male horse under four years of age.

Conformation : The build of a horse — the structure, form and symmetrical arrangements of physical parts … see horse conformation

Contracted heels : Occurs most often in the fore feet, characterized by a drawing or contracting of the heels … see the horse hoof & foot

Cribbing : Biting or setting teeth against the manger or some other object, arching the neck and gulping or swallowing air into the stomach, not the lungs.

Crossbreed : The result of breeding two different breeds of horse to produce an individual that possesses the characteristics of both breeds. As in warmblood x thoroughbred or part bred arab.

Cryptorchid : A male horse whose testicles have not descended into the scrotum.

Dental Star : A star-shaped or circle-like structure near the center of the wearing surface of the permanent incisors.

Direct Rein : Using one hand on each rein with a snaffle bit or bosal, teaching the horse to turn and give to the pressure caused by the pull of the rein.

Disunited : When a horse is on the right front lead and left hind lead at the same time or vice versa.

Dressage : Exercise and training that develops the physique and ability of the horse.

The object of Dressage is the harmonious development of the physique and ability of the horse. As a result it makes the horse calm, supple, loose and flexible but also confident, attentive and keen thus achieving perfect understanding with his rider…… see Dressage

Dressage Rider : Someone who likes to dress-up, be the center of attention and ride his/her horse in front of a posh country house, preferably owned by royalty.

Or; a rider that devotes time and attention to perfecting the aids and to giving the aids with almost invisible movements of the hands, seat, legs and body. Viewed by some as a perfectionist. See. Dressage Riding

Equine : Everything of or pertaining to the horse.

Equitation : The art of horseback riding.

Flying change : Changing the lead leg in canter in the air (during an unbroken canter stride) at the rider’s instructions.

Full-pass : The horse in half-pass is bent into the direction of movement but does not move forwards at all, it moves sideways only.

Farrier :A fully qualified and professional horse shoe fitter. Although qualified farriers do much more… see Farrier.

Filly : A young female horse under four years old.

Float teeth : Filing off the sharp edges of a horse’s teeth. see Floating Horse Teeth

Foal : A young or new born horse, either male or female, up to yearling age.

Founder : See symptoms & treating laminitis.

Gait : Describes a specific foot fall pattern or beat, i.e., walk, trot, canter.

Gallop : The gallop is very much like the canter, except that it is faster, more ground-covering, and the three-beat canter changes to a four-beat gait.

Equestrian glossary

It is the fastest gait of the horse, averaging about 25 to 30 miles per hour, and in the wild is used when the horse needs to flee from predators or simply cover short distances quickly. Horses seldom gallop for more than a mile or two before they need to rest, though at a moderately-paced gallop a horse can sustain it for longer distances before it becomes winded and has to slow down.

Like a canter, the horse will strike off with its non-leading hind foot; but the second stage becomes, in the gallop, the second and third stages because the inside hind foot hits the ground a split second before the outside front foot. Then both gaits end with the striking off of the leading leg, followed by a moment of suspension when all four feet are off the ground. A careful listener or observer can tell an extended canter from a gallop by the presence of the fourth beat.

Gelding : A physically altered or castrated male horse.

Grooming : Removal of dirt and other irritants from the horse. Grooming massages your horses muscles and helps build up a personal relationship, akin to pairing up between two horses in a field.

Gymkhana : A horse show or event with a program of competitive games on horseback.

Half halt : A method of bringing the horse to a greater degree of balance and higher mental attention. Aids too numerous for short definition.

Half-pass : The horse is moveing equally forwards and sideways. The horses’ length is bent in the direction of movement. The movement can be ridden in walk, trot or canter.

Hackamore : A type of western headstall or bridle without a bit, commonly used in breaking horses and teaching them to neck rein. Simply used as a bitless bridle in the UK.

Hand : The unit by which the height of a horse is measured. A hand equals 4 inches. see How to Measure a Horse

Hand gallop : Three beat gait, similar to a lope or canter but the stride is lengthened.

Handy : Describes a horse that moves quickly and willingly. Always in conrol of its movements in a balanced, rhythmic, alert manner.

Headstall : Part of a bridle or hackamore that fits over the horse’s head.

Heaves : Pulmonary emphysema. A condition in which the lungs do not work efficiently. Reduced elastic recoil reduces the amount of air that can be forced out of the lungs. A “heave line” may develop due to this condition.

Hinny : Cross between a jenny and a stallion.

Hobbles : Straps fastened to the front legs of a horse to prevent him from straying.

Hogged : Removal of the mane usually carried out on cob types.

Honda : Eye on the working end of a lariat or riata through which the rope passes to form a loop or noose.

Jack : A Male donkey.

Junior horse : Any horse four years old or younger.

