a book every horse rider should have - Keith Hunt


Giddy Up! Welcome to Horseback Riding

The act of riding horses has been going on for thousands of years. In the old days, people did it because they had to — it was the only way to efficiently travel from one place to another. Today, we ride horses because we want to.

Why do some people love riding horses so much? Is it a way to connect with nature in our highly technical world? Or is it a product of genetic memory? Are we drawn to horses because it's in our DMA?

Whatever the reason, horseback riding is an activity that millions of people enjoy the world over. If you've ever done it you know why it's so popular; if you haven't but want to, you can imagine how much fun it is. And you're right. When it comes to horses and riding, you'll never find yourself at a loss for things to do. For those who love these friendly beasts, horses make the world go round. Start riding, and you'll see why!

In this chapter, I introduce you to the world of horseback riding. It's a world where human and horse become one and where you can leave the cares and pressures of your daily life behind in the dust.

Discovering the Horse's Mind and Body

I've heard people say that horses are dumb, but that idea couldn't be further from the truth. Horses are brilliant in many ways, which is why they've been around for so many millions of years. You can't be stupid and manage to stay alive for that long!


Likewise, the horse's body is an amazing machine, designed for speed, agility, and survival. Horses can run incredibly fast, turn their 1,000-pound bulk on a dime, and react physically with lightning speed to even the slightest sound. If you want to ride horses, you need to understand all these abilities in depth.

As a rider, you want to understand and communicate with your mount. Horses don't see the world the way we do. Cellphones, computers, and fax machines are not their world; hay, dirt, and other horses make up the bulk of their existence. Seeing the world from the horse's perspective can make you a better rider and provide you with more enjoyment when you're around these really neat animals.

The equine mind and body are at your fingertips if you just know how to use them. In Chapter 2 of this book, you get a primer on equine psychology and discover the language that horse people use to describe their favorite animal and her various body parts. Each part of the horse has a corresponding name that horse people toss around like so much confetti. If you want to fit in with the crowd and know what people at the barn at talking about, make sure you take a good look at the diagram in Chapter 2.


Taking Riding Lessons

Getting up on a horse's back can be an exciting experience, but it can also be frustrating and even scary if you don't know what you're doing. Learning to ride in a formal setting, with an instructor or trainer who knows how to properly teach riding basics, is imperative.

Even though horses have minds and can think and see where they're going (unlike cars, which need direction every inch of the way), don't fall victim to the notion that you just need to sit up there and let the horse do his thing. This approach only lets you discover that you and the horse may not have the same ideas about what to do next. Instead, figure out how to ride before you start doing it on your own, just like you'd take skiing lessons with an instructor before heading down the slope.

Riding lessons are a lot of fun, but they're also hard work. You find yourself using muscles you never knew you had and are challenged to coordinate different parts of your body in ways you've never done before. If you enjoy learning and challenging yourself, you'll likely enjoy horseback riding lessons. You'll also discover the wonderful feeling that comes when you communicate with a horse while on his back.

In Chapter 3,1 give you advice on how to get started with riding lessons. Here are some examples of what you can find there:

Finding a stable. A friendly atmosphere, a clean environment, healthy equine tenants, and a professional demeanor from the staff are all things you should seek out when picking the stable where you'll learn to ride.

Choosing your instructor. The person you pick to be your instructor should have a teaching style that you like, be experienced in the discipline you've chosen (English or Western), and be familiar with training adult beginners.

Being a good student. It's not all up to the teacher! The best students (and the ones who gets the most from their training) are the folks who show up on time, pay attention, speak up when they need to, and do their homework.

Getting into Riding Shape

Horseback riding is hard work! It may not look all that difficult when you're watching an experienced rider, but the truth is that a whole slew of muscles, along with balance and stamina, come into play as you're riding.


To prepare your body for the rigors of riding a horse, do some or all of the following:

Lose weight

Build strength


Improve endurance

Increase flexibility with stretching exercises

Mental challenges also come along with this sport. In order to get the most from your riding lessons and your time in the saddle, deal with any fear issues you have about riding and understand your role as the leader of your team of two (that is, you and the horse). To find out how to prepare your body and mind for riding, take a look at Chapter 4.

BUY  THE  BOOK  -  Keith Hunt

Keeping Yourself Safe around Horses

Horses are large animals, and handling them takes some know-how. You can perfect this skill with training and experience. In order to get the most from the time you spend with horses, you need the right kind of instruction from a qualified expert. When you have some knowledge under your belt, you can safely handle a horse in a variety of situations.

To keep yourself safe around horses, you have to follow some basic rules that those who've come before you have set up. These concepts were created out of experience, so take them seriously.

