Even if you’ve been ‘horsing’’ for a long time, some of the vocabulary that is related to everything equine can be confusing. The terms can often even vary depending on riding discipline and geographic location. So, we have begun compiling a broad list of short definitions that should be useful. 

Basics

Horse | Four legged equine mammal with an excellent sense of balance and a strong fight-or-flight instinct.  

Average mass | 890 lbs.

Full Adult Development | 5 – 6 years.

Gestation period | 11 months.

Lifespan | Domesticated horses live an average of 25-30 years. 

Maximum speed |  55 mph. 

Anatomy

Back | Area behind withers and in front of the loin.

Barrel | Middle of a horse that includes the ribcage.

Cannon | Area between the knee or hock and the fetlock.

Chestnut | Callosity on the inner side of the leg.

Coronet | Ring of soft tissue above the hoof.

Crest | Upper part of the neck where the mane grows.

Croup | Highest part of the rump.

Crown | Area between and in front ears.

Dock | Fleshy part or root of the tail.

Elbow | Joint of the front leg where the belly meets the leg.

Fetlock | Hinge joint below the cannon bone sometimes referred to as ‘ankle’.

Flank | Area where hind legs and barrel meet.

Forelock | Mane that grows out of the crown.

Frog | V-shaped groove in the sole of the hoof.

Gaskin | Area of the hind leg between the stifle and hock.

Hock | Large joint of the hind leg that corresponds to a human ankle and heel.

Knee | Large joint of the front leg.

Loin | Area between the back and hip.

Muzzle | Includes jaw, mouth, and nose.

Pastern | Area between the fetlock and hoof. 

Poll | Area immediately between and behind the ears.

Stifle | Joint above the hock that corresponds to a human knee.

Breed Types

Cold Bloods | Breed developed for slow, heavy work (e.g. Clydesdale, Belgian).

Gaited | Performs one or more gaits other than walk, trot, lope, gallop (e.g. Paso, TN Walker).

Hot Bloods | Breed developed for speed and endurance (e.g. Arabian, Thoroughbred).

Mule | Cross between a horse and a donkey.

Pony | Typically an equine with a height less than 14.2 hands.

Quarter Horse | Versatile American breed.

Warm Bloods | Cross between hot bloods and cold bloods (e.g. Andalusian, Hanoverian).

Feral | Horse that lives in the wild but is descended from domesticated animals. 

Common Colors

Appaloosa | Breed that typically has a base color with an overlaid white spotting pattern.

Bay | Reddish-brown coat with black points and black skin.

Black | Black coat with no other colors.

Buckskin | Faded tan with black mane, tail, and lower legs.

Chestnut | Red coat with mane and tail of same or lighter hue.

Dapple Gray | Gray coat with dark circles over lighter hair.

Dun | Dull yellow or tan coat with dark points and primitive markings.

Gray | Light colored coat with dark skin.

Grulla | A mousy dun with a dark dorsal stripe, tiger striped legs, and white ear tips.

Paint | Breed with various combinations of white and other colors.

Palomino | Yellow or gold coat with white or cream mane and tail.

Points | Mane, tail, ear edges, and lower legs.

Primitive Markings | Dorsal stripes, horizontal striping on upper legs, or line across withers.

Roan | Dark coat interspersed with individual white hairs.

Sorrel | Copper-red coat, mane, and tail.

White | Light colored coat with pink skin.

Development

Colt | Male horse under the age of four. Term commonly used to refer to any young horse.

Filly | Female horse under the age of four.

Foal | Horse of either sex less than one year old. 

Gelding | Castrated male horse of any age.

Mare | Female horse four years old and older.

Stallion or Stud | Non-castrated male horse that is four years old or older.

Weanling | Foal that has been weaned (typically at 5-7 months of age).

Facial Shapes

Dished Face | Head has a concave profile, broad forehead, big eyes, small ears.

Parrot Mouthed | Upper jaw extends further out than the lower jaw.

Pig Headed | Disproportionately small nostrils and short muzzle.

Roman Nose | Head has a convex profile, narrow forehead, small eyes, long ears.

Gaits

Back | Two beat diagonal gait that is a similar pattern as a trot.

Canter | Same gait as a lope.

