Demystifying equine terms and phrases
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Demystifying equine terms and phrases

The equestrian world has developed its own terms and short hand for describing horses and training techniques. This can be very confusing for a novice entering their first lesson or trying to buy their first horse. Although a seller or instructor will help explain the terms, below is a quick introduction to help you surf through the ads to find your perfect pony.

Expressions used in advertisements

All-rounder – a popular description used in advertisements for children’s ponies. This means that the horse or pony has competed in a variety of competitions, and can turn his or her hand to anything.

Bomb-proof – Not to be taken literally, this means that the pony is not easily spooked. This makes it perfect for beginners or nervous riders.

Broken In – this means that the horse has been trained to wear a saddle and bridle, and has had a rider on its back. It is usually used to describe young horses to show they are ready for a rider, but will need work to develop them.

Cold blooded – unlike lizards, this actually refers to the temperament of certain types of horses. It is commonly used to describe draft breeds, such as Shires or Clydesdales. It means that the horse has a steady character, with strength and stamina.

Green horse – This is not advised for a novice rider, as “green” means that the horse will need training to develop.

Hot blooded – the opposite of cold blooded, this refers to horses which contain Eastern blood such as Barbs, Arabians as well as Thoroughbreds. They are usually faster and hotter to handle compared to cold blooded breeds.

Conformation terms

Cow hock- when standing behind your horse, if you notice that the hocks are very close together making the lower legs look splayed outwards, he is “cow hocked”. This can sometimes be improved through corrective shoeing, but will limit a show career.

Dishing – this is a fault in the front legs, where the horse will throw his hooves round in a circle to the outside rather than moving his legs straight.

Daisy cutter – not every horse carries their legs the same. A daisy cutter will have a low knee action, making it look as if they are just covering the grass as they canter.

Ewe neck – most horses will have a neck that follows an arch like a rainbow. A ewe neck almost looks like a normal neck put upside down. This will make the horse find it difficult to get on the bit. Training can help build the muscle up.

Riding Terms

Aids – This is used to describe the signals a rider uses to tell a horse what to do. They split into natural and artificial aids. Natural aids are the voice, hands, seat, legs and weight. Artificial aids help to reinforce the natural aids. These include: whips; spurs; specialist bits or tack.

Behind the bit- when riding, it is expected that your horse will be “on the bit” (see below). A horse will go behind the bit if it is avoiding the contact you have on the reins. Rather than having head carriage vertical to the ground, it will bend it’s neck and pull its chin further towards the chest. This usually occurs if the rider is pulling too much on the rein, as the horse is trying to alleviate the pressure.

Cold-backed – this refers to horses who have back problems, specifically with a saddle. They may have sensitive skin, or experienced problems with a previous owner. A cold-backed horse will arch its back when the saddle is first put on. They may also buck when first mounted.

Disunited – when cantering a horse’s footfall must fall in a specific pattern. Young horses sometimes get unbalanced behind, so their back legs will fall in a different pattern from expected. This makes them disunited. Older horses can also become disunited when stiff.

Extension – a dressage expression that refers to the control of paces. Extension is when a horse is asked to extend their stride. Full extension does not mean a faster pace, just longer stride lengths and exaggerated movements.

Flying Change – a high-level training movement, the flying change is when a horse changes from one leg lead in canter to another. This can look as if the horse is skipping. Olympic dressage horses will do one-time-changes.

Ground Line – this is used in jumping to help horses learn to jump. A pole is used at the bottom of the fence to teach the horse how to judge the distance and ensure an accurate take off.

Half Halt – a useful training technique used by all riders, even if they are unaware they are doing it. To make sure the horse is listening, the rider will gently check the horse before changing direction or gait. It is asking for a split second halt, and then pushing on with the legs.

Impulsion – when being instructed to show impulsion, many riders confuse it with speed. Impulsion is actually asking the horse for more leg movement, especially from behind, whilst maintaining the same speed.

Inside leg – the inside leg of the rider is always the one that is on the inside of the circle you are riding. If you are riding clockwise, your inside leg is the right, anti-clockwise the left.

Leg Up – not everyone is as limber as they used to be, so asking for a leg up is the easiest way to get on. Standing facing the saddle flap, you will place your left hand on the lower neck of the horse, and your right on the back. You will lift your left leg up and a friend will boost you upwards onto the horse. Always remember to bounce as they lift!

On the bit – your horse is expected to be on the bit when entering showing or dressage classes. To be on the bit means that the horse has his head vertical to the ground and is gently holding the bit in his mouth. The rider will then be able to use minimal movements to communicate the manoeuvres they wish to do.

Topline – in showing and dressage the topline is judged as part of the horse’s conformation and flexibility. Judges will look at the horses outline from the poll (top of the head) to the top of the tail to make sure they are well developed and held correctly.

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