First, you need to make sure you're wearing the right clothing. Boots designed for riding are necessary because they have a special heel that helps keep one of your legs from getting caught in the stirrup should you fall from the saddle — getting dragged is the danger here. A safety helmet is also a must if you want to protect that valuable gray matter. And your legs can get chafed if you ride in shorts or in the wrong kind of pants, so riding pants are preferable. And before you ride, you handle the horse from the ground, so wear heavy boots for safety in case a clumsy equine steps on your foot. (I've had it happen — not fun.)

Understanding how horses move their bodies is also a necessity for safety, as are knowing when to enter a stall (when you know the horse sees you) and dealing with stupid horse maneuvers, such as pulling back when tied. Of course, you likewise need to know the various rules that apply to riding, both alone and with others, either in the arena or on the trail. Concepts such as what to do when another rider falls off and when you need to pass another rider are part of rider safety. All this and more await you in Chapter 5.

Selecting the Right Riding Style and Gear

Before you can start riding, you need to determine which discipline you want to pursue. Here are your options:

Western riding, the most popular discipline in the U.S., is often the style of choice for beginning riders because Western saddles provide the most security. Western riding is popular with casual trail riders, as well as those working with cattle. I discuss Western riding in Chapter 6.

English style riding is made up of some subtypes, including hunt seat and dressage (see Chapter 7 for details).

People who'd like to jump their horses opt for hunt seat, although plenty of hunt seat riders don't jump — they simply enjoy this style of riding. Hunt seat riders sit in a small saddle and wear their stirrups shorter than Western riders do. Many hunt seat riders 'enjoy "hacking" (riding) out on the trail.

Dressage, the ballet of horseback riding, involves precise movements and stringent training of both horse and rider.

You may soon discover, after you start riding, that horses come with lots of stuff. 

Here are some items every horse needs:

Saddle and pad 

Bridle (including a bit) 

Halter and lead rope

You need some equipment for yourself as well:

Riding boots or shoes

Riding pants

A proper shirt 

A helmet (if you're smart)

For more details on these and other items for both you and the horse, see Chapters 8, 9, and 10.

Ridinq High front the Start

Okay, it's almost time to get on! You still have a few more things to figure out before you get in the saddle, including how to put on the saddle and bridle and how to climb aboard. Before you actually find yourself up there, you also need to know how to get off.

Preparing on the ground

You have to do some work on the ground before you can actually ride. First, you need to know how to catch a horse, whether in a pasture or stall. Approach horses in pastures quietly and confidently to encourage them to allow themselves to be caught (don't think for a moment that you can catch a horse if he doesn't want to be!). If the horse is in a stall, safety dictates that you wait until the horse is facing you before you go up to him.

Putting on a halter is another task you need to master. The halter is the horse equivalent to a collar and leash. When you place a halter on a horse's head, you're taking control of that horse's movement on the ground.

In Chapter 11, you discover how to catch a horse and how to put on a halter. You also get details on how to put on an English saddle, a Western saddle, and a bridle — a necessity before you can ride.

Mounting and dismounting

Horse people have been mounting and dismounting for centuries, and they've pretty much figured out the safest and most effective way to get on and off a horse.

Protocol dictates that you always mount from the left side. (This rule began out of necessity with the military, because mounted soldiers wore their swords on their left hips.) You should also consider using a mounting block or high ground, which makes getting up into the saddle easier and reduces the amount of pressure on the horse because you end up pulling less on the saddle.

Just as you mount from the left, you also dismount to this side. Again, protocol dictates as such, and the vast majority of horses have been trained in this way. For details on mounting and dismounting, see Chapter 12.

Getting a grip on gaits

As a new rider, you get to master three of the four gaits of the horse: the walk, the jog or trot, and the lope or canter (the fourth gait is the gallop, which you get to after you have more experience in the saddle):

The walk, which is the slowest gait, comes first; it's the one you use the       most, especially if you plan to trail ride.

The jog, as Western riders call it, and the trot, as English riders say, is the bouncy gait and the one most beginning riders have trouble with at first. After you master this one, you know you're well on your way to becoming an experienced rider.

Called the lope by Western riders and the canter by English riders, this gait is the fastest of the three you use as a beginning rider. The lope or canter is faster than the walk or trot, and it's probably the most fun of the three. This gait has a rocking-horse feel to it that many riders really enjoy.

Mastering each of the gaits takes time and practice. A good instructor observes your riding and helps you train your mind and body to cue the horse exactly as you need to in order to get what you want from your four-footed friend. For the basics on how to ride the walk, trot or jog, and canter or lope, see Chapters 13, 14, and 15, respectively.

