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Like all disciplines, the horse world has its own special terminology, and to the newcomer it can be daunting.  If you have no idea what "Snaffles", "Cruppers", or "Martingales" are, don't feel bad because you're not alone.  We wrote this page to help clear some of these things up.



A horse's height is measured in hands.  A hand (abbreviated "hh") is 4 inches (the width of your hand).  14.3 hh is 14 hands 3 inches, or 59 inches.


A pony is a horse that measures less than 14.2 hh (58 inches) at the withers.


A horse measures 14.2 hh or more at the withers.


A term used to identify an adult female horse that is four years old or older.


A male horse that has been castrated.


A mature male horse with all his parts.​


The place on a horse's back just forward of the saddle, where the horse's height is measured.


Hunters are horses that are expected to perform on the flat and over fences in measured, steady gaits with graceful, elegant motions.  Judging is somewhat subjective, based on the horse's and riders' appearance and performance.


Jumpers are horses that are expected to jump challenging courses in timed competitions.  They are athletic, adjustable, scopey, and fast.  Judging is based on time, and points are deducted for slow rounds or rails knocked down, or refusals (collectively called "faults").  When the rider completes a ride with no time faults, refusals, or rails knocked down it is called a "clean round" and the rider advances to the jump-off where those with clean rounds compete to select a winner.



Tack consists of saddles, bridles, girths, pads, and all the other equipment that goes on a horse.

English & Western

These are different styles of riding, using different styles of tack.  Western tack is designed for ranch work with cattle, whereas English tack derives from leisure activities such as riding, racing, or jumping.


The saddle is what the rider sits on.  Hunter riders generally use "Close Contact" English saddles designed for maximum freedom of movement for the rider over fences.  Saddles must be carefully fitted to both horse and rider for the best results.


The strap that holds the saddle on, going under the horse's belly and connecting to either side of the saddle

Saddle Pad

A thick soft pad shaped to fit under the saddle, used to cushion the rider's weight and absorb the horse's sweat. 


The bridle is a piece of equipment worn on the horse's head, consisting of a headstall, bit, and reins.




The harness, consisting of leather straps and buckles, that fits on the horse's head with attachments for the bit and reins.


Leather straps or fiber ropes leading from the bit to the rider's hands, used to control the horse.


A plastic, rubber, or metal device placed in the horse's mouth, attached to the reins, and used to communicate the rider's cues.


A cavesson is a noseband used on English bridles and attached to its own headstall, held onto the rest of the bridle by the browband.

Snaffle Bit

A type of bit commonly used with Hunters.

Breast Collar

A harness of leather straps worn around the horse's chest and connected to the saddle and girth, used to keep the saddle from sliding backwards on the horse.


A strap leading from the rear of the saddle and looping around the base of the horse's tail, used to keep a saddle from sliding forward on the horse.


A harness of leather straps connecting the saddle to the bridle.


A leather or nylon headstall used to tie or lead the horse while on the ground.

Lead Rope

A soft rope connected to the halter, used for leading and tying the horse.

Stud Chain

A metal chain leading from the lead rope through the halter rings and over the horse's nose, used for firmer control of a strong or unruly horse.



Pronounced "britches", breeches are flexible fitted riding trousers designed for equestrians to permit freedom of movement.  Horse show breeches are often tan or grey.


The formal shirt worn under the riding coat at a horse show, often white.

Hunt Coat

The formal coat worn during a horse show, often black or navy.


Paddock Boots

Ankle-high boots with heels for riding and general work around the barn.

Tall Boots

Knee-high leather boots used in the show ring.  Tall boots come in "field boots" or "dress boots".


A short stick with a clapper on the end, used to cue a horse while riding.  Also called "bats" or "whips".

Half Chaps

Leather or fabric lower leg coverings extending from the rider's boot to just below the knee.


Metal prods worn on the riders boots to cue the horse while riding.



Riding helmets are ASTM/SEI approved helmets specifically designed for equestrian sports.



Natural or artificial methods by which a rider communicates with the horse. Includes one's voice, hands, legs, spurs and whip.


The three gaits commonly used in Hunter/Jumper competition are the walk, trot, and canter.


The slowest of the gaits, the walk is a four-beat gait.  Riders may be asked to walk slower (collected walk) or faster (extended walk) to demonstrate their control of the horse.


Faster than the walk, the trot is a two-beat gait.  Riders may be asked to sit or post when riding the trot.  When posting, riders will normally be asked to "be on the correct diagonal".  Riders may be asked to trot slower (collected trot) or faster (extended trot) to demonstrate their control of the horse.

Sitting Trot

While the horse is at the trot, the rider sits deeply in the saddle, moving with the horse.

Posting Trot

At the trot, the rider rises in time with the horse's motion.


When riding the posting or "rising" trot in an arena, riders are asked to rise as the horse's outside front foot reaches forward.  This is called "being on the correct diagonal".


Faster than the trot, the canter is a three-beat gait.  While cantering, riders may be required to ride on the "correct lead" or to "counter canter" on the wrong lead.


The cantering horse will normally be on the left lead when turning to the left, or on the right lead when turning to the right.​


Lead Changes

Changing from one lead to the other (e.g. right to left) in response to the rider's cues.  Lead changes may be accomplished by first slowing to a trot, or by changing at the canter (called a "flying lead change").


Engagement of the horse's hindquarters, shifting more weight to the hind legs, lifting and lightening the horse's forehand, creating energy and lightness of movement.  True collection is used mainly in Dressage, but elements of collection are used in Hunter/Jumpers to put the horse into a "Frame."


A horse that walks, trots, and canters smoothly and without limping or favoring one leg is said to be "sound".  A horse that limps is said to be "lame".  Lameness has many causes, can be temporary or permanent, and may require the attention of a farrier (horse shoer) or veterinarian.  An unsound, or lame, horse may be disqualified from participating in a horse show, or if entered, may not qualify for ribbons.


A fence is a jump in the arena.  Fences in the hunter ring will be muted and natural looking, while fences in the Jumper ring will be more colorful.  For safety, they are designed to come apart if the horse or rider strikes them.


The most common designs are Vertical (narrow) fences and Oxers (spread) fences.  Fences can have many different forms such as natural post-and-rail, brush, walls, gates, coops, panels, planks, or hedge.


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