Horse terms for the beginner horse enthusiast: Part 1

Horse terms for the non-horse person.

Horses are such beautiful, majestic creatures. It is easy to see why so many people are drawn to them. Often times, people who are unfamiliar with horses are afraid to take that first step to sign up for a lesson or to ride a horse due to not wanting to look foolish.  Or worse yet they took one lesson, but never went back because they didn’t understand the terminology the instructor was using and were embarrassed.

No one should let their fears get in the way of experiencing such a wonderful pleasure. Instead, Michigan State University Extension recommends familiarizing yourself with some horse terms before the first lesson. The following are a few terms that may be helpful for the beginner to know before getting in the saddle.  These terms will explain types of horses, classes and forms of riding. For a list of cues or commands that may be asked by an instructor for the rider to give to a horse, see Horse terms for the beginner horse enthusiast: Part 2.  For a list of terms that describe a horse’s actions or behavior see Horse terms for the beginner horse enthusiast: Part 3. 

Pleasure type horse - These horses have a longer, leaner body type and are also referred to as Society type, Hunter type and Saddle type. Common breeds that fall in this type are Arabians, Saddlebreds and Morgans.

Stock type horse – These horses are built for ranch work and display heavy muscling, short backs and strong legs.  Common breeds that fall in this type are American Quarter horses and Paints.  

Gaited horse - Certain breeds perform a foot fall pattern outside the normal walk, trot/jog and canter/lope sequence and are therefore considered gaited breeds. Examples of these gaits are if a horse single foots, ambles, paces, does a running walk or racks. 

Equitation- Refers to a rider's position while mounted, and includes a rider's ability to ride correctly while effectively using aids. In competition, the rider, rather than the horse, is evaluated. These classes may use other names such as rider classes or horsemanship classes.

Pleasure – This class is judged on the horse and how it yields to the rider’s cues and aids.  A strong pleasure horse should respond with subtle cues not very noticeable to the novice observer.

English- a form of riding that has many variations that range from dressage to racing.  The saddle will not have a horn, cantle or deep seat such as seen on a western saddle nor will it have exposed knee rolls such as an Australian outback saddle. The saddle is designed to allow the horse freedom to move in an optimal manner while placing the rider in close contact with the horse.  The horse is ridden with two hands on the reins and the reins will be closed or connected unlike many western style reins. 

Western- A form of riding that allows the rider to be comfortable in the saddle for long hours. The saddle is made to distribute weight more evenly over the horses back so the horse and rider can counterbalance the weight of a roped cow. The saddle has a prominent horn that may anchor a lariat when roping cattle.

Gymkhana- An event where the horse and rider display a great amount of skill while racing in a variety of patterns such as Speed in Action, Barrels (Cloverleaf), Poles (Pole Bending), Down and Back, Indiana Flag Race, and many more.

Pattern- A series of moves a horse and rider must fulfill in the order asked. The pattern is often drawn out like a map for the rider to learn from, but sometimes is told to them verbally in the ring.  Some classes are specific patterns that stay consistent such as reining, western riding, gymkhana patterns and dressage while others change from show to show.

Rail- When a horse is being shown in a show ring the outer part of the arena is known as the rail. Arenas are usually oval shaped and often have a railing or wall on the outer most part.  A rail class is referring to a class where the horse and rider are demonstrating their skills working in clockwise and counter clockwise gate on the rail. 

In hand- A horse presented at halter, but not ridden, such as in halter classes or showmanship.

Lead line- When a rider is kept on a lead and a handler moves with them around the ring holding the lead.

Trail class- a trail class is a pattern class full of obstacles (ground poles, mailbox, bridge, etc.) that the horse and rider must master in the order that the pattern calls for. 

Trail riding- A relaxing ride on a trail through the woods, along the road or through a field where the horse and rider may find natural obstacles they must tackle.

Competitive trail - A type of riding where the horse and rider advance skills needed for trail riding. They compete by following a pre-determined trail full of natural obstacles all while trying to complete them with speed and effectiveness. It is important that their horse is healthy and strong and can pass vet checks along the way.

Gait- The pattern of movement of the legs during motion; horses have natural gaits such as walk, trot, canter, gallop pace and back and there are many variations of each.

Lunge – Used to warm up a horse. The handler has the horse on a long lead and has the horse move around them in a circle at the requested gait (walk, trot or canter).

Long line - A cross between traditional lunging and ground driving where the handler has the horse move around them in a circle, but uses two long lines to simulate the cues given through the reins while working under saddle.

Understanding the above terms and the terms in Part 2 and 3 of this article could give a person more confidence, making them more successful when they put their foot in that saddle the next time.  Horses love to feel the confidence of their rider, even if the rider doesn’t know what they are doing.  In addition, a rider should never be afraid to ask the instructor for clarification when they don’t understand what they are supposed to do.  It is better to explain something in more detail to the rider, rather than have the rider ask an incorrect cue causing frustration for the rider, instructor and especially the horse.

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