AH  YES  BUY  THE  BOOK  - Keith Hunt


Many hunt seat riders have the goal of jumping on horseback. If you're not sure why riders enjoy jumping, it's because it's a whole lot of fun! Many riders get hooked on this activity.

Jumping can take place in an arena or out in the field. Arena jumping consists of a series of jumps arranged in a course that the horse-and-rider team has to negotiate. Some of these jumps include oxers (two sets of jump standards — vertical poles — and two sets of horizontal poles) and crossrails (two jump standards with two rails placed between them in an X position).

Jumping out in the field is called cross-country jumping, and it's a test of courage and endurance. A series of obstacles are laid out on a designated course, which covers 2 to 4 miles in length. Obstacles can include telephone poles, low shrubs, and water jumps (in which the horse has to jump over something into a shallow pond). To find out what it takes to jump a horse, flip to Chapter 16.

Adjusting to Advanced Riding

After you become addicted to horseback riding (and I know you will), you'll start thinking about moving to the next level. You may just want to find a new instructor or switch disciplines, but in many cases, the next step means adding a horse to your family. I introduce some important points in the following sections.

Stepping up your current riding routine

As you become more proficient in your riding, you may want to switch to a different instructor to help you find your greatest potential in the saddle. After all, some instructors specialize in teaching only beginners. Should that day come, you want to seek out the most qualified teacher you can afford. You may also want to consider switching disciplines or at least trying a different one to see whether you like it. This step means searching for a new instructor who's qualified to teach the discipline you want to try.

Moving to the next level of riding also means becoming even more physically fit. You may want to start cross-training to help your body prepare for the more-rigorous riding in store. Jogging, swimming, and aerobics are just some ways you can improve your endurance and muscle tone. For details on how to move to the next level of riding, take a look at Chapter 17.

NED  TO  BUY  THE  BOOK  -  Keith Hunt

Head to Hoof: The Mind and Mechanics of a Horse

Before you get on the back of a 1,000-pound animal, understanding how that creature thinks is a pretty good idea. Contrary to what some people believe, horses are intelligent animals who learn quickly. They're also creatures of instinct, and they have a unique way of looking at the world.

It's also a good idea to become familiar with the physical aspects of a horse. This step means memorizing the different parts of the horse's body so you know what your riding instructor means with phrases such as above the withers and near the fetlocks. Finding out all about the amazing breeds of riding horses is important, too. When you understand the breeds and how they differ, you have a more complete picture of the horse world — something every rider needs.

In this chapter, I describe the psyche and physical traits of a horse, and I walk you through the differences among some of the most popular horse breeds.

Understanding How Horses Think

To truly comprehend what goes on in the equine mind, imagine yourself as a horse. You're big yet fragile (as evidenced by the injuries suffered by racehorses). You evolved over the eons as a prey animal, which means a host of scary critters have thought of you as a dinner entree for a very long time. You're also very sociable, thriving on the company of others.

All these factors add up to create a powerful, delicate, and wary yet friendly beast. In the following sections, I describe the behavior and communication of these very special animals, and I provide guidance on getting along with them.

Getting a grip on equine society

One of the biggest factors in equine behavior is the fact that horses are herd animals (safety in numbers, right?). Much of what they do stems from this trait. Horses are capable of recognizing and participating in a complex social hierarchy that places them at the top, the bottom, or somewhere in the middle of the pecking order. They also like to be with other horses — a lot — just like most people enjoy being with other humans.

In terms of horse behavior, the biggest question for many people (at least those who like to ponder such things) is "Why do horses allow us to ride them?" The opinion of most experts is that the horse's very social nature allows her to accept a rider on her back. Horses — at least tame ones — recognize humans as dominant members of their herd and act accordingly when asked to do something, no matter how little sense it makes to them.

Another important factor in equine behavior is the horse's status as a prey animal. You can't spend years being eaten by saber-toothed tigers and hunted by wolf packs without getting a bit paranoid. This less-than-pleasant experience is the reason horses spook (react dramatically) when startled, are nervous in unfamiliar surroundings, and usually run first and ask questions later when something scares them. If you ride horses, you encounter these behaviors sooner or later.

Interpreting equine expressions

Because horses are such social creatures, they've developed very distinct methods of communicating with each other. They use these same techniques to communicate with humans. If you understand the horse's language, you're well on your way to being able to "talk" — or whisper — to your horse.

Horses are great at expressing themselves through body language, and it's up to us humans to know how to interpret their signals. Horses express a variety of attitudes and emotions in their faces. Make sense of these expressions, and you can read the mood of just about any horse you approach (Figure 2-1 shows the various facial expressions of horses):

Relaxed: Horses who are calm and content have a relaxed expression. They're comfortable in their environment, with the person handling them, and with what they're being asked to do. This expression is the one you want to see on a horse you're about to ride.

