Horse Riding Terminology

I realise not everyone that comes to this site knows everything or anything about horses. Terms vary from country to country and in different disciplines so I will attempt to define some of the terms I use on this site.

Simple Terms

a Hack
A ride out of a school environment, encompassing walk, trot, canter and sometimes gallops. Either done alone or in a group.
School/ménage
an area where you exercise or compete a horse. Usually 20 by 40 metres or 40 by 60 metres. Markers on the school allow riders to move their horses around in exercise or competition. Letters are laid at several points so A is usually where you begin, C is the opposite end of the centre line with markers dotted around. You’ll hear things like, ride in walk from A to F then trot from F to M down the long side of the school.
tack
the equipment that is placed on a horse so you are able to ride it, I.E.
  • saddle
  • bridle
Mounting/dismounting
The terms for getting on and off of a horse.
Hands
measurement of how big a horse is. A hand = 4 inches roughly.

Gaits and riding Terms

Gait
The name of the various ways a horse moves.
Walk
A 4 beat gait usually the slowest of the horse’s movements. The formation usually takes left hind leg, left front leg, right hind leg, right front leg. Three legs are usually on the ground while one is elevated during the walk. The head moves in rhythm to the beats.
Trot
Trot is a two beat gait. The legs move in diagonals so the right rear and left front move together as the left rear and front right move together. This gait is faster than a walk. It’s also very bouncy.
Sitting trot is where the rider sits to the trot so remains in the saddle. This may sound easy to do but it is a very bouncy gait.
Rising trot is where the rider rises and falls to the beat of the trot. So as one pair of legs move the rider is rising and they sit briefly when the other pair are moving. This is also known as posting in Western riding.
Riding on the trot diagonals is used in a school. So if you’re riding on a clockwise circuit you’d be riding on the left diagonal and counter clockwise you’d be riding on the right diagonal. Your bum should be in the saddle when the inside hind leg is on the ground and out of the saddle when the inside foreleg is on the ground to free up the shoulder.
Canter
Canter is a 3 beat gait. During the canter there is a point where all legs are suspended. It begins with a strike off leg, known as the leading leg, and the formation is like follows:
  1. The grounding phase of the outside rear leg. So if clockwise in the school would be the rear leg closest to the edge of the arena in this case the left rear leg.
  2. Grounding phase of the inside rear and outside fore leg. The inside foreleg is off of the ground and the outside rear leg is about to be lifted.
  3. The grounding phase of the inside foreleg. The outside foreleg and inside hind leg are about to be lifted and the outside hind leg is off the ground.
  4. The inside hind leg and outside foreleg are lifted off the ground. The inside foreleg is the only leg supporting the horse’s weight.
  5. The inside foreleg is lifted off of the ground.
  6. Suspension. The horse has no legs on the ground.
Gallop
The gallop is faster than a canter and is a four beat gait. It’s very similar to the canter yet there is an extra beat. It is faster and covers more ground.
2 Point seat
The two point seat is the way a rider sits during galloping and sometimes in an uphill canter. The rider effectively is raised, with their entire weight fixed into their lower leg that must stay steady in the stirrups while leaning over the horse’s neck. It allows the horse to push its hindquarters beneath itself which is required for galloping.

Riding Disciplines

Dressage
A discipline that is often called horse ballet. A set of movements, either in a test or choreographed by the rider in a freestyle test. The horse does various movements both natural and unnatural.
Test and Freestyle Test
A test is a scripted set of movements that is scored on how well the rider and horse accomplish the movements. A freestyle test is usually set to music and is created by the horse’s rider to show off the horse’s gaits and movement.
cross country
A course of jumps set up in a countryside type environment. It is usually timed and penalties occur if a horse knocks a fence and also if the run is not done within required time. These penalties are known as faults. Usually four faults for every fence down and one fault for every second outside of the time.
Show jumping
A set of jumps set up within an arena to test the horse’s ability to jump. Like Cross country it is timed and fences down cost faults.
Endurance
Long rides over varying terrane over long distances.
Para-dressage
Dressage discipline undertaken by disabled riders. There are five grades at international level, IA being the most severely disabled and Grade IV being the least disabled and comparable to intermediate dressage.
Para Show Jumping
Show Jumping undertaken by disabled riders.

Aids, Equipment and clothing

Crop/whip
An instrument used by the rider to back up the leg. So, if your horse is not responding to a leg aid, you squeeze and tap with a crop. A crop is smaller while a schooling whip is larger.
Riding hat
A protective helmet wore by riders. Even professional riders wear riding hats in disciplines such as Show Jumping and Cross Country but not necessarily in dressage.
Jodhpurs/boots
Jodhpurs are long stretchy pants wore by riders with panels sewn into the inner leg where the leg rests on the saddle. Jodhpur boots are short boots often wore with jodhpurs.
Leg
A term used when squeezing your horse or telling your horse to do something with your leg. Riders often hear, “put your leg on” and it usually means your horse needs more impulsion.
Impulsion
A horse that is going forward.
Seat
Using your bottom muscles to issue signals to your horse. Or, when in canter, we say in your seat which means you’re going with your horse’s rhythm and not bouncing around.

If there are any terms you’d like adding or any I forgot please let me know.