In this course, we aim to provide basic information about the management of the horse. It is not a course intended for the expert or the specialist. Students are expected to be people who are on a farm where some horses are kept, or people who has access to horses. The student who wants specialised knowledge about running a stud, a livery or racing stable should consult other resources for such detailed information.

We are looking at the horse as a farm animal, or as a domesticated animal, one that requires additional management than any other domesticated animal. We anticipate that the learner knows little about horses, but has some practical experience and is familiar with the problems and practices of farmers. At the end of the course, the student should be able to care for a horse and manage feeding, daily routines and pay attention to health. Basic knowledge will be given about stabling, exercise and breeding such as is suitable for the non-specialist.


You will hear people talking in assured tones about a horse being ‘behind the bit’ or ‘a bit tucked up’. The horse may ‘plait’ or ‘dish’ with its feet. It may ‘weave’ in the stable. It may be ‘ewe-necked’, ‘goose-rumped’ or ‘spavined’. Some of these expressions we shall ignore. If you are going to become an aficionado of the horse, you will come to understand its language quickly enough, and we shall not be dealing with specialised language. We shall look at the words that are commonly used in the management of the horse and by the end of the lecture you should have sufficient understanding of the parts of the horse and the words commonly used pertaining to horses to be able to read more, or talk to people who are knowledgeable about the subject.


Let us begin by looking at the other words that are used to describe various horses:

  • Horse: This is an animal that stands over 14.2hh (a hand measurement used in measuring horses and ponies equal to four inches or about a 100mm). The measurement is taken at the highest point to the withers. This definition is current in England. In Africa, this measurement is not strictly adhered to, and animals of more than 14.2 which are lightly built and have a ‘pony conformation’ may be termed ponies;
  • Pony: In England, an animal of less than 14,2hh and in Africa, a lightly built animal of up to 15hh, may be termed a pony;
  • Stallion: This is a male adult horse that is capable of covering a mare to make her pregnant
  • Mare: An adult female that is capable of producing a foal;
  • Foal: This term is used to denote the young of a horse;
  • Colt: This is the term used to describe a young male horse;
  • Filly: This term refers to the young female horse;
  • Gelding: This term is used to describe a male, young or old, that has been castrated (cut) and is no longer capable of making a mare pregnant. The

vast majority of males are gelded because stallions tend to be very temperamental and difficult to manage, especially when they are near mares in-season; and

  • Rig: This term is used to describe a male that has been incompletely or inefficiently cut or gelded. The animal is usually unable to cover a mare and make her pregnant but will exhibit all the characteristics of the entire male, i.e. one that has not been cut.


There are a number of words used to describe the various gaits (ways of movement of the horse). Some of these are naturally found in animals of the equine sort in the wild and others are acquired, being learnt through schooling (the process of teaching a horse to be manageable under the saddle or in harness).

The Walk: This is the slowest gait of the horse that is natural. It is a four beat gait, each foot being placed on the ground in turn;

The Trot: This gait is also a natural one, having a two-beat rhythm. In the trot, diagonally opposed feet should strike the ground simultaneously. This is a gait at which lameness is often most evident. Some other faults may also be detected clearly at the trot;

Canter: This is not a natural gait but one that horses acquire easily. It is a three-beat gait in which the movement is initiated by one rear leg followed by the two diagonally opposite legs and ending with the other foreleg. There is a slight hesitation in the three-beat rhythm of the canter;

The Gallop: The natural gait of the horse for escape or in play. It has a four beat rhythm. It is a tiring gait for both horse and rider but can, if sensibly alternated with slower gaits, be used periodically over a long ride; and

The Tripple and Run: These gaits seem to be an alternative to the trot or canter in some horses. They are four-beat gaits which are comfortable and offer moderate speed. The triple is often found in South African bred farm horses. While thinking of the gaits of the horse we should, perhaps, refer to the terms used when a horse is not sound. A horse may be lame through permanent unsoundness or through temporary injury or strain. An unsound horse may be said to be ‘favouring’ the leg that is giving discomfort. Similarly, the horse may be said to be ‘going short’. We shall deal with disabilities in more depth in a later lecture.


