Horses and ponies come in all shapes and sizes and characteristics can vary enormously. Horses are identified not only by sex but also size (height), colors and markings, age, breed, temperament, and sometimes body style or suitability for a certain job.
A typical description could sound like - Quiet 15.2 h.h. Tb, bay mare. Four white socks, 10 years old, never raced, working on second level dressage movements. Along with a photograph and a short video, the above description tells you just about all you need to know about the horse. Below is a breakdown of the different descriptions and what they mean.
Of course a horse is either a male or female but there are also other distinctions within those categories as follows:
- Foal - general term for a young horse, male or female
- Yearling - a young horse of either gender between the age of one and two
- Filly - a female horse under four years of age
- Colt - a male horse under four years of age if he hasn't been gelded
- Mare - a female horse over the age of four
- Maiden Mare - a mare who has never been bred
- Barren Mare - a mare who is not able to become pregnant for health or age reasons or has had at least one foal but isn't currently able to conceive
- Gelding - a male horse who has been castrated
- Stallion - a male, intact, horse (one who has not been castrated)
- Sire - a male horse who has produced offspring
- Dam - a female horse who has produced offspring
A horse is measured to the highest point of the withers, on level ground, with a measuring stick. They are measured in 'hands' which equates to four inches. A pony is generally considered to measure up to 14.2 h.h. (hands high) and a horse 14.3 h.h. and taller. The exception to this rule are miniature horses. They are equines that measure less than 24 - 38 inches (depending on breed) but retain the physical characteristics of a horse. They are considered horses by their respective registries.
For some disciplines it is important to be able to prove the size of your horse with a measurement card. More information about this can be found on the United State Equestrian Federation website.
Horses' colors and markings vary enormously and don't always fall into one particular category. The following list identifies the most common descriptions:
- Albino - white hair with pink skin
- Appaloosa - although an appaloosa is technically a breed they are easily recognized by the markings of spots on some or all of their body. The variations are numerous. You can find more information on the Appaloosa Horse Club page.
- Bay - brown with black points (points are generally described at lower leg, forelock, mane, and tail). Bays can be bright (almost chestnut), dark (almost black), and light.
- Black - black with black points
- Brown - brown with brown points
- Buckskin - various shades of coat that resembles tanned deerskin. They can look similar to duns but do not have a dorsal stripe.
- Chestnut - ginger or reddish all over with either the same colored mane and tail or a flaxen (light blonde) mane and tail. They can be liver chestnut (dark almost bay colored) or bright chestnut (bright ginger). A chestnut horse can also be referred to as a sorrel.
- Dun - golden or mouse colored with a dark mane and tail. They have a list or dorsal stripe down their back. A grullo dun has tan/grey hairs with dark points.
- Grey - either white or white and black hairs mixed
- Iron Grey - mostly black
- Light Grey - mostly white
- Flea Bitten Grey - dark hairs in tufts
- Dappled Grey - mottled markings
- Paint - in America the Paint horse is a breed rather than a color which combines the characteristics of a Western stock horse with markings of white and dark colors. In the United Kingdom colored horses are described as:
- Piebald - white and black
- Skewbald - white and brown
- Palomino - golden with a white or flaxen mane and tail
- Cremello - a pale creamy color with pink skin, not to be confused with an albino
There are wide variations within each of these categories and horses can change color throughout their lives. If a horse is none of the above it is described as odd colored although I have yet to come across a horse that can't be squeezed into one or more of the above categories.
- Blaze - broad white mark between the eyes and down the face
- Flesh Marks - pink marks
- Star - white mark on the forehead
- Stripe - a thin white mark down the face
- Snip - white mark near the nostril area
- White Face - a blaze covering one or more eye
- Wall Eye - a white or blue eye
- Ermine Marks - dark marks on white
- Sock - white above the fetlock but below the knee or hock
- Stocking - white to above the knee or hock
- White Pastern - white on pastern but not over the fetlock
- Whorl - a circle of hair
Generally speaking a horse's age is calculated on January 1st from the year of its birth. Therefore a horse that was born on May 2nd of 2012 would be classed as a three year old on January 1st 2015 even though it hadn't reached it's birth date yet. Also see the descriptions of sex above in the this chapter for terminology to describe horses at various stages in their life.
There are so many different breeds of horses it would take up a whole section to write about them all. I will list the most popular breeds along with their characteristics.
- Arabian - has a distinct dished face, high head and tail carriage and ranges is size from 14.1 - 15.1 h.h. They can, but don't always, have a hot temperament. Suitable for endurance riding, showing in hand and under saddle, and many other equestrian fields.