Afraid: Horses are easily frightened. If a horse throws her head up in the air and shows the whites of her eyes, she's scared. You may have approached too fast, or perhaps something else is frightening her.

Reassure the horse by talking softly to her and stroking her until she calms down before you proceed. (See "Getting along with horses," later in this chapter, for tips on handling horses effectively.)

Threatening: Some horses exhibit nasty behavior for various reasons. They may be in pain, or they may hate being ridden and handled. One horse I met was nasty because he was underfed and felt hungry all the time. After he was put on a proper diet, his threatening expression disappeared.

Warning: If a horse you're handling is pinning her ears back and showing you what looks like an angry expression (teeth bared, nostrils flared), back off and get help from someone more experienced. Horses sometimes follow these expressions with a bite or a kick.

Alert: Horses are always watching for predators, real or imagined. A horse with an alert expression — head up high, eyes wide, ears pointed forward — is checking out something that's in the distance or may be approaching. An alert expression can turn into a fearful one or may be replaced by a relaxed expression after the horse determines that all is safe. Some horses, such as those who are leading a group on a trail, maintain an alert expression the entire ride. Such behavior is normal, because horses expect the leader of the group to be the lookout.

Getting along With horses

The key to a harmonious existence with horses lies in understanding the herd and prey factors that are so much of a part of the horse's mindset (see "Getting a grip on equine society," earlier in this chapter). If you put yourself in the animal's horseshoes and think about life with humans from the equine perspective, you'll likely find yourself able to get along with just about any horse. The following sections contain some key points to keep in mind when you're dealing with horses.

A horse is a horse: Recognizing your horse for what she is

Remember that horses and humans are alike in some ways (we both feel pain and experience fear) and vastly different in others (they see the world differently). Whenever you handle a horse, keep her perspective in mind and judge her as a horse, not as a fellow human. Remembering these ideas can help you treat your horse appropriately:

Fairness: One of the saddest mistakes people make when handling horses is lack of fairness. They often expect a horse to know exactly what they want and when they want it, and they don't give the horse the chance to learn or adjust to a new idea. Horses can read your emotions but not your thoughts. Remember to be fair to your horse in every situation so she can come to trust you.

Patience: Horses are like 1,000-pound toddlers. Some horses may test you to see what they can get away with, while others may just irritate you with annoying behaviors and habits. And although most horses are quick to learn, some people aren't so good at teaching. Whenever dealing with a horse, be as patient as possible.

Consistency: When dealing with any animal, consistency is key. If you want your horse to stand still when you get on, make sure you require this behavior each and every time you mount. Letting her walk off some of the time teaches her that you don't really mean what you say, and you may find yourself with a horse who does whatever she feels like. Know what you want from your horse and insist on it each and every time.

Sending the right signals

Horses are astute readers of body language, so you can best interact with a horse if you're attuned to your own emotions and behavior. Here are some key tips for keeping a horse at ease:

Show confidence. Horses can quickly discern if you're apprehensive and fearful or confident and at ease. Because you want the horse to see you as a leader and trust your judgment in all things, you want to exude confidence. Otherwise, the horse may feel compelled to take over the leadership role and start bossing you around.

Move slowly. Horses are generally alarmed by quick movements, especially waving arms. When dealing with a horse, move slowly but deliberately. Talk to the horse in a soft voice, too, especially if you're approaching from behind.

Keep the volume down. Shouting and screaming are two good ways to scare a horse or at least make her uneasy. Reserve a louder voice for corrections. When a horse does something you don't want her to do, a loud "Quit!" or "Hey!" can get her attention. Otherwise, be quiet when you work around horses or talk to them in a gentle, soothing voice.

Don't handle your horse or ride when you're angry. The worst thing you can do when you're having a bad day is be around a horse. True, spending time with horses can make stress melt away; on the other hand, they can really push your buttons and make you want to explode. If you find yourself in an angry mood, skip taking your horse out that day. The last thing you want to do is take your anger out on the horse.

Stay positive. Some people think horses are psychic because they have an uncanny ability to read our minds (if you're afraid your horse will spook, she probably will, as though you literally gave her the idea). Whether horses can read minds or are just adept at picking up on very subtle human cues, it's important to think positively and visualize your horse doing what you want her to do, not what you don't want her to do.

Examining the Equine Body

Horses are very corporeal creatures. One of the reasons we love them so much is because of their great physical beauty. The horse's grace, elegance. and power can be breathtaking when you appreciate this amazing animal.