Laminitis : Founder. Noninfectious inflammation of the sensitive laminae of one or more of the hooves. see symptoms & treating laminitis

Lateral movements : The horse is going sideways to some degree and only at the instructions of the rider.

Lead (leg) : In canter or lope, the horse is on the right or left lead as indicated by the inside or leading foreleg; also the third beat in the stride.

Length Bend : The horse is bent uniformly round your inside leg. The inside surface area of the horse is the same shape as the circumference of the corner or circle.

Livery : Board / Boarding. (see livery yard facilities)

Lunge line : A long line, about 20 to 30 feet, used to train and exercise a horse

Manege : An area for training horses. A dressage arena. Normally a rectangle or oblong area usually measuring either twenty metres by forty metres or twenty metres by sixty metres. see Dressage Arena

Mare : A mature female horse four years of age and older.

Martingales : Two types: standing and running. The martingale prevents the elevation of the horse’s head beyond a certain level without cramping the horse.

  • The standing martingale consists of a strap which extends from around the girth, between the forelegs, to the noseband.
  • The running martingale is not attached to the horse’s head, but terminates in two rings through which the reins pass. It permits more freedom of movement than the standing martingale.

Mecate : A hackamore rein and lead rope. Also called a McCarty rein.

Monkey mouth : Opposite of parrot mouth, the lower jaw protrudes in front of the upper jaw.

Mule : A cross between a mare and a jack.

Natural gaits : Walk, trot, canter and gallop and, in some horses, pace and running walk.

Near side : The horse’s left side.

Neck rein : A signal to the horse with the weight of the rein against the neck.

Off side or far side : The horse’s right side.

On the bit : When the horse has rounded his back, has accepted your weight, has engaged
his hindquarters, has accepted the contact in the mouth and has arched his neck. He has given himself up to the riders aids. A nearly vertical line can be drawn down the front of the horses face.

On the forehand : The horse is carrying itself and the rider with its balance and weight over the two front legs.

Open class : A show class in which any horse of a specified breed may compete.

Out of or dam of : Refers to the female parent of a horse.

Parasite : A small organism that lives on or in and at the expense of a larger organism called the host. see Equine Parasites, Worms & Worming

Parrot mouth : Opposite of monkey mouth, the upper jaw overhangs the lower jaw, the
incisors do not properly meet and cause uneven wear and growth.

Parturition : The act of giving birth :

Passage : A movement in trot with an extended moment of suspension. The horse’s quarters carry more weight and propel him forward.

Piaffe : A movement in trot (alternate diagonals). A proud and rhythmic movement performed nearly on the spot.

Piebald : The black and white coat color of the Pinto and cob type horse.

Posting : The rising and lowering of a rider with the rhythm of the trot.

Purebred : Bred from members of a recognized breed without mixture of blood from other breeds.

Quality : Fineness of feature, fine hair and lack of coarseness.

Rein chains : Light weight chains attached from the bit to the rein. Used to counter balance the weight of the spade bit.

Reins : The reins afford direct contact between the hands and horse’s mouth. They regulate impulsion: slowing, stopping or backing the horse. The reins, acting through the mouth and the neck, are also used to change direction of travel or to turn the horse right or left.

Rein Action :

  • Feel the rein : To take a contact that is soft and giving.
  • Giving the rein : Pushing your hand towards the horses mouth or the bit, to allow the rein to drop, dangle or loop.
  • Pull the rein : To take the rein backwards towards the rider’s body. Must never be used in classical dressage.
  • Soft rein : To take a contact that is soft and with feel.
  • Take the rein : To momentarily close the figures on the rein to ‘block’ or to ‘not give’ or ‘not to be light’.
  • To Ask with the rein : Give and take the rein to create bend or flexion. Never a pull, always an invitation. If you horse is being disobedient or hard in the mouth, a persistent invitation.

Rein back : The horse moving backwards on the riders command.

Relative Straightness : In dressage terms this means a horse is going straight when the inside hind leg follows the track of the inside foreleg.

Renvers : Work on three tracks. The horse’s quarters are to the track with the forehand away from the track. The outside hind leg creates one track. The outside foreleg and inside hind leg (diagonal pair) create the second track and the inside foreleg creates the third track. The horse must have length bend in the direction of movement.

Restraint : Usually tying, to prevent escape or injury.

Riata : Braided rawhide rope.

Rosette / Ribbon colors :

  • Equestrian Glossary of equestrian terms - rosette USA – Blue = first; Red = second; Yellow = third; White = fourth; Pink = fifth; Green = sixth; Purple = seventh; Brown =eighth.
  • Britain – Red = first; Blue = second; Yellow = third; Green = fourth; Pink = fifth; Purple = sixth.

Roached : A mane that has been cut short.

Roached back : A convex back, one that forms an outward arc.

Roller : A surcingle, or form of girth, used to hold a blanket in place.

