Cracking Horse Code – Part One

January 19, 2022

a side view of a white horse

A horse is a horse, of course, unless it’s a … pony? Sometimes, it can seem like the horse world speaks a different language. We’ve broken down some common terms you’ll run across as you explore the exciting world of horse adoption.

If many of these terms are new to you, don’t worry. Equine adoption is a friendly entry point into the horse world. If you’ve dreamed of getting involved with horses, we encourage you to pick up the trot and meet the ASPCA’s network of Right Horse Adoption Partners.

Common horse descriptors:

Equine – A horse or other member of the horse family (which typically also includes donkeys, mules and zebras). You’ll often hear this inclusive term used interchangeably with “horse.” 

Hands – The height of horses and ponies is measured in a unit called hands, which is equivalent to four inches. A horse’s height is usually denoted in the unit’s abbreviation “hh.” The one exception is Miniature Horses who are occasionally measured in inches. 

HorseHorses are equines over 14.2hh in height.

PonyPonies are equines under 14.2hh in height. The term pony covers a variety of breeds that are typically under the 14.2hh height designation.

Draft HorseDrafts are a special sub-set of horses that have been selectively bred as work horses to pull heavy loads or plow fields. They’re typically taller and thicker boned than other breeds and have powerful muscling and hindquarters. There are many different draft breeds that you may be familiar with like Clydesdales.

Gaited HorseGaited horses are another sub-group of horses that have been selectively bred to have additional an additional “ambling” gait with a lateral stride. These horses are prized for the comfortable ride they provide.

Mare – A mare is an adult female horse. Usually, a female horse is called a mare when she is older than three.

Gelding – A gelding is a castrated male horse. It’s correct to say a horse has been “gelded” when referring to the surgical procedure.

Stallion – A stallion is an adult male horse who has not been gelded.

Colt – A colt is a young, ungelded male horse usually under the age of four.

Filly – A filly is a young female horse usually under the age of four.

Foal – A foal is a baby horse who is still nursing.

Weanling – A weanling is a young horse under a year of age, who has been weaned from their mother and is no longer nursing. Horses are typically weaned somewhere between four and seven months of age.

Yearling – A yearling is a one-year-old horse of any gender.

Now you know most of the major descriptors of the horses you’ll meet if you visit a barn or start your adoption journey. Let's pick up the trot! Learn more about the different discipline and movement descriptors, common coat colors and breeds you’ll encounter and become a true equine expert.

If you’re ready to learn more about equine adoption, visit My Right Horse. There, you can browse hundreds of adoptable horses, learn more about the adoption process and easily share your favorite horses on social media to help connect the right horse to the right person.