Horsey Lingo to Learn

This glossary will have you sounding like a ranch hand.

| July/August 2008

  • Horse21
    A field of Standardbred trotters
    courtesy The United States Trotting Association

  • Horse21
A horse is measured in “hands,” a term developed from the width of an average man’s hand. One hand is 4 inches, and the height is taken from the bottom of a front hoof to the highest part of the horse’s withers  (the bone at the base of the mane). Animals shorter than 14 hands and 2 inches (14.2) are considered ponies, unless they are registered with a horse breed that accepts smaller animals.

Driving  horses are hitched to carts, wagons, buggies, carriages and sulkies. The straps that secure them to the cart comprise the harnesses. It’s not necessary to have an expensive wagon to take family and friends for a drive, but there are those who enjoy perfecting elaborate turn-outs of correctly appointed gleaming carriages and horses in a patent-leather and brass harness.

In the equine world, draft horses are to saddle horses as Peterbilts are to Porsches. Long ago they carried armor-laden knights to battle. More recently, they partnered with farmers to till the land and worked alongside lumberjacks hauling timber. Often worked in teams, pairs and hitches (4-8 horses), modern draft horses can provide fun and valuable labor on today’s small farm.

Conformation relates to a horse’s physique, and certain conformations are best suited for specific endeavors.

Gait is the sequence in which a horse uses its legs for locomotion. The walk (4-beat), trot (2-beat diagonal) and the canter (3-beat rolling gait) are inherent to horses. A number of breeds are prized for the manner in which they execute variations of the three basic gaits. Some gaits are revered for rider comfort, some for speed, some for beauty, some for endurance.

Thoroughbred
is a specific horse breed that’s best known for racing. In this country, no matter what kind of horse one enjoys, horse people stop on the first Saturday of May to watch the best 3-year-old thoroughbreds compete in the Kentucky Derby. The registry originated in England.



Warm bloods are smaller than draft horses, but they are larger, more substantial horses than the typical pleasure horse. They do well in show-ring jumping and are often expected to clear high fences. They excel in dressage and eventing.

Dressage horses are trained to perform carefully planned patterns with precision, balance and beauty. These animals might find their way to the Olympics – with the right rider.





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