When riding horses, being familiar with the equine body is important not only on an aesthetic level but also on a technical one. Horse people frequently refer to parts of a horse's body, how a horse is put together, the way horses move and a horse's color and markings. If you want to converse with horse people and know what they're talking about, understanding this special equine lingo, which I cover in the following sections, is vital.

The parts of a horse

The best way to figure out the parts of a horse is to memorize them. When I was a horse-crazy child, my parents enrolled me in a military-based riding group. As part of my training, I received a diagram much like the one in Figure 2-2 and was told to learn the various parts of the horse. Failure to pass the subsequent test would've meant not moving up in rank. The assignment wasn't really a problem because I was horse-obsessed and couldn't think about anything else!

Hopefully, you're more well-rounded than that and have other things going on in your life besides knowing where the cannon and gaskin are located. Memorizing the various parts, however, is still a good idea. This knowledge is mandatory for anyone who plans to be a serious rider or even spend time around horses. In particular, make sure you can identify the following parts:







The height of a horse

A horse's size is significant if you plan to ride, because some horses may be too small or too tall for your liking. The average horse weighs from 1,000 to 1,200 pounds; however, weight is the least-favorite way to refer to the size of a horse. Horse people prefer to describe a horse's height in terms of hands, which is a uniquely equine measurement.

In horse lingo, one hand equals 4 inches, which was historically considered the width of the average man's palm. Horses are measured from the top of the withers (the area between the base of the neck and the back) to the ground. A horse standing 60 inches from her withers to the ground is 15 hands high. If the horse stands 63 inches from her withers to the ground, she's 15.3 hands in height. (Note that the dot is not a decimal point; it simply separates the number of full hands from the number of additional inches.) Because a hand is a 4-inch increment, a horse 64 inches from her withers to the ground is 16 hands high rather than 15.4 hands. Height in hands is sometimes written as h.h., which is short for hands high.

In practical terms, an average-sized woman can comfortably ride a horse that is anywhere from 14.2 hands to 16.1 hands. A man of average height probably prefers a horse on the taller side of that range.

People have different reasons for liking larger versus smaller horses, although preference is mostly aesthetics. If you're a tall person, you'll look better on a taller horse. Of course, you may have other reasons for choosing one size over another. For instance, if you're above average in weight, a larger horse can carry you more comfortably. Height may also be a consideration if you plan to show your horse or perform particular events with her (see Chapter 22 for info on horse shows). Bigger horses make for a grand appearance, but smaller ones are less painful to fall from. Your trainer or instructor can help you figure out your preferences (Chapter 3 can fill you in on instructors and riding lessons).

The buildup: Horse conformation

Conformation is horse lingo for the way a horse is put together. Conformation is important not only because it affects the way a horse looks but also because build affects the horse's ability to move and remain sound (free from lameness) throughout her life.

Some horses are born with good conformation, others with poor conformation. Generally speaking, if the parents have good conformation, then their offspring will, too. A horse's genes have the greatest impact on body structure, though in rare cases, poor diet in the growing years and improperly healed injuries can cause problems.

Learning the difference between good and poor conformation takes time, experience, and practice. The best way to develop this skill is to look at a lot of different horses with a critical eye. Horses with good conformation are visually pleasing. When you see a good-looking horse, take note of her overall appearance and make mental notes of her body structure. If the horse is well-balanced, meaning her parts are all in proper proportion to each other, she likely has good conformation. Talking to expert horse people and asking their opinions of certain horses is also is a great way to build your skills.

Horses with good conformation also have correct angles: Their legs are straight when viewed from the front and back.  Their shoulders and croups (rump, or the area that lies between the hip and the base of the tail) are nicely sloped.

Their heads are pleasing to the eye and well-shaped.

If you're really interested in conformation, you may want to check out the excellent book Horse Conformation: Structure, Soundness, and Performance, by Equine Research (Lyons Press).

Stepping out: The gaits of a horse

Oh, the possibilities! Four-footed animals have quite a few options when they decide to move — how many feet should be touching the ground, which legs to lift at the same time, the length of the stride, and so on. If you plan to ride a horse (and you probably do, because you're reading this book), then you'll get to experience the horse's gaits up close and personal. The gait of the horse affects the speed you're going as well as the whole feeling of your ride.

Most horses have three natural gaits that people use often in riding: the walk, the trot or jog, and the canter or lope. The walk is the slowest gait, the trot or jog is the medium-speed gait, and the canter or lope is the next-fastest speed. The gallop, the fastest gait, is only for special occasions and more-advanced riding; this book focuses on the other three main gaits.

