Bay horse at english horse show

English Horse Show Glossary

Words and Phrases You'll Only Hear at English Horse Shows

If you’re new to horse showing, you could be excused for thinking that it requires a foreign language degree. At your very first English horse show, you’ll hear chatter all around you that sounds like equestrians have started speaking in tongues. 

“See, that mare did the four-stride in three and took the inside turn to the rollback before going off-course. Guess she won’t make it to the jump-off! The rider should have paid more attention when walking the course.”

Don’t worry. By the end of this blog, you’ll be able to decipher this sentence. 

The Language of Colors: Tail Ribbons

Tail ribbons are small colorful ribbons braided into the horse’s tail. They look very similar to the bow used to tie shoelaces, and are secured by wrapping the ribbon through the braid itself. These ribbons come in a variety of colors, each of which is significant. It’s important to understand the meaning of these colors before your next English horse show, as some are actually warning you to stay away.

Green: This color means the horse is “green,” or young and inexperienced. These horses may spook easily, be unsure of themselves, and generally act like it’s their first time at an English horse show. You may also hear the term “green rider.”

Red: Riders beware! Red means this horse likes to kick and needs some space. Give this horse plenty of room both on the ground and in the show ring. Otherwise, you and your horse may end your show day a lot faster than you thought you would– all it takes is one good kick!

Yellow: Just like stop lights and street signs, a yellow ribbon braided into a horse’s tail means “caution.” This horse is likely a stallion. While the rider could be completely in control of the stallion, still give them plenty of room. Stallions are more likely to be territorial and could be aggressive towards mares in heat or other stallions. 

White: A white ribbon isn’t as common nowadays as it used to be. But if you see one, it means the horse is for sale. If you’re horse shopping, keep a close eye on horse’s with a white tail ribbon. You might just find your next best friend at a horse show!

Related to Riders

Amateur: An amateur is an adult rider who does not get paid to ride, train, or show horses. Amateur riders have a varying level of experience and can show at a wide variety of levels. 

Professional: A professional rider is anyone who gets paid to ride and train horses. It’s important to be aware of your status as a professional as you will be barred from competing in some classes. 

Junior: The term junior is used to refer to any rider who is competing and is less than 18 years old. Some English horse shows even have special classes just for junior riders. 

Hunter/Jumper Shows

Hunter: Hunter classes are judged based on the horse’s movement. Ideally, horses and riders in this style of horse show should look relaxed, with a smooth rhythmic canter and floating movement. 

Showjumping: Showjumping classes are judged based completely on the time clock. Riders must complete a course of fences as fast as possible with as few faults as possible. Penalties are added for knocking down rails and riders are disqualified if they go off course. 

Equitation: Equitation classes are based almost entirely on the rider’s position and control of the horse. Horses are typically ridden on a shorter rein and jumping courses have tighter turns and are done at a slightly faster pace. 

On the Flat/Under Saddle: When someone refers to a class at an English horse show as being “under saddle” or “on the flat,” they mean that this class has no fences. Horse and rider are judged on their flatwork and must perform at all three gaits: walk, trot, and canter. 

Verticals: These fences have poles that are placed parallel to each other and do not intersect. Vertical fences typically have between two and three poles, one of each is placed on the ground. 

Crossrails: This type of fence features two rails that “cross” or intersect with each other. There is a low point in the middle of the fence where the rails form an x shape. 

Oxers: Similar to verticals, oxers are a type of fence featuring several rails that are placed parallel to each other. Unlike verticals, oxers also have a second set of standards behind the first one to form a wider fence. 

Course: At an English horse show, the course is the order in which the rider must jump a series of fences. The rider is given the pattern before the class and must memorize it. 

Walking the Course: This takes place before some jumping classes. During this time period, riders and their coaches are allowed to walk the pattern in which they must jump the fences. This helps the riders better remember the course and work out any problem areas. 

Off-Course: A rider is considered to be off-course when they deviate from the pattern in which they are supposed to jump the fences. Going off-course results in immediate disqualification. 

Jump-Off: Exclusive to the sport of showjumping, a jump-off happens when two riders tie. The fences are raised every round and whoever can jump the highest at the fastest speed without knocking down a pole wins. 

Refusal: When a horse stops short of jumping a fence and “refuses” to jump it. 

Runout: When a horse swerves and runs around the fence instead of going over. 

Rollback: A rollback occurs in any jumping class when riders must ride a tight, round turn from one fence to another. 

Open Classes: This type of class is open to any rider, including professionals, amateurs, and juniors. 

USHJA: This abbreviation stands for the United States Hunter Jumper Association, which is the organization who hosts the majority of rated hunter/jumper English horse shows in the United States. 

Dressage Terminology:

USDF: This abbreviation means the United States Dressage Federation. Acting as the governing body of dressage English horse shows in the United States, USDF promotes dressage competition and education. 

Dressage Test: A dressage test is the pattern of movements that a rider must adhere to in order to place at a horse show. 

Calling a Dressage Test: This takes place when a rider enlists the help of a friend, other competitor, or coach to stand by the edge of the dressage arena and read out loud the pattern of the dressage test.

#-Meter Circle: You’ll often hear riders and coaches refer to a circle as 10-meters or 20-meters. This refers to the diameter of the circle. 

