Post Olympics: horse jargon demystified for idiot journalists

Some proper hard facts about equestrian terminology

Photo of Suze and “Merrylegs”
by Aaron Wood

As most journalists – especially of the “tabloid” variety – don’t know one end of a horse from the other, here’s a brief guide to the main terms they should be using when writing about horses and riders in the media … as opposed to the vomit-inducing clichés they normally write.

Last year I bristled when reading the UK’s Daily Mail (that’ll teach me) to see how they described Zara Phillips’/Tindall’s recent success at a 3-day event. “Zara wins first prize” it gurgled. Surely if you win, you’ve come first? Tautology rules. And it gets far worse. In what meagre coverage there was in the media of the equestrian sports this year during the UK’s Olympic Games and Paralympics, the journos once again made us horsey types (and that’s everything from a gold medallist to a casual weekend trekker) cringe with their clichéd crap. OK, the public don’t need to know the difference between a fetlock and a forelock … but let’s at least get the basics right…

Colt: a colt is not just any young or juvenile horse or pony – it’s the boy version. Girlie versions are called fillies. Young horses of either gender are foals, yearlings, two-year-olds, etc.

Stallion: a.k.a “fiery stallion,” “prancing stallion,” etc. A stallion is not a romantic equid on which a handsome knight gallops off with a beautiful princess on board. Not unless he’s got a cast-iron life insurance policy and a death wish. Stallions are male horses who have not had their b*lls chopped off and usually are more macho and testosterone-fired than body-builders on illegal steroids. Although some are quite sweet-natured, most kick, bite, fight with other male horses given the chance and will jump over an 18-wheeler truck to get at a mare in season. Hence most stallions used for equestrian competitions are “gelded.”

Gelding: see above. A gelding is a male horse with its b*lls cut off. An adult  female horse is a mare. When in doubt, don’t guess – look between its hind legs. No willy – it’s a mare. If you see a willy but no b*lls, it’s a gelding. If you see a willy and b*lls it’s a stallion, so get the hell out of there fast.

A typical, grumpy-looking pony

Pony: a pony is a small version of a horse. It is not a baby or juvenile horse; many ponies live to be 30 or even 40 years old. And they don’t grow any bigger. (Baby horses are called foals, see above.) Ponies, especially the very small ones, can be grumpy little sh*ts. These may look cuddly but have teeth and jaws like small alligators.

Mount, steed, charger, etc.: ZZZZzzzzzzz….who do you think you are, journo – Jane Austen? These days a horse is a horse, not something you cast in bronze standing on one leg with a dead general sitting on it.

Eventing: what Zara Phillips (Queen’s grand-daughter) does, which is why you write about it, so for Heaven’s sake get it right. It consists of 3 disciplines. Dressage is what most event riders hate because they find it boring, with the horse just going around in circles on the flat. What annoys them even more is that it’s very difficult to get right. Cross-country is what they all get off on because it’s thrilling and dangerous with the horse galloping over a lengthy course of huge, awkward fences (NOT jumps, please) that, unlike showjumping fences, do not fall to pieces if you breathe on them. Lastly there’s showjumping which is done at a somewhat more dignified pace (called canter) over a short course of collapsible fences. Sounds easy, but they’re big, sometimes wide too, placed at tricky angles and if your horse touches them they fall over, so incurring penalties.

When a rider gets “thrown” from his/her horse: I know it sounds more captivating to write about a poor innocent rider being cruelly ejected from the saddle by the vicious steed, but 99 percent of the time the rider doesn’t get thrown – s/he falls off. And it’s normally not the horses’ fault, so stop blaming them, OK? FYI, the correct terminology is to refer to it as “a fall.”

Reining in your horse: another cliché you love to inflict on the horse world. The reality is that if you yank the reins hard on a real horse you’ll hurt its mouth and spook it, so you might even get “thrown.” Stop trying to use horse jargon unless you really understand it. Say “slowing down,” or “stopping” to be on the safe side. NB: there is, in fairness, a Western equestrian discipline called “reining,” but this does not involving yanking horses in the mouth. On the contrary … if you look at the video below you will see one of the most amazing demonstrations of Western reining I have ever seen; it made me cry for its perfection and pathos. And not a rein, bridle, or saddle in sight.

Running: horses don’t run. The standard paces are walk, trot, canter and gallop (some American breeds do artificial paces as well, but let’s not go there now.) Think about it; how would you run if you had four legs?