Speed isn't the only difference among the gaits; the way the horse positions her legs also determines the method of motion. Take a look at the difference in foot patterns for each gait (see Figure 2-3):

Walk: At the walk, the horse puts each foot down one at a time, creating a four-beat rhythm. Most horses walk at about 3 to 4 miles per hour.

Trot (jog): In the trot or jog, one front foot and its opposite hind foot come down at the same time, making a two-beat rhythm. Horses generally trot at 7 to 10 miles per hour.

Canter (lope): In the canter or lope, one hind leg strikes the ground first, then the other hind leg and the opposite foreleg come down together, and then the other foreleg comes down. This movement creates a three-beat rhythm. Horses usually canter at 10 to 17 miles per hour.

Note: A gallop is similar to the canter, only faster and with an extra footfall. This fastest gait creates a four-beat rhythm that can have the horse traveling at 30 to 40 miles per hour.

Riding lets you feel each of the rhythms of the walk, trot or jog, and canter or lope, and you can discern which one you're experiencing. Check out Chapters 13, 14, and 15 for more information about riding each of these gaits.

Here's something to throw a small monkey wrench into things: Some horses have more than the gaits I describe here. These talented equines are called gaited horses, and they possess one or more gaits in addition to or instead of one or more of the basic gaits. Chapter 20 contains details on the breeds of gaited horses, their unusual gaits, and how to ride them.

Colors and markings

Horses come in a vast array of colors and patterns, with a host of different markings. Familiarize yourself with the names of the following colors, patterns, and markings, because appearance is an important way to identify horses. In other words, if your instructor tells you to go "saddle up the bay pinto," knowing what color bay is and what pinto means can really help you know what she's talking about.

A horse of a different color

Horses don't quite come in all the colors of the rainbow, but you may notice quite a bit of variation. Here's a list of the most common horse colors:

Chestnut: Chestnut is a distinct reddish color covering the entire body. The mane and tail are usually the same color, although some chestnuts have what's called a flaxen (blond) mane and tail. Chestnuts come in different shades, from very light (sorrel) to very dark (liver).

Bay: Bay is a rich brown color on the body with a black mane, tail, and legs. Bays can be dark tan to reddish brown in hue.

Brown: In the horse world, brown describes a horse who has a very dark brown coloration to her body with a lighter brown around the muzzle and flank and inside upper legs. The mane and tail of brown horses are black.

Black: For a horse to be correctly described as black, she must be jet black with no light areas anywhere on the body, including the mane and tail.

Gray: A horse described as grey can be nearly white to dark gray and everything in between. Gray horses often have dapples (circular, indistinct spots), and these horses are referred to as dapple grays. Most gray horses are born dark and gradually develop their gray color.

Dun: A dun horse has a gold, reddish, or tan body color and a black or brown mane and tail. All duns have a dark stripe down their backs. Within the family of duns, you can also see roans (see the next section) as well as grullas, which are a mousy grey dun.

Buckskin: A buckskin looks very much like a dun but without the dorsal stripe. The color can be anything from light to dark tan, always with black leg points and a black mane and tail.

Palomino: A golden yellow body with a white mane and tail is characteristic of the palomino coloration.

Patterns galore

Horses come in different patterns, depending on their breed (I cover breeds later in this chapter):

Roan: The term roan describes a horse who has a dark base color that's intermixed with white hairs. The head and lower legs of the roan are usually darker than the rest of the body. Roans come in different colorations, most often red (white hairs mixed with chestnut or red hairs) and blue (white hairs mixed with black hairs). You can see this pattern in a number of different breeds, especially the Quarter Horse.

Pinto: A pinto horse is marked with irregularly shaped patches of dark color against white or white irregularly shaped patches against a darker base color. The dark patches can be just about any color, including palomino, bay, chestnut, black, and buckskin (see the preceding section on color). You can see pinto markings in the Paint breed, in Saddlebreds, and in certain Arabian crossbreeds.

Spotted: Spotted horses feature one of several different coat patterns that often consist of oval, egg-shaped spots. These spots can be distributed throughout the body or blanketed over the horse's rump and hips. Spotted patterns are among the characteristics of the Appaloosa and Pony of the America breeds.

All that chrome: White markings

In addition to color and body patterns, horses are known by their facial and leg markings. Horse people use a handful of common terms to describe white markings, or chrome. Some horses have a combination of these markings.

