Horse Terms

Following are some of the common horse terms and their definitions. If you would like to suggestion any additions to our dictionary, please contact us. We also have a separate list of horse sayings.

Acre. Measure of land area, equal to 4,840 square yards or 43,560 square feet. See also Hectare.

Action - How a horse moves at various gaits.

Age (of the Horse). Horse racing and other organisations typically calculate the age of a horse from January 1st of the year that it was born. For example, a horse born on 1st January and a horse born in the middle of the same year would be considered the same age (measured in years) for racing purposes. So, on 3/3/2011 a horse born on 1/1/2009 and a horse born on 6/6/2009 would both be considered 2 year olds, even though on is under 2 years in actual age and one is over 2 years. To obtain a competitive advantage, some breeders consequently mate their mares in February (an unnatural time of year) so that the resulting foal is born in early January, allowing it to have maximum maturity for its official age.

Balk. When a horse refuses to move forward or to go over an obstacle. In competitive riding, this normally results in penalty points. 

Bareback. Riding without a saddle.

Barefoot. An unshod horse.

Barley. One of the four types of grains commonly fed to horses.

Bedding - Straw or other material put on the floor of a horse box to provide a comfortable layer for the horse to walk or lay on (thus 'bed' or 'bedding'). Performs a number of functions, such as urine absorption and psychological occupation. For details see comparison of horse bedding.

Blacksmith. A person who forges and shapes iron with anvil and hammer. Term also used to mean farrier.

Blanket. Can be either a fabric cover for the horse (see Horse Rugs) or used to describe a lighter colour on the rump of a horse (in some breeds, such as Appaloosa, this is considered highly desirable).

Blaze. White or light colour on the front of a horse's face.

Blemish. A visible defect (e.g. scar or lump) which does not affect the performance of the horse.

Bloodline. The ancestors of a horse (e.g. 'He has a great bloodline, both his parents and grandparents were successful racers').

Bolting. Two possible meanings; one is 'to run away', the other is 'to eat dangerously fast'. For  diagnosis and prevention of the latter problem, see Horse Food Bolting. See also Choke.

Bomb-proof. A horse that doesn't frighten or spook. An especially reliable horse is sometimes described as '100% bomb proof'. See also 'Old War Horse' below.

Boots. Protective cover for a horse's feet.

Box Walking. A behavioral disorder, where the horse paces excessively in its box or stall. See Box Walking for details.

Breeding Stock - Depending on person using the term, can mean 'horse which is or will be used for breeding' or 'a horse of sufficient quality to be used for breeding'.

Breeder - A person who breeds horses. Usually applied to a person who breeds multiple horses professionally.

Breaking. The initial training of a horse, generally used to describe traditional training rather than that used by horse whisperers (see also Broke).

Broke. A trained and reliable horse. Some people object to the term as old-fashioned as it refers to Breaking a horse rather than building a relationship with it (see Horse Whisperer).

Broodmare - A mare which is used mainly or solely for breeding. Also known as a 'brood mare'. The term 'breeding mare' is used to describe a horse that is or will be used for breeding, but not neccessarily in the broodmare sense that this is its main function. For more information, click on broodmares.

Buck - When a horse jumps upward. Typically done by the horse in an attempt to remove a rider.

But -. Slang or short term for Phynalbutazone.

Phynalbutazone - A drup commonly used on horses to reduce pain, often used in the treatment of horse colic.

Canter - Term used in English riding for a three beat gait. This is the same as a lope or slow gallop in Western discipline riding.

Choke. When a horse has difficulty swallowing or breathing due to something stuck in its throat. For diagnosis, treatment and prevention click on Horse Choke.

Coggins Certificate. A document (normally issued by a veternarian) that certifies that a horse is free of equine infectious anemia (see Coggins Test).

Coggins test. A laboratory blood test to determine if a horse has equine infectious anemia or swamp fever, developed by Dr. Leroy Coggins.

Cold-Blooded. Horses can be warm-blooded, cold-blloded, or hot-blooded. See horse types for details.

Colic - Medical term, refering to the presence of abdominal pain. Sometimes used in a more restricted sense to mean abdominal pain caused by a problem with the digestive system (stomach, intestines or colon). Depending on cause and severity, can be either a minor temporary condition or an emergency situation. See horse colic for details.

Colostrum - The first breast milk, which needs to be drunk by a foal within 24 hours. Unlike the subsequent milk, the colostrum milk contains antibodies which provides the foal with its initial immunity (disease resistance) until its own immune system develops. Consequently, it is absolutely essential to the health (and likely survival) of the foal.

Colt - A male horse under the age of four. Some people use this term for both female and male horses under four, but correct use is for a male only (see Filly below). Some organisations and countries use the term differently. For example, in thoroughbred racing a colt is defined as a male under five years (rather than under four years). See also stallion and filly.

Conformation - The overall build and appearance of a horse. Often used to compare an individual horse to its breed standard.

Crib or Cribbing - A behavioral disorder (also known as 'Wind Sucking'), where the horse grabs an object with its teeth and then swallows air. Depending of frequency and severity, can be considered a major fault and potential health risk. For details, click on horse cribbing.

