Horse Terms: Equestrian Lingo Explained

For someone unfamiliar with horse terms, it can be rather confusing and humorous. I once overheard a comical conversation between a horse person and a non-horse person.

In case you didn't know...

Quarter horse - A popular breed of horse known for it's short distance speed (quarter mile race) and agility for working cattle.

Non horse person, "What kind of horse is that?"
Horse person, "That's a Quarter horse."
Non horse person, "Oh...it looks like a whole horse to me."

To the outsider, many horse terms commonly used by horsemen sound like a foreign language. And it's no wonder. Most of the words used to describe horses, equine behavior and all the equipment used to go with them are seldom used outside the horse world.

I've compiled this list of commonly used horse terms and arranged them into meaningful categories. This is by no means a complete list of every word, but it covers the basics.

Horse Terms for Equine Behavior

Spooky - A horse that is afraid of things

Shy - When a horse spooks at something; 'jumps out of their skin'

Head Shy - A horse that does not like to have it's head, ears or face touched

Quarter pony - Similar to a Quarter horse, only shorter

Mixed breed - A horse with parents of different breeds. For example ½ Arabian and ½ Quarter horse. 

Mouthy - A horse that invades your personal space with it's mouth and/or teeth. Also an English hunt term used to describe a rider with 'noisy' busy hands on the rein

Hard mouthed  - A horse that pulls, resists or refuses to 'give in' to the bit

Barn sour /buddy sour - Does not want to leave the barn or refuses to leave other horses

Balk - Refuses to approach an object

This is a cinchy horseThis is a cinchy horse

Weaving - A nervous/neurotic behavior where a horse rocks back and forth on his front legs, usually due to boredom in stall bound horses

Cribbing (wind sucker) - A horse that bites onto stall doors or fencing and swallows air

Cinchy - Gets upset when you tighten the girth on the saddle. May try to kick or bite

Pushy - A horse that crowds your personal space

Lead horse/lead mare - Refers to the 'top dog' horse in the corral. The number one in command. Leader of the herd. The boss of the bunch is often a mare.

Turd kicker - A horse that eats horse manure

Sunfishing - When a horse is bucking and twisting and turning his belly to the sky

Crow hopping -When a horse jumps up and down on his front feet like a mini rearing fit

Horse Terms Relating to Equine Health and Condition

A shod horse

Tender footed - Has sore feet, or is tender when barefoot and needs shoes

Barefoot - Wearing no horse shoes

Shod - Is wearing horse shoes

Lame - The horse is limping, has a sore foot and/or limb

Easy keeper - Gains weight on minimal feed

Hard keeper - Difficult to keep the weight on

Cast - A horse that is down and is unable to get up on their own power

Winded - A horse that has sustained lung damage from over exertion

Interferes (forging) - The back hoof hits the front hoof or leg when walking or running

Paddles - A horse that throws his front feet out in a circular motion when moving forward

Tying up - An emergency situation where the horse's muscles seize up

Colic - A potentially deadly stomach ache

Proud flesh - Pink cottage cheese like flesh that grows on wounded tissue

Proud cut - A gelding that has been castrated late, has prior breeding use, has a bit of testicular cord remaining after castration or has one un-descended testicle left behind

Ewe neck - Has a neck that is concave rather than straight or arched

Cow hocked - The hocks bend in and the back feet splay out

Conformation - How a horse is built or 'put together' be it good or bad

Founder - A food related foot condition that can cause permanent lameness

Horse Terms Relating to Equipment Used for Equines

Tack or Gear is the horse term for saddles, bridles and such

Tack or gear - Refers to saddles, pads, bridles and such

Rig - A saddle

Bridle - The head piece used to control the horse while riding; a head stall, bit and reins.