There are a number of words used to describe a horse according to its use. These include:

  • Hack: This is a term used to describe using a horse for riding out without any competition intention. A rider may ‘go for a hack’ and a horse may be described as a ‘good hack’;
  • Jumper: This is a horse that competes in show-jumping events or may be a cross country performer;
  • Thoroughbred: This will be dealt with in more detail under ‘breeds’. It usually refers to a horse that is bred with a view to racing;
  • Gymkhana: This is an animal, usually a pony, which specialises in gymkhana events. They have many of the best attributes of a good cattle pony;
  • Polo Pony: This is not necessarily a pony – many excellent polo mounts are thoroughbreds, horses that have failed to make the grade on the track;
  • Dressage: A horse that competes in dressage will be trained to a high standard of performance in the gaits mentioned above and would have been trained to perform other movements and maneuvers;
  • Trotter: This is a horse that has been bred and trained for use in harness, pulling the light sulky used in trotting racing. Such horses may be used under a saddle as a riding horse. They may prefer to trot and be difficult to get into a canter. Sulky racing is a popular sport; and
  • Eventer/Three Phase Eventer: This is a horse used to compete in dressage, cross country  and show jumping tests during the course of a single competition, usually held over one or two days. Points scored in each phase of the competition are added together to give a final result. A horse that is successful in such a competition is a good all-rounder.


A further group of words is used to describe the equipment used to control the horse:

  • Halter/Head Collar: This is a loose-fitting arrangement of straps, made from webbing or leather that enables the horse to be controlled without having to fit the bridle and bit. A leading rein may be fitted to a head collar enabling the horse to be led easily. Often, a fly fringe; a band from which strips of leather or lengths of knotted string hang, is fitted to the halter;
  • Bridle: This is made of leather, and is designed to fit snugly over the horse’s head. The bridle supports the bit, and is managed through the reins, thus giving the rider control over the horse’s head and consequently, direction and movement;
  • Bit: This is made of metal or vulcanite (or rubber), and fits into the horse’s mouth enabling the rider to transmit directions to the horse;
  • Saddle: This is usually made of leather but may be of fabric or sheep-skin. It provides a seat for the rider and attachments for the stirrup leathers and stirrups;
  • Girth: This is made of leather or webbing and passes round the horse’s chest to keep the saddle in position;
  • Stirrups: These are normally made of metal, and hang from the saddle on leather straps known as stirrup leathers; and
  • Numnah: A soft fabric or rubber pad that fits between the saddle and the horse’s back.

The equipment used for a riding horse is known collectively as tack. Equipment used for a draught horse (a horse that pulls) is known as harness. We shall not deal with harness in this lecture nor shall we go into the detail of more specialised kinds of tack – nose-bands, martingales, breast-plates etc., at this stage.


A horse that has not been trained is termed unbroken. Breaking-in a horse sounds more severe than it needs to be, or is, in most cases. A youngster will be handled daily from birth. It becomes used to a halter and being led about. It will be introduced to a very light bit known as a mouthing bit. It will be taught to lunge – that is, to walk, trot and canter at the words of command while circling the trainer who holds the horse on a long lunging rein.

When the horse is ready to be ridden (this means well-developed enough physically as well as psychologically prepared), he will be saddled and backed. Slowly, the trainer will bring the youngster to the point where he is obedient to the aids (signals transmitted by the rider) and is ready to begin training. Breaking in a young horse is no task for the ignorant. Even a well-taught and experienced rider would have difficulty in bringing a youngster to the point at which its potential is realised.