- Andalusian - also known as the Pure Spanish Horse the breed originates from the Iberian Peninsular. They are strongly built yet elegant with long, thick manes and tails. They excel at dressage, showing, driving, and jumping. See pictures of White Rose Fandango our Andalusian.
- Appaloosa - best known for their varied spotted markings their body types and sizes vary greatly ranging from 14 - 16 h.h. They are regularly used in both Western and English disciplines. See pictures of Sierra our appaloosa.
- Belgian - a draught horse and one of the strongest of the heavy breeds it stands, on average, between 16.2 - 17 h.h. but can grow taller. They are normally light chestnut with a flaxen mane and tail. Generally used for pulling heavy weights but can also do well in the show ring and for pleasure riding.
- Clydesdale - a draught horse named after the Clydesdale region of Scotland. They are energetic, well mannered, and showy and used for pulling heavy loads. The most well known are the Budweiser Clydesdales.
- Friesian - originating from the Netherlands they are a light draught horse. They are nimble and elegant and normally stand around 15.3 h.h. but can range from 14.2 - 17 h.h. and more. Recognized for their shiny black coat, thick mane and tail and feathered legs they can be used for driving but also do well in other equestrian disciplines under saddle.
- Lippizana - originating from the Andalusian horse the breed was developed in Austria and is synonymous with the Spanish Riding School of Vienna. They are famous for performing 'airs above the ground' and an excellent choice as a dressage horse at any level.
- Morgan - one of the earliest breeds to be developed in the United States they were originally used as coach horses for harness racing. It's a compact, refined breed usually bay, black, or chestnut and versatile enough for most English and Western disciplines.
- Mustang - free roaming horses in the west of North America they are direct descendants of the horses brought over by the Spanish. They are small and compact and very hardy. They usually range from 13 - 16 h.h. and do well in any number of English and Western disciplines. A mustang bred in the wild will have an identifying freeze brand on the left side of the neck. See pictures of Jellybean our mustang.
- Paint - developed by breeding Quarter Horses, colored horses, and Thoroughbreds the Paint Horse is the fastest growing breed in North America. Their markings are white and any other color of the equine spectrum. They are generally considered to be Western horses but also do well in just about any equine discipline. They are especially good trail horses. See pictures of Moon our paint.
- Percheron - an agile, powerful draught horse that originates from western France. They are usually grey or black and range from 16.2 to 17.3 h.h. They can be used for driving, fox hunting, and show jumping.
- Quarter Horse - named for its ability to outrun other breeds over a distance of a quarter of a mile it's the most popular breed in the United States and the largest breed registry in the world. They are generally placid in nature and stocky in build and suitable for most Western discipline but also used in English equitation and driving.
- Saddlebred - descended from riding horses and including breeds such as Thoroughbreds and Morgans they were used by officers during the American Civil War. Averaging between 15 - 16 h.h. they are spirited but have a gentle temperament. They are well known for their high-stepping action in the show ring but also do well in other English disciplines.
- Shetland - a pony breed originating from the Shetland Isles off the coast of Scotland they range from 7 h.h. (28 inches) to 11.2 h.h. (46 inches). They are stocky and sturdy with a thick coat. They are used for driving and ridden by small children. American Shetlands tend to be more refined than their Scottish cousins.
- Shire - a large draught horse ranging from 16 - 17 h.h. and over. They are very strong and capable of pulling heavy weights. They are used to draw carts and some breweries in the United Kingdom still use them to deliver supplies to public houses.
- Tennessee Walking Horse - a gaited horse known for its flashy four-beat running walk. It has a calm temperament and popular as a riding horse both on trails and in the show ring.
- Thoroughbred - a hot-bloodied horse known for speed and high spirit they are most often used as race horses. They also do well in combined training, show jumping, polo, and fox hunting.
- Warmblood - a medium-weight horse descended from draughts whose bloodlines were influenced by the introduction of hot bloods (Arabians and thoroughbreds). They were originally bred in Europe and, depending on the country of origin, can be a Trekehner, Hanoverian, Holsteiner, Selle Français, Oldenburg, etc. Unlike most other breeds they do not have a closed stud book (the Trekehner is an exception) which means they allow breeding with other similar populations which promotes performance of the breed in general. They make excellent sport horses and perform well in show jumping and dressage.
Sport Horse - although not actually a breed in itself the term sport horse is used more frequently these days. It can be a variety of breeds suitable for eventing, dressage, show jumping, or hunt seat.
If I have missed off your favorite breed and would like me to add it please let me know and I'll add it.
Previous Blog - Stable Management Knowledge and Care of Horses (overview of the blog series)
Next Blog - Correctly Handling Horses
Stable Management Knowledge and Care of Horses
Correctly Handling Horses - White Rose Equestrian Center