7 Year Tea Party Winners: Susan Craft's winner of her trilogy novels - The Chamomile, Laurel, and Cassia is: Lucy Reynolds, The winner of a copy of The Backcountry Brides is: Tammy Cordery, the winner of a silver quill charm is: Kathy Maher, Choice of one of three books by Carrie Fancett Pagels in paperback: Joy Ellis, A Bouquet of Brides Collection by Pegg Thomas winner is: Becky Smith, Janet Grunst's Selah-Award winning novel, A Heart Set Free, is: Sherry Moe.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Horses -- Sex, Age, and Physical Attributes

By Susan F. Craft
Author, An Equestrian Writer’s Guide

For writers interested in or doing research about horses for their novels, the following are excerpts from the Long Riders’ Guild Academic Foundation’s An Equestrian Writer’s Guide. This is copyrighted material and should not be reproduced without the permission of the Long Riders’ Guild. (Visit the website at www.lrgaf.org for more information.)


Mare – female horse
Gelding – castrated male horse
Stallion – male horse; also called an “entire”; in the US he may be called a “stud horse”; but never called a stud by the English, which is what they call a farm or stable that keeps horses. Stallions have more natural aggression especially around other horses; usually ridden by experts.
Foal – baby horse from birth to January 1 of the next year (horses mature between ages five and seven)
Filly – girl baby horse
Colt – boy baby horse
Yearling – in the year after the birth year (too young to ride; most saddle horses aren't  worked hard until at least four years old; breaking and training may start earlier)
Pony – small, usually less than 14.2 hands high. Smart and sturdy, they are often   used by ladies in pony carts or carriages, or for packing goods.


Horses are measured from the ground to the top of the withers (the ridge between the shoulder bones) in hands. One hand is four inches.

The average horse is 15 to 16 hands. Very tall horses may be 17 hands, and only unusual horses reach 18 hands.

Ponies are usually less than 14 hands, two inches

Two areas of the body—the main body and the points, which are the ear tips, mane, tail, and the fetlock or the lower part of the legs—are considered when determining the color of a horse. (This gets a little complicated because color designations differ between UK and the US.)

Appaloosa – white hair and dark patches that may be leopard, flecked, snowflake or in a blanket. These originated in northwestern US and were formerly much used by Native Americans.
Bay – red-brown body, black points—may be dark bay, mahogany bay, red bay  (cherry bay), blood bay, light bay, sandy bay—but every bay horse always has  black points
Black – black body, black points—may be smoky black, jet black, coal black, raven  black (true black is rare)
Brown – brown body, brown points; may be a seal bay (dark brown with black legs, tail, and mane) or a standard brown
Chestnut/Sorrel – reddish body, self-colored (non-black) points. When in UK refer to Thoroughbreds or Arabians as chestnuts—a liver chestnut, dark red chestnut, dark chestnut, etc.  In the West, “sorrel” designates light reds; medium or dark reds may be called “chestnut.” Some Western horsemen use “sorrel” for all red horses no matter the shade. Light sorrel draft horses with white manes and tails are known as “blond.”
Dun – yellowish body, black points; may have primitive marks, which include a  black dorsal stripe and/or zebra stripes on the legs; a red dun is a name often used for a reddish yellow horse with red points and primitive marks; a grullo is slate-blue with black points;  and a claybank is a pale dun color without  black points. Duns are called buckskins in the US, and even piebald or skewbald.
Gray – may be born black or bay, but each year shows more white—iron grey, steel grey, dappled grey, etc. A “rose grey” is born chestnut or bay.
Paint/Pinto – white patches patterned as either Overo (white patches have ragged edges and  rarely extend over the top-line) or Tobiano (white patches have sharp edges  and cross the top-line and usually with white legs)
Palomino golden coat, white mane and tail; palomino with a cream-colored coat rather than gold, is called an Isabella—a term often used in Europe for all palominos
Piebald – dark-skinned, born dark and turning whiter each year; large irregular solid  patches of black and white
Roan – can be blue or strawberry; mixed colored and white hairs, staying the same  every year after one year old. A blue roan has black and white hairs; red roans  and strawberry roans have red and white hairs. A thoroughbred born chestnut  may be called a “red roan” even when truly gray—getting progressively  whiter each year
Skewbald – large irregular solid patches of any other color and white
White – pure white with pink skin; in western US white and off-white horses with blue  eyes are called cremello or if it has slightly red or blue points, it’s called a perlino (true white is rare)