Romal : A braided rawhide terminating in a single or double tapered strap, usually between 3 and 4 feet long, and attached to the end of closed, braided rawhide reins.

Saddlebred : Breed originated in the United States. Developed as an easy-riding, general purpose horse historically for plantation use. Used today as a show horse. Can be three- or five-gaited.

School movements : A series of known and predefined exercises in the menage.

Seat and hands : A term that refers to the ability of a rider to sit in the saddle with grace and control the mount.

Self carriage : When the horse is able to carry itself in balance through the various school movements without any support from the rein.

Senior horse : Any horse five years old or older.

Short-coupled : Describes a horse having a short distance (not more than four-fingers width) between the last rib and the point of the hip.

Shoulder-in : Work on three tracks. The horse’s forehand is brought in off the track so that the outside hind leg creates one track, the outside foreleg and inside hind leg (diagonal pair) create the second track and the inside foreleg creates the third track.

Skewbald : Coat color other than black, such as bay, brown or chestnut, combined
with white of the Pinto horse.

Slicker : A raincoat made of oiled canvas or plastic.

Slobber chains : Light weight chains attached between the shanks of a curb bit. or straps Sometimes it is a solid metal bar called a slobber bar.

Smooth mouth : Refers to the smooth, biting surface of the upper and lower teeth after the cups have disappeared at 12 years of age.

Sound : A term that means the horse is physically fit and shows no signs of weakness or illness which interfere with its usefulness.

Split-ear headstall : A western headstall with a slot for only one ear to go through.

Spoon : The port mouthpiece for exerting pressure on the mouth which rises from the center of the mouthpiece of a curb bit, much like the port of the Weymouth curb bit. The spoon may vary from less than an inch to 2 or more inches in length.

Stallion : A mature, uncastrated male horse.

Stud : Usually refers to a horse-breeding farm or ranch; has been corrupted in common usage to mean stallion.

Stylish : To have a pleasing, graceful, alert general appearance.

Suppleness : The ability of the horse to bend and flex its entire body.

Sway-back : A concave or sagging back that forms an inward arc.

Stable / Stall : A stable is a building in which livestock, especially horses, are kept. It most commonly means a building that is divided into separate stalls for individual animals. There are many different types of stables in use today such as the American barn which is a large barn with a door each end and individual stalls inside or free standing stables with the classic top and bottom opening (stable) doors.

Straightness : This is when the spine is parallel to the straight line or long side of the menage.

Tack : Riding equipment or gear for the horse such as saddle, bridle, halter, and so forth.

Tapaderos or taps : Leather covering or shield over the front of the stirrups.

Tempi changes : More than one flying change put together to form a movement (e.g. four time tempi changes is a change of leg every fourth canter stride).

Thrush : A disease of the frog in which a black discharge and foul smell are emitted.

Travers : Work on three tracks. The horse’s quarters are brought into the school so that the outside foreleg creates one track. The inside foreleg and the outside hind leg create the second track (a diagonal pair) and the inside hind leg creates the third track.

Trot : In the trot the diagonal legs must be raised from the ground simultaneously and be replaced on the ground together, making two hoof beats.

Equestrian glossary - Trot

A jump from one diagonal pair of legs to the other. A two beat tempo.

For instance, after the left diagonal (right fore and left hind) leaves the ground, the right diagonal (right fore and left hind) is raised before the left diagonal has touched the ground again, so that the horse is suspended with all four legs in the air for a moment. This moment is called suspension.

Type : The arrangement of body parts into distinct recognizable patterns. All horses have the same basic conformation, but each breed has distinct conformation types that make it differ from other breeds.

Vice : A bad habit that may affect a horses usefulness, dependability or health.

Volte : A small circle – six metres in diameter.

Walk : In the walk the horse moves his legs one after the other so that four hoof beats may be heard.

Equestrian glossary - Walk

For example: (1st) left forefoot, (2nd) right hind foot, (3rd) right forefoot and (4th) left hind foot.

Two or three feet are always on the ground at the same time; the horse steps from one leg to the other and there is no moment of suspension.

War bridle : An emergency bridle made of rope for use in leading unruly horses.

Warmblood : Result of crossing heavy horses with fine thoroughbreds, mainly used for pulling carriages. Today used in dressage, show jumping and eventing; see The Danish Warmblood.

Weanling : A foal, colt or filly under one year old, that has been taken away from its mother that is no longer nursing.

Wolf teeth : Small pointed teeth that sometimes appear at the base of the first premolar tooth. see Horse Teeth Terms

Work in hand : The horse is trained or exercised from the ground. The rider is not in the saddle. The trainer is normally close enough to reach with ease any part of the horse with the long/dressage whip

Xenophon : Author of the first book on horsemanship… see Xenophon

Yearling : A foal that is between one and two years of age. A foal is considered one year of age on January 1, regardless of what month in the year it was born.