Diagram to Show the Points of a Horse
  1. Muzzle
  2. Chin groove
  3. Forehead
  4. Cheek
  5. Poll
  6. Chest
  7. Jugular groove
  8. Shoulder
  9. Point of shoulder
  10. Breast
  11. Cannon bone
  12. Back tendons
  13. Fetlock
  14. Pastern
  15. Hoof
  16. Heel
  17. Withers
  18. Back
  19. Back ribs
  20. Girths
  21. Hip
  22. Flank
  23. Sheath
  24. Root of dock
  25. Hip joint
  26. Gaskin
  27. Quarters
  28. Hock


As is the case with all animals, including man, there are special names for the parts of the horse that should be familiar. Basically, the horse has fore-limbs, a head, a neck, and mid-riff and hind quarters. However, if you are to understand much of what is said in later lectures, you will need to be able to refer to the parts of the horse by their particular names.

Growing from the neck, the fore-lock is the hair that falls between the eyes. The highest point, where the neck and head join, is called the poll. Half-way down the neck from this point is the crest of the neck. The neck ends at the place where the mane stops growing this is where the withers start. The horse is measured at the highest point of the withers. Behind the withers is the back, the place where the saddle is placed. Behind the back and just above the point of the hip is the loin. Behind this point is the croup which ends at the root of the tail. If we move back to the head and note the different areas coming down the front of the horse, we find the jugular groove, lying each side of the wind-pipe. Below this is the breast. Above the breast is the point of the shoulder. The shoulder  slopes upward from the point of the shoulder so that it is supported by the leg when the horse is not in motion. Below the shoulder, and looking at the leg, we find the point of the elbow leading to the forearm. Below the forearm is the knee. Below the knee is the cannon bone which is jointed at the fetlock and leads to the pastern, the heels and on to the hoof.

Where the forearm is for the forelegs there is a bone in the hind legs called the gaskin, which leads to a hock joint (the hocks), below which is the cannon bone, sometimes called the Shannon.

In the thorax, behind the shoulder, are ribs and false ribs; between the ribs and the hip is an area known as the flanks.

The lower part of the head is known as the muzzle, this includes the mouth and nostrils. At the chin is a groove called the groove of the chin. This is where the bridle is fitted incorporating the forehead, temple and cheek bones.

The foot is the most important part of a horse. It has a horny middle known as the frog which is resilient. This acts as a kind of shock absorber when the horse is in motion. Around that is the hard horny sole of the foot that is ringed by the wall of the foot. This is very hard horn, which protects the foot and provides a firm hard-edge to improve traction on hard or soft ground.


The conformation of a horse is the term used to express how well-built the horse is. A horse may have good or bad conformation. Points in a horse with bad conformation might include:

  • A common head: This is likely to be disproportionately large with small eyes, loose, hanging lower lip and large ears;
  • An ewe neck: This is a thin neck that tends to be concave rather than convex in carrying the head;
  • Long/hollow back/sway back: This is a back that is long, and is so hollowed that the rider will be sitting on a back suspended between the hip and shoulder rather than supported by an arched back;
  • Goose rumped: A rear that is seen with a low-set tail. The rump is flat from the highest point of the quarters to the tail. The quarters on a well-built horse will be rounded and well- muscled;
  • Depth through the heart: This is the length between the top of the wither and the girth groove. Plenty of room in this area indicates big lungs, a sign in the horse, that will have endurance;
  • Boxy feet: These are feet with small hooves. Horses with this fault tend to have foot problems that may make them prone to stumbling, as opposed to animals with well- proportioned feet; and
  • Upright shoulder: An upright shoulder can be seen clearly, and will give a rather bumpy, uncomfortable ride.
Terms used to refer to good conformation include:
  • WeIl-shaped head: Well-proportioned and well-shaped, having large gentle eyes and well- opened nostrils;
  • Well-arched neck: This should be muscular but not too thick, and gracefully arched;
  • Sloping shoulder: This gives a comfortable ride;
  • Short back: This should be short, broad and level; and
  • Well-rounded quarters: The quarters should be rounded and muscular, with the tail set naturally and carried gaily.


  • Bay (light or dark)
    • Black
    • Brown
    • Chestnut (light dark or liver)
    • Cream
    • Dun
    • Grey (dappled)
    • Roan (blue, strawberry or red)
    • Piebald
    • Skewbald