Here are some types of facial chrome (see Figure 2-4):

Star: A white spot on the horse's forehead

Snip: A white spot on the muzzle, on or just below the area between the nostrils

Stripe: A narrow white strip that runs down the center of the horse's face, from the forehead down the bridge of the nose

Blaze: A wide white area that starts at the horse's forehead and runs down along the bridge of the horse's nose

Bald: A large amount of white on the face that starts above the forehead, runs along the front of the face to the muzzle, and extends beyond the bridge of the nose to the sides of the face

Types of chrome on the legs include the following (see Figure 2-5):

Coronet band: A small white band just above the hoof

Half pastern: A white marking that starts at the edge of the hoof and extends halfway up the pastern (which goes from the hoof to the fetlock joint)

Sock: A white marking that starts at the edge of the hoof and extends a third of the way up the leg

Stocking: A white marking that extends from the hoof to the knee (front legs) or hock (back legs)

Half cannon: A white marking that starts at the edge of the hoof and extends halfway up the middle of the leg

Sifting through Breed Differences

Everyone knows that dogs come in hundreds of different breeds, but did you know horses come in nearly as many? As with dogs, horses have been bred to do different jobs over the centuries. These jobs have determined the overall conformation (body structure) and even temperament of these breeds. Today, most of these breeds retain much of their original tendencies.

In the following sections, I explain why the breed of the horse you ride can be important and describe some of the most popular breeds around.

Realizing that breed may matter

The breed of horse you ride may or may not make a difference, depending on what you plan to do in the saddle. If you just want to poke along on the trail a couple days a week, what breed of horse you ride really doesn't matter as long as the horse is a nice, easy trail horse. However, if you plan to jump competitively or work your way into to the upper levels of dressage (a competition where the horse is judged on intricate movements), breed becomes much more of an issue. (See Chapter 22 for details about horse competitions.)

For this reason, breed does matter if you plan to do certain types of riding— especially if you want to go on to compete. If you aren't planning to go into competition, you may still discover that you have a breed preference. People fall in love with certain breeds for reasons that can be hard to explain. Sometimes it's just love at first sight.

Each horse is an individual, so no one breed of horse is best for beginning riders. Do some research, read through the following sections, and talk to other horse people to see what breed may be a good match.

Picking through popular breeds

Some horse breeds are more popular than others, and they're the ones you see most of the time when you're at a riding stable or out on the trail. The following breeds are the most popular horses in the U.S. and are the ones you're most likely to encounter when you're taking riding lessons, shopping for a riding horse, or just watching TV or the movies. You can find out more about these breeds by contacting the breed associations that I list in the Appendix. You can also read about gaited breeds in Chapter 20.

Go to "The height of a horse," earlier in this chapter, if you need more information on hands and horse size. The earlier section "Colors and markings" can give you additional info on appearance.


The Appaloosa horse is synonymous with the Nez Perce Indians of northern Idaho, who kept the breed in the 1700s and 1800s. When the Nez Perce were forced onto reservations, the Appaloosa breed nearly died out. In the 1930s, a concerned group of horsemen gathered to start the Appaloosa Horse Club in an effort to save the breed. Since that time, the breed became very well-known.

The Appaloosa horse is known for its spotted coat, which comes in a number of different patterns, including leopard (white with dark spots over the body) and blanket with spots (dark body color with white over the rump, which is covered with dark spots). The breed's other distinguishing physical traits include white sclera (the tissue that surrounds the pupil), striped hooves, and mottled skin. Appaloosas measure from 14.3 to 16 hands in height.

Appaloosas tend to have quiet temperaments and are seen often in Western riding events as well as in jumping. They also make popular trail mounts.


The Arabian is one of the oldest and purest breeds of horse still in existence. This horse was developed in the Middle East several hundred years ago and has been used to improve the quality of other breeds throughout the centuries.

Arabian horses are known for their elegance and stamina. The breed has an easy-to-recognize head, with a concave, or dished, profile. The Arabian's ears are small and curve inward, and its neck is long and arched. Most Arabian horses have only five spinal vertebrae rather than six, the number typical in most other breeds. This difference makes the Arabian's back shorter and stronger.

Most Arabians measure 15 hands or less. You can find them in gray, chestnut, bay, and black. Arabians are friendly and often high spirited, and they're known for their prowess in endurance competitions. They also make good show horses (see Chapter 22 for info on shows).


The Morgan is an American breed developed in Vermont during the 1700s. Started from one horse, a stallion named Justin Morgan, the breed was created by breeding a variety of mares to this stallion.

Morgans today are small but strong horses, rarely reaching more than 15.2 hands in height. They come most often in bay, black, and chestnut. They're known for their willing attitudes and endurance. Morgans make great trail horses and are also shown in saddle seat, Western, and hunt seat classes.


