8 horsey terms you’ve probably been getting wrong for years

  • I know that we’re all human and therefore we all make mistakes from time to time, but there are some real howlers in the equestrian world that seem to crop up more than most.

    So rather than leaving you to look a little bit silly in front of your more knowledgeable horsey friends, we thought it might be a useful public service if we cleared up the confusion about these terms once and for all.

    Manège, not menage

    I know a significant percentage of the British equestrian popular refer to an outdoor riding arena as a menage, but this really needs to stop! If we’re going to borrow this term from our friends across the Channel, we really should get it right. The word menage in French refers to a ‘household’ (to help you remember, menage a trois translates to mean a three-person household, get it?), while a manège is a riding arena. If you really can’t get your head around that, save yourself any blushes and just call it an arena or an outdoor school.

    Conformation, not confirmation

    When assessing the way a horse is structurally put together, you are reviewing its conformation. This most often occurs when competing in the show ring and is also taken into consideration when a vet is assessing a horse during a pre-purchase examination or vetting. Confirmation is a religious rite of initiation into the Christian faith and, as far as we’re aware, horses aren’t eligible.


    Here’s another one that we’ve borrowed from our French cousins and have been audibly butchering ever since. Gilet is the French word for waistcoat and its pronounced ‘jee-lay’ rather than ‘gill-it’. Alternatively, you could just call that padded, armless coat what it is – a waistcoat or body warmer – and be done with it.


    Few things will create more sniggers and mark you as a newcomer in hunting circles than if you get this one wrong. Trust us when we tell you that it’s pronounced ‘beaver’, regardless of what else you might have heard.


    I’m not brave enough to raise the chesnut versus chestnut debate. But the pretty palomino does seem to be one colour that is regularly spelt incorrectly. If you’re unsure, we’re here to confirm that it is definitely palomino, not palamino, polimino or any other possible versions.

    Dun or buckskin?

    While we’re on the topic of colours, this is one that some people get particularly hot under the collar about. Yes they look similar with a creamy/golden body and a darker mane, tail and legs, but they are genetically quite different. Buckskin occurs as a result of the cream dilution gene acting on a bay horse, while duns come from the dun dilution gene. The easiest way to tell them apart is to look for a dorsal stripe. If it’s there then the horse is dun, if it’s missing then the horse is buckskin.


    Appaloosa is a breed not a colour. Don’t make the mistake of referring to every spotted horse you see as an Appaloosa, because you’ve got a good chance of offending the owner/rider/connections if you get it wrong. And in case you’re not sure, the spelling is double p, single l, double o, rather than the various alternatives you’ll find all over the internet.

    Breeding: by or out of

    If you think about the words ‘out of’ in their most literal sense, this might help you here. Sadly even some of our fellow equestrian websites have been known to get this wrong (I’ll spare their blushes by not naming them!) but a horse is by a stallion and comes out of a mare, so a horse cannot be out of a famous stallion. That gives me visions of an equine version of the film Alien…

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