I could go on for pages and pages, but that’ll do for now. Happy horsifying…

You won’t be surprised to learn that I love horses and have written two jokebooks about them. These make cute, low-cost gifts and you may like to check them out: The Horse Lover’s Joke Book, and The Pony Lover’s Joke Book




How to write funny jokes – yes, even about horses

On a Friday afternoon in April, 2011 we had a little party (April 29th to be precise,  after that other little party in honour of some wedding or other in London, England…) to celebrate the launch of my latest book, “The Pony Lover’s Joke Book.” This is at the multi-award winning equestrian superstore whose owner asked me to do a joke book about ponies. She sells loads of my earlier title, “The Horse Lover’s Joke Book” and thought the pony book would do well too.

Are horses funny?

People who keep horses always laugh at this gag, largely because it’s true: “how do you make a small fortune out of horses? Start with a large fortune.” Despite this the vast majority of horse owners in the UK, Canada, the USA and I suspect most other industrialised countries are not filthy rich (any more!) but hard-working individuals who often have to do two jobs just to afford the livery costs, vets’ bills, feed, tack, bedding, grazing, clothing, transportation, etc., etc.

If you know where to look you can find humour in just about anything (I even find humour in cancer-related stories and incidents, as you can see on my CancerComicStrip blog.) And in the world of horses there is an absolute goldmine of opportunities for funny jokes.

A good place to start looking for humour is within jargon

Nearly always there is a jargon for any particular sport, activity, or even business. Often jargon can be used for amusing wordplays and double meanings. Take the following horsey terms, for example:

Flash Noseband(real meaning: a crossover-styled nose band within a horse’s bridle) A noseband which cashes in on the current rage for fashion statements comprising utterly outrageous glitter, sparkle, Swarovksi crystals and other bling which riders hope will catch the judges’ eyes and divert their attention away from a) a number of fences down or b) a really bad dressage test.

Gaited Horse(real meaning: a North American horse trained to go in artificial paces as well as the four natural ones) A US term referring to their extraordinary horses which not only do walk, trot, canter and gallop but also can be taught  boogie-woogie, jive, quick-step, waltz, rumba, cha-cha, salsa and Ceroc.

Livery(real meaning: board and lodging for a horse at a livery yard/horse farm) How parents say they feel when they are obliged to get up at some insane hour of the morning to take their kids to a show or rally, after having had far too much to drink the night before.


Then, you can take jargon terms and change them slightly

Crab biting: a condition whereby the horse crib bites sideways (crib biting is a bad habit that stabled horses can get into when bored – they chew out the wood around their stables…)

Faminitis: a disease suffered by many equids, particularly ponies, causing them to escape from their stables and attempt to raid the feed bins (play on the word “laminitis” which is an all too common disease of horses and ponies)

Thoroughdread: a thoroughbred horse who has just noticed a garbage bag that’s caught in the hedge and which is now flapping in the breeze (this was inspired by my own mare who was a real “thoroughdread!)

Now, how about adapting some silly jokes?

What kind of horse wears a sweater, jeans, and cheap boots? A plainclothes police horse

What time is it when a fat pony sits on the fence?  Time to mend the fence!

What’s spotted, stands in a puddle when it rains and doesn’t get wet? An Appaloosa with an umbrella!

And to round off, some “boyfriend” jokes

Why ponies are better than boyfriends

  • Ponies’ feet and shoes usually don’t smell, unlike a boyfriend’s stinky socks and shoes
  • You won’t get upset if your pony forgets to send you a Valentine’s card
  • Ponies do not normally get big problems with zits
  • Ponies do not play drums or loud guitar music in terrible rock bands
  • Ponies’ stables are not littered with a half-metre depth of empty Coke cans, week-old, mouldy takeaway curry leftovers, school books, laptops and dirty laundry

What else?

With a bit of thought, you can adapt the joke styles I’ve just described to suit a large number of other topics, as I mentioned above. Here are some more styles you can try:

  1. Adaptations of nursery rhymes and children’s stories
  2. Spoof “etiquette” rules … (would love to do one on golf…!)
  3. Essential knowledge for newbies (spoof on what people new to the activity can expect)
  4. Wordplay using adapted titles of TV shows and movies
  5. If you crossed an X with a Y you’d get a Z (e.g. Highland [pony] – Shih Tzu [dog]: HighShihtz, a pony with unfortunate intestinal issues)
  6. How many (whatevers) does it take to change a light bulb?
  7. Spoof on rules/issues of the sport/activity (e.g. Your 15 metre circle shape reminds the judge that she needs to buy some eggs on her way home)
  8. And many more….!!


NB If you’re interested in the two horsey joke books, here’s where to find them (they make great gifts!)

The Horse Lover’s Joke Book: UK here, and USA here

The Pony Lover’s Joke Book: UK here, and USA here