Rein - The leather line from the rider's hands and the horse's mouth; used to guide the horse

Halter - A head piece used to control a horse while not riding, the equivalent of a dog's collar

Bit - The mouth piece worn in a bridal. Can be made of metal or rubber

Lounge line - A long rope used to move a horse in large circles around the handler

Saddle pad (saddle blanket) - Used under a saddle for padding

Blanket (rug) - A horse covering used in cold weather

Reata - Spanish for the lariet used to rope cattle and horses

Remuda - A bunch of horses from which a cowboy picks to do a days work

A 'hand' - Refers to a horse height measurement. 1 hand = 4 inches

Horse Terms Relating to Training

Green - An un-broke horse

Green broke - A horse with very little training

Green horn - A person unfamiliar with horses

Seasoned - A horse with years of experience under saddle

Halter broke - Not yet broke to ride

Started - Has had a saddle on a few times and is in early training

Prospect - A horse with potential to do well for a specific sport 

Finished - A horse that has been trained sufficiently for riding or to use in a particular way 

Outlaw - A 'problem' horse that is un-broken or unsuitable to ride

To 'pony' - The act of leading one horse while riding another

To 'sack out' (desensitizing) - The act of teaching a horse not to be afraid of things

Lead - Refers to the leading leg of a horse when running or turning. One front leg will move out first and reach farther than the other. That is the lead leg

Flying Lead Change - The horse changes lead at the riders command mid-run

A hunter jumper

Lounge - The act of moving a horse about in circles around the handler

Plow reins - A horse that turns when you pull the rein to the left or right

Neck reins - The horse will turn left or right with the mere pressure of the rein on the neck. They move away from the rein that is touching the skin

Leg queue - A signal given to the horse with the riders leg

Works 'off the leg' - A horse that responds well to leg queue's

Cutting Horse - A horse trained to work cattle, cut one from the herd

A Header - The horse ridden by the rider that ropes the calf's head

A Heeler - The horse ridden by the rider that ropes the calf's back feet

A Roping horse - A horse trained to work independently and keep the rope taught while the rider jumps off to hog tie the calf

A Hunter/Jumper - A horse trained to go over jumps

A Dressage Horse - A horse trained in the classical advanced style of English horsemanship

Grade horse (half breed) - Mixed breed or unknown heritage

Papered (registered) - A horse of known breeding that is registered with a recognized horse association

Hack - An English term used to describe a pleasure horse

OTTB - Horse term meaning off the track Thoroughbred

OTTB - An off the track Thoroughbred

Seat - Proper sitting position while in the saddle

Soft hands - A rider that is gentle on the horses mouth with the reins

Collected - A horse in motion that has been brought into perfect balance by the rider and is ready to move in any direction at the riders command

Roll back - When a horse sits back and spins 180º turn on his hind feet and heads the opposite direction. Often done a high speeds

Horse Terms on Eventing and Gaming

Barrel racing - Horse and rider run a specific pattern around barrels at high speeds. The clover leaf pattern being the most popular at Rodeos

Gymkhana - A barrel racing speed event with the barrels arranged in various patterns

Key hole - A speed event that requires horse and rider to preform a roll back within a chalk line boundary 

Pole Bending - A speed event where the horse and rider weave in and out of 6 poles placed in a row

Play Day - A gymkhana event that hosts all the standard barrel racing patterns with a few 'wild card' events thrown in to mix things up. Often done at season's end for fun

Wild Horse Race - A Rodeo event (spectacle) where riders in teams of 3 attempt to catch, saddle and ride one of the wild horses running loose in the arena. The first team to succeed wins

Team penning - Riders must cut, move and pen 10 cows in specified order in 60 seconds or less

Jump off - A jumping competition where the jumps get higher and higher until the best jumper wins

Cavaletti - Small jumps that are used for practice and training

Verticals - Vertical jumps built like a wall

Oxers - Wide jumps

More Equestrian Terms

This is a mule

For the Meaning of these Horse Terms:

warm blood, cold-blooded, hot blood, draft, light, gaited, non-horse see Types of Horses

For the difference between ponies, horses and mules see Facts About Horses

For horse terms relating to body parts see Horse Body Parts

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