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If you are new to horses, then the chances are that you’ve learned the basics of riding terminology from your friends or online. However, equestrians have many unique words, and I’ve learned over the years that these are often unfamiliar or even intimidating for newcomers.
A riding horse is also known as a “saddle horse” or “steed.” A person who rides horses can be referred to in many ways, such as a horseback rider, rider, equestrian, jockey, wrangler, or horseman, depending on the region and context.
The world of horses is vast and beautiful, but it can be confusing for people learning to ride. There’s a different language that most don’t understand when they first start out – you needn’t worry if you’re not familiar with all the terms yet because I go over them here.
Horse Terminology every horseman should know.
Whether it is the quiet serenity of a horse grazing in the field or the adrenalin-inducing sight of a horse rider galloping down the race track, horses stir emotions on many levels. An equestrian may talk about how the horse switched leads or moved from a trot to a canter.
And many may not understand what they are talking about. In this article, I cover nicknames, namesakes, and expressions used for ‘riding horse,’ names given for horse riders, words used for a horse’s movements, body parts, tack, etc.
I tried to cover most words and phrases with a mix of both technical and slang, but I’m sure it’s not all-inclusive, and I’ll have to update as I think of more. But this should give you a good reference, and I hope this knowledge increases your understanding and enjoyment of your horse.
What is a riding horse called?
A riding horse is also called a ‘saddle horse’ or a steed and is used for recreation, sport, or business. A steed has to be strong and have a good temperament to work with people. The word steed comes from the Old English word strēd, which means running or traveling.
Below is a list of words or synonyms used for horse riding and horse riders:
Important terms for horse riding and horse riders.
- Stock horse – this type of horse works with livestock and cattle. It is a historic term used for working horses in ranches and farms.
- Campdrafting horse – This is an Australian term for a horse and rider used for working cattle.
- Cutting horse – These horses and riders participate in a Western-style equestrian competition where the rider and his/her mount have to display a 2 ½ minute run.
- Cowboy/bronco/buckaroo – mounted cattle-hand
- This type of horse works a single cow and even performs in equestrian competitions where it is judged on patterns of its herding work, accuracy, timing, etc. while working a cow.
- Pony trekking – British term for riding a horse/pony for pleasure.
- Showjumping – depicting a person on horseback.
- Dressage – the ballet on horseback; also called flatwork
- Haute Ecole – like dressage/ballet on horseback.
- Hack – In the Western lingo, a hack is a horse well-suited to the hunter classes.
- Caballero – horseman
- Gaucho – horse rider
- Straphanger – horse rider
- Cowpoke – rancher
- Vaquero – herdsman; slang for Mexican cowboy.
- Broncobuster – horseman
- Cavalryman – soldier on horseback
- Ranahan or ranny – an experienced cowboy
- Group of horses: a team, harras, a rag (when it is colts), a stud (horses for breeding).
- Remuda – a herd of horses that are saddle broken.
Some other important horse terms you need to know.
The definition of horse riding is ‘the activity of riding a horse for sports or pleasure or work – for enjoyment or competition.’ In the United States, we often use the term “horseback riding” when talking about riding a horse; I’m unsure how this phrase came about.
The following is a list of the many terms used to describe riding and other horse related activities:
- Equestrian – It’s a broad term and encompasses all persons who work with and ride horses. It can be a noun and an adjective. The adjective stands for the depiction of a person on horseback. It also encompasses all things related to horse riding.
- Equestrianism/equestrianship/equestrian skills – the art or sport of horse riding. This is the only sport where men and women compete together in the Olympics.
- Bareback – to ride without a saddle
- Break in – to tame a wild horse
- Groom – the one who looks after horses/the act of taking care of a horse
- Hand high – a measure of a horse’s height
- Hack – British word for riding a horse for pleasure.
- Horsemanship – the skill of riding, training, and managing a horse
- Sidesaddle- sitting in the horse saddle with both your feet on one side.
- Green horse – A horse that is not fully broke for riding. Green horses or green broke may have some time under a saddle, but not much and are usually not safe for inexperienced riders.
Terms used to describe a horse’s movements.
- Gaits – a horse uses a different pace for each of its forward movements – like a jog, walk, trot, etc.
- Canter (also called lope) – If a horse canters, it means it can ride at a fairly fast pace. This is the average gait between 10 and 17 mph.