Cross-Canter | Horse is on one lead in front and a different lead in the hind.

Gallop | Four beat gait where all four feet are off the ground for a suspended moment.

Left Lead | Loping or galloping horse will reach the left hind leg and left front leg farther forward than the right legs.

Lope | Three beat gait where one pair of feet strike the ground at the same time and the other two feet land independently.

Pace | Fast two beat lateral gait where the feet on the same side strike the ground at the same time.

Right Lead | Legs on the right side of the body reach forward farther.

Trot | Two beat diagonal gait where the legs work in paired diagonals.

Walk | Four beat gait where each foot hits the ground independently.

Health

Colic | Abdominal pain.

Cribbing | Compulsive behavior where a horse grasps a solid object with its incisor teeth, then arches his neck and contracts his lower neck muscles to retract the larynx. 

EHV | Equine herpes virus that is highly contagious.

EIA | Equine Infectious Anemia | Potentially fatal viral disease for which there is no cure or effective treatment.

EPM | Neurologic disease caused by infection that affects the brain and spinal cord.

Equine Encephalomyelitis | Sleeping Sickness | Disease that attacks the brain and central nervous system and is transmitted by mosquitoes.

Equine Influenza | Highly contagious viral disease that causes flu-like symptoms.

Rabies | Viral disease contracted from the bite of an infected animal.

Lame | Abnormal gait or stance that is the result of dysfunction of the locomotor system. Most commonly caused by pain.

Laminitis | Swelling of soft tissue under the hoof wall.

Navicular | Disease that disintegrates a small bone in the hoof.

Rain Scald | Skin infection caused by excess moisture.

Ringworm | Fungal infection of the skin.

Strangles | Contagious bacterial disease that causes cold symptoms and swollen lymph nodes in the head.

Sweet Itch | Sensitivity to the saliva of biting flies.

Tetanus | Lockjaw | Caused by bacteria entering wounds.

Thrush| Infection of the frog in the sole of the hoof.

Ulcers | Sores that form on the stomach lining.

West Nile Virus | Causes inflammation of brain and spinal cord.

Height and Weight

Hands | Unit of measurement equal to four inches.

Height | Measured at the highest point of the withers where the neck meets the back.

Weight | Heart Girth x Heart Girth x Body Length / 330 = Body Weight in lbs. (Adult horse).

Withers | Highest part of the horse’s back at the base of the neck and above the shoulders.

Markings

Bald-faced | Facial marking: white covers most of the face.

Blaze | Facial marking: wide white stripe.

Chrome | Horse that has many white markings.

Snip | Facial marking: small white spot or star on the nose.

Sock | Leg marking: white extends higher than fetlock but not past knee or hock.

Star | Facial marking: small white spot on horse’s forehead.

Stocking |  Leg marking: white extends past the knee or hock.

Stripe | Facial marking: narrow blaze.

Tack

A-Fork Saddle | Another term for Slick Fork.

Armitas | Leggings with completely closed legs that you step into.

Bars | Two internal structures that run down the length of the saddle.

Bar Angle | Degree that the front of the bar slopes away from the forks or pommel.

Billet | Piece of leather or nylon to hold the cinch in place.

Bit | Metal mouthpiece on a bridle.

Bosal | Noseband of braided rawhide.

Breast Collar | Strap that passes around the chest and is attached to the saddle.

Bridle | Head harness consisting of headstall, bit, chin strap, and reins.

Bucking Rolls | Padded attachments at the front of a slick fork or A-fork saddle.

Cantle | The arched, rear portion of the saddle tree.

Chaps | Leggings that protect against brush and weather.

Chinks | Half-length chaps.

Cinch | Holds the saddle on the horse’s back by being tightened around its body.

Concho | Metal or leather disk that secures saddle strings or used as decoration.

Fender | Leather piece projecting back from stirrup leather.

Forks | Forward, arched portion of saddle tree.

Get Down Rope | A hair rope used with California-style rein setup to lead or tie a horse.

Girth | Cinch on an English saddle.

Gullet | Tunnel underneath the fork that rides over the horse’s withers.

Hackamore (traditional) | Bosal, Hanger, Mecate unit.

Hanger | Leather strip attached to bosal.

