Glossary of Horse Riding Terms for Beginners

by Michelle Drum February 11, 2021 7 min read

horse terminology

When you’re new to horse riding, it can seem like equestrian terms are an entirely different language! There are a lot of words and phrases horse riders use that can be quite foreign for people new to horses. But no worries — we’ve got you covered! Here are some of the common horse terms and definitions to get you on your way to sounding like an expert in no time.

Horse Gear Terms

Horse gear is commonly called “tack” by equestrians. Tack is any accessory worn by a horse or used with a horse, including the commonly-used gear on this list. 

  • Bell Boot — A protective boot sometimes worn by horses, designed to protect their hooves and lower legs. Bell Boots also help keep their shoes on.
  • Bit — A piece of equipment (normally metal) that is placed in a horse’s mouth to give the rider control of the horse. There are a number of different kinds of bits and one of the most popular is a snaffle bit
  • Blinkers — A small pair of leather screens attached to a horse’s bridle, designed to keep the horse from seeing behind or sideways.
  • Breastplate — A set of straps used to prevent a horse’s saddle from slipping backward. They pass under the horse’s chest.
  • Bridle — Headgear consisting of buckled straps, including a crown piece, cheek pieces, throatlatch, browband, and noseband, used to control a horse. A bit and reins are separate pieces that attach to the bridle.  Learn more about How a Horse Bridle Works.
  • Girth — A band fastened around a horse’s belly that’s used to secure a saddle.
  • Halter — A head collar that fastens around the horse’s head and nose for leading or tethering it.
  • Horse Blanket — A covering designed to fit your horse to keep them warm and dry. Learn more about how to measure your horse for a blanket.
  • Horse Boots — A protective boot or wrap some horses wear to prevent trauma to their lower leg or hoof. Learn more about the various types of Horse Boots and how to use them.
  • Martingale — A strap or set of straps used to prevent a horse from raising its head too high. It is attached to the reins or to the noseband, part of the bridle.
  • Rein — A long, narrow strap generally used in pairs attached to a horse’s bit and used to guide a horse when riding.
  • Saddle — A rider’s seat, typically made from leather, that is fastened on a horse’s back. Learn more about how to measure for an English Saddle and check out 8 of our best English Saddles.
  • Shoe —A piece of steel, aluminum, or plastic that is nailed or glued to a horse’s hooves to protect them from injury. Learn more about Horse Glue-On Shoes and if your Horse Needs Them.
  • Stirrup —A loop-shaped device with a flat base attached to both sides of a horse’s saddle and used to support a rider’s foot. These are also sometimes referred to as stirrup irons.

Equestrian Gear Terms

Horses aren’t the only ones with their own special gear. Riders also have equestrian gear worn specifically for horseback riding.

  • Helmet — Essential safety gear to protect the head. Certain helmets are specifically designed for horse riding, and all riders should wear one whenever on horseback. Learn more about riding helmet safety, and check out our top 10 horse riding helmets.
  • Jodhpurs — Modern-day Jodhpurs, also known as Jods, are normally only worn by children and feel the same as breeches. They go over paddock boots and have an elastic strap that goes under the boot.
  • Paddock Boots — Also called jodhpur boots, these short boots are worn for casual riding, and they are often worn with jodhpurs. Check out our 6 Best Paddock Boots.

Terms for a Horse’s Physique

  • Cannons —A horse’s lower legs from the knee to the ankle. Similar to a human shin bone.
  • Coffin Bone This is the bone located inside the hoof.
  • Coronet —The part of a horse’s leg immediately above the hoof.
  • Croup —The topline of a horse’s hindquarters.
  • Fetlock — The joint above the pastern, this functions like an ankle.
  • Forefoot —A horse’s front foot.
  • Hindquarters — The back end of a horse, including the buttocks, upper rear legs, dock of the tail, hips, and the croup.
  • HocksThis joint is the bony protrusion consisting of eight bones at the top of the cannon bone on the hind leg. This joint functions similarly as a human knee on the horses back leg.
  • Hoof —The hard part of a horse’s foot, it is made up of several components each with it's own function. The hoof itself has little to no nerves on the exterior similar to your fingernail only much much thicker. The hoof protects the coffin bone.
  • Mane — The hair that grows from a horse’s neck.
  • Near side — The left-hand side of a horse. 
  • Off side —The right-hand side of a horse. 
  • Pastern — The part of the leg between the fetlock and coronet at the top of the hoof. The pastern is made up of 2 bones known as the 1st and second phalanges (think finger bones as they stem from wrist).
  • Withers — The ridge between the shoulder blades.

Other Words for Horses 

The following different names for horses are used based on their age, gender, and if they are intact or castrated.

  • Aged/Senior — Horses that are fifteen years old or older.
  • Colt — A male horse under four years of age that is not castrated.
  • Equine — A horse or another member of the horse family such as a donkey or a zebra.
  • Foal  — A young horse.
  • Filly — A female horse that is under the age of four.
  • Gelding — A male horse that has been castrated.
  • Mare — A female horse over four years old.
  • Stallion — A male horse that is over four years old and has not been castrated.
  • Yearling — A horse between the ages of one and two.
  • Weanling — A young horse under 1-year old that has been weaned from its mother.
  • Mini – The miniture version of a full grown equine, generally under 52" tall at the withers and shoulders.

English Riding Terms

English riding is a form of horse riding with several disciplines, including the following:

  • Cross-Country — An endurance test that is part of the three phases of eventing. XC involves jumping solid obstacles. Originally designed to mimic jumps you would come across on the hunt field.
  • Dressage A discipline where the horse and rider are judged based on how well they perform a series of prescribed movements. 
  • Eventing — A combination of three disciplines: dressage, cross-country, and show jumping.
  • Hunter — A competition where the horse and rider jump over fences and the horse’s form, style, and accuracy is judged.
  • Jumper (also called Show Jumping) — A competition that evaluates how quickly a horse and rider can complete a series of jumps with the fewest errors, or faults.

General Horse Terminology

These are other commonly-used horse-related words you may come across:

  • Above the bit —This is an incorrect head position, typically caused by excess pressure from a bit, where the horse’s head is held high above a rider’s hands.
  • Aids —Tools a rider uses to communicate with a horse, including voice, legs, spurs, and hands.
  • Canter —A gait with three beats, between a gallop and a trot.
  • Dry Lot —A grass-free paddock for horses who are overweight or require strict monitoring of their grass intake.
  • Equestrian — A person who owns, rides, or shows horses, or participates in horse-related activities.
  • Equitation –  The practice of horse riding and horsemanship.
  • Farrier — A person who trims and shoes a horse’s hooves. Also known as a Blacksmith
  • Gait — The movement and speed of a horse.
  • Gallop — A fast gait with four beats where all four of the horse’s hooves are off the ground at a time.
  • Hand – A common unit of measurement for horses. One hand equals four inches. 
  • Lame — A horse that is limping or has mobility issues due to injury or pain.
  • Mount — Getting on a horse. (Getting off a horse is called dismounting).
  • Paddock — A small enclosure to keep a horse contained for a specific purpose.
  • Pasture — a large area of several acres where horses are turned out to graze, run and play.
  • Sound — A horse with an even gait. (A horse with an uneven gait is known as lame orunsound.)
  • Trot — A pace faster than a walk where a horse lifts its legs in diagonal pairs.

There’s a lot to learn when you are first introduced to horses. Not only are you learning to care for them and ride them, but you also have a whole new list of terminology to figure out. With this glossary in hand, you should be off to a great start and ready to begin putting your new knowledge into practice.


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