- Gallop – when a horse gallops, it is running as fast as it can.
- Trot – Trot is a slow pace of horse riding – at an average of 8 mph. When a horse trots, its front leg and the opposite leg behind fall on the ground simultaneously.
- Walk – slowest gait of a horse (about 4 miles per hour)
- Jog – Slower and less elevated version of trot
- Jib – a British word for when a horse stops midway through a ride suddenly and refuses to move.
- Changing/Switching leads – When a horse runs one of its front legs reaches further than the other, as it turns they may need to switch which leg is reaching forward in order to stay balanced, this act is switching leads and is essential in equine competitions.
Terms used to describe the parts of a horse.
- Crest – This is the area along the top of the neck where the skin and specialized fat cover the nuchal ligament.
- Withers – The withers are the highpoint on a horse’s body above its shoulders; the ridge between the shoulder blades.
- Loin – This is located between the last rib and the croup.
- Croup – The place behind the saddle – specifically the posterior part
- Dock – The dock area is the area at the top of the tail. Docking refers to cutting a horse’s tail short.
- Gaskin _ the upper part of the hind leg
- Hock – The hock is also called the tarsus – a region in the hind limbs. It is the most powerful but also the most vulnerable joint in the horse’s body.
- Coronet band – this is the junction between the hoof wall and hairline.
- Fetlock – The term “fetlock” is the joint where the cannon bone, proximal sesamoid bones, and first phalanx meet. It resembles the human ankle but doesn’t function as one.
- Feathers – Feathers are the long hair on the lower legs seen on some horse breeds. They are most common on draft horses and Friesians.
- Pastern – this is the area between the horse’s hoof and the fetlock joint.
- Stifle Joint– is comparable to a human knee and is the area between the horse’s gaskin bone and femur bone.
- Cannon – On the hind leg, the cannon is the part between the hock and ankle; on the foreleg, the cannon is the part between the knee and ankle.
- Frog – The frog of a horse is found on the bottom of its foot. It’s triangular-shaped and extends from the horse’s heel towards the toe.
Horse tack terms
- Gullet – An important part of the saddle that holds the bars of the saddle together. Its angle will determine how the saddle will fit the horse.
- Cantle – it is like the backrest on a saddle. Cantle provides support to the rider’s back.
- Girth – western riders call this the cinch. A cinch uses two/three leather straps (billets) on both sides of the saddle to hold it firmly in place on the horse.
- Bridle – The bridle includes nosebands, bits, cheek pieces, reins, headpiece, throat latch, and browband. These parts work together to communicate and guide your horse. There are various combinations and types of bridles used for specific purposes.
- Martingale or tie-downs – these are of several types. English martingales are straps that run around the horse’s neck and a second strap crosses the first at the chest. A running martingale applies restraining pressure on the horse’s mouth.
- Bit – this is the part of tack that the rider can use to apply gentle pressure on the horse’s head and inside its mouth.
- Reins – strips of materials connecting rider’s hands to the bit. They can be made of leather, web, nylon, cotton, etc.
- Noseband – Nosebands are of 4 types. In the simplest form, a noseband discourages the horse from opening its mouth too wide.
What is a horse lover called?
I call person that loves horses a horse owner, equestrian, or horseman, but there is a word in the dictionary that means “horse lover,” it’s Hippophile. The word is derived from the Greek words “Hippo” meaning horse and “Phile”, which means beloved, loving, or friend.
What do cowboys call their horses?
Cowboys fondly call their mounts friend, amigo, cow ponies, critters, or Mustangs.
What is an unbroken horse called?
Young horses such as foals, weanlings, and yearlings are unbroken, as are wild horses. In Australia, the wild feral horses that roam the vast countryside are Brumbies. Adult unbroke domestic horses and ones used for rodeos are called broncs or broncos.
What are female cowboys called?
Female cowboys are call cowgirls. They can be found ranching cattle, barrel racing, or teaching riding lessons. use of the word cowgirl for a female counterpart of the cowboy was first used in 1884 for a female ranch owner.
The above lists are equestrian terms for all things related to riding horses. Some of these words developed recently, while we’ve been using others for centuries. In addition, many words came to us from other cultures and countries – especially Mexico and Australia. We hope this guide finds use in your conversations and essays!