Cushings Disease -. Set of health issues which result from excessive hormone production by the thyroid gland. Also known as Equine Cushings Disease or ECD.

Dam - The mother of a horse. See also sire.

Dapples - Round, colored markings on a horse's coat.

Easy Keeper - A horse that does not require much food. See also hard keeper.

Farrier - A person who trims and shoes horses. In some countries the term blacksmith is used instead. 

Female Horse - There any numerous terms to define a female horse, depending on its age and function. For details, click on female horse.

Filly - A female horse under the age of four. Some organisations and countries use the term differently. For example, in thoroughbred racing a filly is defined as a female horse under five years (rather than under four years). See also colt and mare.

Foal. A horse (either male or female) less than a year old. A nursing foal is sometimes called a suckling and a foal that has been weaned is called a weanling. Most domesticated horses are weaned at 5 to 7 months of age, although commercial breeders often wean much earlier. 

Founder - A severe form of Laminitis (see below). 

Gelding - A castrated male horse, regardless of age. See also stallion.

Hand -  Four inches (approximately 10cm). The term commonly used to measure the height of a horse, measured at the shoulder. For example a 14-hand horse is 56 inches high at the shoulder.

Hard Keeper. A horse which requires a lot of food, or a lot of supplements (e.g. grain) in order to maintain its weight. A horse can be a hard keeper either due to its breed or due to its individual characteristics. See also easy keeper.

Hectare. A measure of land area, equal to 10,000 square meters (e.g. 100m by 100m). A Hectare is equal to about 2.5 acres. See also Acres.

Hoof Pick - An instrument for removing dirt and stones from a horse's hoof. It has a metal wedge (to pick or scrape the hoof clean) and often has a brush. For photos and discussion, click on hoof pick.

Horsepower - The term 'horsepower' (sometimes written 'horse power') is a standard measure of force, developed by James Watt during the industrial revolution, to qualify the power of machines in terms of the horses they were replacing. For history and detailed explanation, click on What is HorsePower?

Horse Whisperer - A person who understands the natural behaviour and communication of horses, who uses this knowledge to train and control horses (see alternative method, breaking).

Hot-Blooded. Horses can be warm-blooded, cold-blloded, or hot-blooded. See horse types for details.

In Season - When a mare is 'in heat'. In other words, when the mare is ready to breed.

Laminitis - Hoof disease, which varies from minor to potentially fatal. For details, click on laminitis.

Mare - An adult female horse. Some organisations define this as being 3 years of age, others as being 4 years of age. See also filly and stallion.

Mule - The offspring of a male donkey and a female horse.

Oats. One of the four types of grain commonly fed to horses. See also 'Feeling His Oats' in Horse Sayings.

Old War Horse. A term used to describe a person (rather than a horse) who knows their job well and is absolutely reliable at it. The phrase comes from the time when horses where used in military battle, where a horse which had been in many battles (an old war horse) could be relied upon to do its job correctly no matter what (even with bombs and gun fire). As an example, 'You can trust John to do the job right, he's an old war horse.'.

Paddock - An enclosure to hold a horse. Typically an area between the stables and the pasture.

Rails - Horizontal bars of a jump or of a wooden fence.

Ridgling (or rig). A male horse which has has an undescended testicle or has been improperly castrated. It will appear to be a gelding, but will have some of the behaviours of a stallion.

Saddle Rack - Stand to hold a saddle, when it is not in use.

Sire - The father of a horse (see also dam). Can also be used as a verb (e.g. the stallion has sired many horses).

Sound - An adjective to describe a healthy horse. Usually refers to its physical healthy, but may be used to include its behaviour as well.

Stallion - A male horse over four years old, which has not been castrated. See also gelding and mare.

Strangles - A very common and highly contagious infection of the upper respiratory tract. For information on diagnosis and treatement, click on Strangles.

Straw Horse - Can be used in the literal sense (a horse figure made of straw) or figurative (an uncertain proposal, put forward for consideration. See straw horse for details.

Stud - Informal term for a stallion.

Stud book - A list of registered breeding horses. As there are many different organisations maintaining lists for specific breeds and/or specific regions, there are many different stud books.

Tack - A general term which includes the equipment used for riding a horse (e.g. bridle, saddle) and training it (e.g. whip, lounge lead).

Unsound - A horse which is not sound.

Veteran - A horse over 15 years of age

Warm-Blooded - Horses can be warm-blooded, cold-blloded, or hot-blooded. See horse types for details.

Warts - Horses can get warts, the same as people (for explanation and cure, see Horse Warts).

Weaving. A behavioral disorder, where the horse repeatedly sways from side to side. See Weaving for details.

Wind Sucking - A behavioral issue; see 'Crib' above for definition.

Wood Chewing - A behavioral disorder, where a horse chews on wood excessively. See Wood Chewing for details.

Yearling - A horse (mare or female) that is between one year old and two years old.  See also colt and filly.

Additional References

For related information, click on any of the following