In the early 1960s, a group of horse lovers formed an organization called the American Paint Horse Association to preserve horses with pinto markings that were born of Quarter Horse matings (see the next section for info on the Quarter Horse). Previously considered an anomaly, the Paint horse was not eligible for registration with the American Quarter Horse Association and was basically unwanted. Today, the Paint is one of the most popular breeds in the United States.

The Paint horse comes in specific patterns — including the tobiano, overo, and tovero — that involve white or dark patches on a contrasting dark or white base (visit www. apha. com/breed/ index. html for links to some images and detailed descriptions). Aside from its coloring, the Paint horse is identical to the Quarter Horse, and it stands 15 to 16 hands in height. The Paint is known for being quiet and easygoing. Paints are popular trail horses and appear most often in Western shows.

Quarter Horse

The Quarter Horse is the result of American colonists' crossing horses kept by the Chickasaw nation to horses they had imported from England in the 1600s. Later developed to work cattle, the breed became a mainstay in the American West. The breed was used to herd cattle and carry cowboys across rangeland in the 1800s. The breed's name comes from its ability to run a quarter-mile distance faster than any other breed.

The Quarter Horse is a rugged horse with a small head and muscular neck. The breed's hindquarters are powerful, and the legs are straight and solid. Quarter Horses can be sorrel, chestnut, bay, black, dun, grulla, palomino, roan, or gray, and they stand anywhere from 14.3 to 16 hands tall.

Quarter Horses are well known for their quiet temperament, which is steady and easygoing. The Quarter Horse makes a good mount for beginning riders, who need a quiet and forgiving horse to help them learn.

In the show ring, Quarter Horses prevail in Western events; you see this breed most often in cattle-working competitions, Western pleasure classes, and gymkhana events (timed speed events). The Quarter Horse is the most popular breed of horse in the world; it numbers in the millions.


The Saddlebred was developed in Kentucky in the 1700s, using Morgans, Canadian horses, Narragansett Pacers (now extinct), and horses of Spanish breeding. Breeders hoped to develop a horse who could comfortably carry riders over long distances.

The Saddlebred is a gaited horse, capable of performing the stepping pace and a four-beat gait called a rack in addition to an animated walk, trot, and canter. (See Chapter 20 for details on gaited horses.)

Saddlebreds have a distinctive look that features a long, arched neck and a fine head carried high. The breed's body is lithe and lean, and it ranges in height from 15 to 17 hands high. The most common colors for this breed are bay, black, brown, chestnut, sorrel, and gray.

Saddlebreds make excellent show horses because of their flashy appearance. They're also good trail mounts and are very comfortable to ride because of their smooth gaits.


Standardbred horses were originally created for use as harness racers, but many are being retrained as saddle horses. The breed originated during the early part of U.S. history and was created to race under harness at either the trot or the pace. The breed is still used for this purpose today.

Standardbreds are able to move at great speeds without galloping. Some individuals are natural trotters, and they can trot at nearly 30 miles per hour. Others are born pacers (where the legs on one side move in unison) and are just as fast as trotters. The early training of Standardbred race horses fine-tunes these skills while discouraging the urge to gallop. Standardbreds are physically capable of galloping, however, and so can be trained for riding.

Standardbreds have large heads and powerful legs, and these horses measure anywhere from 15 to 16 hands high. They come mostly in bay and chestnut, but in some cases you may see them in brown, gray, or black. The Standardbred's disposition is gentle and trainable.

Tennessee Walking Horse

The Tennessee Walking Horse was developed in the early part of the 18th century by Southern plantation owners who needed a horse that could cover ground comfortably. This breed is a gaited horse (see Chapter 20), and it can perform a four-beat running walk for which it is famous. This gait is so smooth that it gives the rider the sensation of floating on air. Tennessee Walkers can also trot and canter.

The breed has a distinct look featuring a straight head with large ears. The neck is gracefully arched, and the withers are prominent. The breed appears in chestnut, bay, palomino, black, grey, and just about every other horse color. These horses range from 15 to 16 hands high and are known for their easygoing personality.

The Tennessee Walking Horse makes a great trail horse. It's also popular in breed shows that emphasize the breed's gaited aspects.


The Thoroughbred is the breed you see most often on the racetrack. Famous horses such as Man O' War and Secretariat were Thoroughbreds. The breed was developed in England in the 1700s for the purpose of racing and was later imported to the colonies in the New World.

Thoroughbreds typically have straight profiles, high withers, and long, fine legs. They stand from 15 to 17 hands high and have a lean, lanky appearance. They come in bay, chestnut, black, and grey.

Thoroughbreds are the fastest horses in the world, and they can reach speeds of 40 miles per hour when they gallop. They're also talented jumpers and dressage horses.