Training: Similar to saying someone is a level 1 player in a video game, riders and horses are said to “go training” when they are competing following a pattern of movements designed for basic level riders. Tests are performed in the walk, trot, and canter and horses should be willing and supple through the movements. 

First: The next level up from training, first level riders expand on what they learned in training level and also perform new, more difficult movements. 

Second: The level above first, riders competing at this level must show collection, as well as the counter-canter. 

Third: Riders can move up to third level dressage from second. This level of competition at horse shows becomes much more intense. The judges set an even higher bar for riders and double bridles are now available to riders to use. 

Fourth: Definitely not meant for new riders, fourth level dressage tests require an experienced horse and rider combination. New movements added at this level include tempi changes and a 10-meter half circle in counter-canter. 

Prix St. Georges: This is the first level of international competition. Double bridles are required for this level and all above it. 

Grand Prix: The very top level of equestrian sport, when you watch dressage at the Olympics, you’re watching Grand Prix-level dressage. 

Eventing Terminology:

Beginner Novice: The introductory level of eventing, beginner novice riders may be new to the sport. When on cross country, these riders follow the course that is numbered with black numbers on a yellow background.

Novice: Novice riders are beginning to gain confidence in the cross country field and starting to master the basics of dressage and stadium jumping. These riders follow black numbers on a white background when riding on the cross country course.

Training: This is the last level of eventing where no qualifications are needed to move up the levels. It’s considered the last of the “lower” eventing levels. Training level riders follow white numbers on a black background when riding on the cross country course.

Preliminary: Now we’re really getting serious! Preliminary level eventing is considered to be the first of the upper levels. You have to qualify in order to compete in preliminary and all levels above it. Riders follow white numbers on a green background.

Intermediate: Not everyone has the horse or the training to ride intermediate level eventing. These courses take some serious bravery. Riders follow white numbers on a red background.

Advanced: This is the highest level of United States eventing. Horse and rider must qualify to compete at this level for their safety. Riders follow white numbers on a blue background on the cross country field. 

Frangible Pins: A relatively new innovation, frangible pins allow the rails of a cross country fence to fall if a horse knocks against it. They were designed to greatly increase safety on course and prevent injuries. 

Finish on a Dressage Score: Riders who finish on their dressage score truly have something to brag about! These riders had no penalties in either cross country or stadium jumping. Their only score will be their final dressage score. 

Red on Right: Refers to the different colored flags on either side of a fence. One side will have a white flag, the other side will have a red flag. All obstacles should be jumped with the red flag on your right side. 

Start Box: A “box” made of L-shaped fencing, this is where all horses and riders start their cross country course. 

English Horse Show Attire:

Show Coat: These beautiful jackets are typically neutral colors, such as gray, navy, black, or green, and are worn in the dressage and hunter/jumper rings. Dressage competitions are now starting to allow more colors!  Shop our collection of show jackets here.

Stock Tie: This doesn’t look like your typical tie. The stock tie is a strip of cloth worn tied around the neck at English horse shows, specifically in dressage competitions. It must be knotted in a specific style and can be bought pre-tied. 

Stock Pin: Usually small and dainty, this pin is used to secure your stock tie. More common in the dressage arena, stock ties are occasionally worn in the hunter ring, although now embroidery at the collar of the show shirt is more popular. 

Tall Boots: Compared to paddock boots, these riding boots are really quite tall. Usually black in color, these leather boots reach just below the knee and zip up the back.

Garter Strap: Worn only by very young riders, garter straps are strips of leather that wrap around just below the knee and use velcro or buckles to close. 

Show Bows: These bows are only acceptable when worn with garter straps and paddock boots in the hunter/jumper ring. Usually brightly-colored and large, these bows are used to secure two braided pigtails. 

Show Shirt: The only acceptable shirt in the show ring, these garments have a high, stiff collar that snaps shut at the throat. Available in long sleeves or short sleeves for summer events. Check out our collection of show shirts here. 

Skull Cap: A helmet that is usually only worn when riding cross country, skull caps do not have a stiff brim and often have a nylon cover in bright colors. 

Cross Country Vest: This safety vest protects the rider in the event of a fall. There are several different types, including Co2-powered ones that inflate as soon as the rider detaches from the saddle. 

Miscellaneous Horse Show Terminology:

Change of Direction: You may hear a judge say this in a flat class. This means that they want you to complete a half circle and change direction. 

Schooling Ring: This is the warm-up ring at an English horse show, where horses and riders can practice a small amount before heading into their judged classes. 

Ring Steward: You can usually find this person standing by the gate to a ring, they are in charge of telling riders when they can enter the competition arena and schooling ring.

Scribe: This person sits directly next to or very close to the judge. They write down all of the judges comments and help with score keeping. 

USEF: This stands for United States Equestrian Federation. The USEF organization governs most equestrian sports in the United States. 

#-Stride: When you hear someone refer to a jumping combination as 3-stride or 5-stride, they’re referring to the number of steps the horse takes to get from one fence to the next. In hunter/jumper classes, there is an ideal number of strides the horse must take. 

So, what do you think? Can you decipher the sentence? 

Shop for all of your horse show needs. With brands like Equine Couture and Charles Owen, we have everything you need to get you ready for your next show. 

Click here to shop our collection of English horse show attire.

For more horse show season tips, check out this blog

Leave a comment

Please note, comments need to be approved before they are published.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.