Horse Riding Terms 101

Sometimes it seems like horse people are speaking a foreign language. Learning to ride a horse can be intimidating enough without the added stress of trying to translate what everyone is saying. I know it is for me!

Here are some common terms you will hear from your riding instructor:

The four gaits of a horse are walk, trot, canter and gallop. English riders post the trot, which means that they rise up and down in rhythm to the horse’s movement. On a circle, they will rise as the outside foreleg moves forwards. This is called a diagonal. If a rider rises on the inside leg instead, then they are on the wrong diagonal.

Horses canter asymmetrically on a three beat rolling gait. The foreleg that reaches out at the end of the stride corresponds to the horse’s direction of travel. This is called a lead. Horses have a right and a left lead. Horses are balanced best when the lead corresponds with the direction of the circle. Cantering on the left lead going to the right is called a counter canter. Counter cantering can be done for a purpose, but in most cases it is an error. If the horse’s front legs are on the right lead and the rear on the left lead it is called a cross canter. This is always wrong and is very uncomfortable to sit.

Horses can change from one lead to the other through a few trot steps – called a simple change – or in the middle of a canter stride – called a flying change. Flying changes take more balance on the part of the horse and superior timing on the part of the rider.

A half seat is when the rider perches slightly off the saddle to allow the horse more movement through the back as well as to stay with the horse’s motion. The half seat while taught at the trot is used during the gallop and over jumps.

The two most popular English riding styles are dressage and hunter/jumper. Both styles communicate through the terms outlined above. Knowledge of these terms will give you a basic understanding of horse related language as it pertains to riding.