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Horse Terminology for the Layman

By: Rebecca Sweat

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Do you know horse-speak? That's the language you hear veteran horse owners exchange with one another. In case you're lost in the casual banter between the experts, we've collected and defined the terms you need to know.

Barrel: The area on a horse's body between the forearms and the loins (also called the trunk).

Broken-in: A horse that has been "gentled" to the point that he can be handled and ridden.

Broodmare: A female horse kept for breeding purposes; ultimately to produce and nurse foals.

Buck: When a horse leaps in the air, keeping his forelegs stiff and his back arched, while lowering his head, sometimes kicking back in an effort to unseat a rider.

Cannon bones: The long straight bones between the carpus or hock above, and fetlock (ankle) below.

Coffin bone: The bone inside the hoof closest to the ground; designated "P3."

Coffin joint: Joint space between the coffin (P3) and pastern (P2) bones.

Colt: An intact male horse under the age of 3 years.

Condition: (1) The horse's fitness and readiness to run; (2) "Body" condition is essentially grading of muscle and fat content.

Conformation: How a horse is put together with regard to his shape, including proportions and angles. Usually referenced to an ideal for the breed.

Coronet: The top of the foot's surface that forms a ridge.

Cribbing: A stable vice in which the horse latches onto a horizontal object (e.g. the manger) with the teeth, tenses the neck and swallows; synonym is "crib-biting."

Cutting horse: A horse trained to separate, or cut out, one animal - usually a cow - from a herd.

Dam: The mother of a foal.

Dock: The area at the top of the horse's tail; also describes a surgical procedure to remove the tail.

Endoparasitism: Invasion or infection (tissue damage) with worms, largely in the intestine.

Farrier: A person who shoes horses.

Fetlock: The "ankle-like" joint between the cannon bone and the first bone of the foot (P1). Although it's called the ankle of the horse because of its outward appearance, the fetlock corresponds to your middle knuckle (front fetlocks) or the middle toe at its attachment to the foot (rear fetlocks).

Filly: A female horse under the age of 3 years.

Foal: A male or female horse or pony, up to 1 year of age.

Gait: A pattern of foot movements. The most common gaits are the walk, trot, canter and gallop.

Gelding: A castrated male horse or pony.

Girth: The circumference of a horse's body, measured from behind the withers around the barrel; the strap that holds down the saddle (saddle girth).

Grade horse: A mixed breed of horse.

Green: A horse that has had little training or experience with a rider.

Half-bred: An old term that describes a cross between a thoroughbred and any other breed.

Hand: A unit of measurement equaling 4 inches, used to estimate a horse's height. The height of a horse is listed as the number of hands, followed by a decimal point, then followed by the number of additional inches (e.g 14.2 = 14 hands and 2 inches; 18.1 = 18 hands and 1 inch).

Hock: The joint bending backward in a horse's hind legs; the hock is composed of the same bones as in your ankle, but the fetlock is commonly called the "ankle" because of its outward appearance.

Horn: The material of the hoof. Horns can be pale, dark or mixed and all colors are similar in hardness.

Lameness: A problem with the use of the foot or limb or limbs, due to athletic injury, trauma or disease.

Level-headed: A term to describe a horse that isn't excitable and is calm and quiet even in unfamiliar situations.

Mare: A female adult horse over the age of 3 years.

Navicular bone: The small flat bone within the back portion of each coffin joint ("caudal heel") with attachments to the flexor tendon.

Neonate: A foal that is less than or equal to 10 days of age.

Paddock: A small enclosure adjacent to a barn, in which horses are turned out and can exercise.

Pastern: The region above the hoof but below the fetlock on a horse's leg.

Pommel: The rounded, upward-projecting front part of a saddle. In a Western saddle, the pommel is the "handle" which the rider can rest his hands on.

Pony: A small horse, usually 14.2 hands or under. (14.2 means 14 hands and 2 inches)

Rear: When a horse rises to stand on his hind legs, usually to throw off a rider or tack.

Rogue: A horse with a bad temper.

Sire: The father of a horse.

Sound horse: A horse without any problems - such as lameness, wind, eyesight, etc. - that would affect his usefulness.

Stall walking: A stable vice in which the horse paces endlessly around his stall.

Stallion: A male horse that hasn't been gelded.

Stud: A stallion used for breeding purposes.

Tack: Equipment used in riding, including the saddle, bridle and saddle pad.

Vice: An undesirable behavioral habit.

Weaving: A stable vice in which the horse continually rocks from side to side, shifting his weight from one front leg to the other, causing the neck and head to sway as well.

Withers: The slight ridge in the horse's backbone, just behind the mane. It is the highest point on the horse's spine and from where height is measured.

Yearling: A male or female horse, between one and two years of age.

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