Hobbles | Straps or pieces of rope placed around the horse’s legs to keep it from wandering off.

Jingle Bobs | Metal pieces dangling from the rowel of a spur.

Keeper | Slotted piece of leather attached to the saddle below the forks or cantle.

Lariat | Long rope of braided rawhide (reata),  polyester, or nylon.

Latigo | Long piece of leather or nylon used to tighten the cinch.

Martingale | Strap from front cinch to the bridle, or ending in two rings that reins pass through.

Mecate | Rope used as a combination of rein and lead rope. AKA McCarty or Macardy.

Mechanical Hackamore | Metal nose and side pieces that clamp on the horse’s jaw.

Night Latch | Leather strap that goes through the gullet hole and around the swell.

Off-Billet | Strap attached to the front dee ring on the right side of the rigging.

Pommel | Same as the forks.

Reata | Braided rawhide lariat.

Rigging | The d-rings on both sides of the western saddle.

Saddle | Seat for a rider.

Shank Bit | Leverage bit with cheek piece on each side.

Shoo-Fly | Tassel attached to or near the front cinch.

Skirts | Large leather panels attached to the saddle tree.

Slick Fork | Saddle that is widest at the bottom and narrower as it joins at the horn.

Slobber Leathers | Pieces used to attach reins to a snaffle bit.

Snaffle Bit | Bit where the bridle’s headstall and the reins attach in the same ring.

Spurs | Worn on rider’s heels as an additional cue.

Stirrup | Device hung from each side of a saddle to receive the rider’s foot. 

Stirrup Leathers | Adjustable straps that suspend the stirrups from the saddle tree.

Swells | Same as the Forks.

Swell Fork | Saddle that is widest across the middle of the fork.

Tapaderos or Taps | Covers stirrup to protect the rider’s feet.

Tree | Base on which the rest of the saddle is built. 

War Bridle | Type of head control that uses a loop around the lower jaw.

Wood | Another term for Saddle.

Teeth

Cheek Teeth | Strong and graveled teeth to effectively grind the grass.

Floating | Removal of sharp points from the teeth by a Vet or Equine Dentist.

Incisors | Teeth adapted to cut grass.

Wolf Teeth | Small teeth that can erupt just in front of the cheek teeth when the horse is between 6 and 18 months of age. Often removed by a dentist before a bit is introduced. 

Misc Terms

Bedroll | Blankets inside a canvas tarp rolled and carried for sleeping.

Brand | Ownership mark.

Bronc | Horse that bucks.

Buckaroo | Cowboy that holds to traditional Vaquero traditions, particularly found in the Great Basin region of the United States.

Cavvy | A group of horses.

Chuckwagon | Mobile kitchen.

Cold-Backed | Horse that has a tendency to buck when initially mounted.

Cow-Puncher | Refers to a cowboy in the Southwest region of the United States.

Cow Boss | Person in charge of cattle operations on a ranch.

Cowboy | Tends cattle or horses: Rodeo performer: Informally a reckless or irresponsible person.

Gunsel | Person with limited knowledge of livestock and cowboy ways.

Horseman | Person who is skilled in riding a horse.

Hoolihan |  Style of loop used when throwing a lariat rope.

Jigger Boss | Second in command to the Cow Boss.

Near Side |Horse’s left side.

Off Side | Horse’s right side.

Ranch Hand | Employee of a ranch that is not in a position of authority.

Remuda | A herd of horses from which those to be used for the day are chosen.

Sunfish | When a bronc bucks and twists its body.

Twister or Peeler | Person who specializes in riding young horses.

Vaquero | Hispanic California horsemen that originated buckaroo traditions.

Waddie | Ranch hand.

Weedy | Not right in the head.

Wild Rag | Scarf worn at the neck at least 36 inches square.


Carson James
Carson James

Carson James' background is in Vaquero Horsemanship, and for the majority of his career, he worked on cattle ranches where he rode horses all day, every day. His knowledge comes from real life experience using traditional Buckaroo horsemanship to train horses and fix problems. He is now taking all of this knowledge and experience and sharing it with horse owners through his blog, his Insider list, and his Buckaroo Crew. He has a unique way of breaking things down where they're easy to understand, both for the horse and the human.