Note: Susan Craft is a new contributor to Colonial Quills.  Welcome, Susan!!


  1. Welcome, Susan, and thanks for the interesting post! Wondering if our other horse expert, Lynn Squire, might chime in on this!

  2. Great article Susan.

    I smiled when I read your definition of colt. Why? Because my daughter asked me just the other day about the use of the term 'colt' in reference to something she read in a book (I think it was one written by Laura Ingalls Wilder). It triggered a memory of my own grandfather who used 'colt' in a generic sense to refer to any foal. Sure a colt is a young male horse, but over a century ago it was also used more generic. Here's what the 1828 Webster's dictionary says, "In America, colt is equally applied to the male or female, and this is unquestionably correct. The male is called a horse-colt, and the female is called a filly."

    Kind of an interesting twist, eh? (Yes, I'm Canadian)

    I had another interesting conversation with my mother-in-law on the usage of the word thoroughbred. Well, she's not a horse person, so I won't repeat what she said, but I decided to look it up in my 1828 Websters. Thoroughbred meant "Completely taught or accomplished." I chuckled because I've known plenty of thoroughbreds that did not follow that definition.

  3. One more little thing of interest, and then I'd better be going. Did you know that 'horse' was also used as a verb at the time of the 1828 Websters dictionary? Here's what Mr. Webster wrote:

    To mount on a horse. To carry on the back. The keeper, horsing a deer. To ride astride; as ridges horsed. To cover a mare as the male.

    (hope that's not too graphic)

    Horse was also used to refer to a cavalry: We say, a thousand horse; a regiment of horse.

    Just something a little fun. :)

  4. Some wonderful information I plan to store away for future use. I write historicals so horses are a huge part of my stories. Horse gear also changes between centuries. Great info. Thanks for sharing!

  5. Welcome, Susan! I've never grown out of my little-girl horse love and I'm always looking for ways to bring horses into whatever I'm writing.

    And this post is most timely, because it reminded me of something I want to do in the project I'm working on now and had almost forgotten about.

  6. Great info, Susan. I've always wondered what people meant when they referred to a horse being a "bay." Now I know.

  7. Enjoyed your post, as well as the comments! Horse as a verb reminded me that there's an opposite, too--unhorse!

  8. I always look forward to creating the horse characters for my stories. If I don't watch it, they all end up being roans of one sort or another. That's my favorite. Lots of roans on the farms around here, so I'm always ogling for a new shade for my next hero to ride! Thanks for the horse post. While I'm actually afraid of horses, I LOVE the idea of them. :)

  9. Have admired horses since I was a child... (what girl, as they're growing up, doesn't like horses--And owning Breyer statues?! :)
    Oddly enough though, guys like the horse-power (cars :)
    I was intrigued with the colors, too. Recently read a historical where a horse was described as a chestnut bay. I'm assuming she meant a reddish bay.
    I love buckskins (duns). They're such a primitive, soft color. Always connect that black stripe down their backs with the donkey colt that Jesus rode. Still have my "Sand Dune Pony" books I read as a child, too! :)
    Thanks so much for making this information clear and available to us, Susan!

  10. One of my favorite horses that I ever rode was a blue roan Tennessee Walker. Gorgeous, MASSIVE horse. He was easily 17.5 hands. He boarded at the place I took riding lessons and he was for sale. Would have bought him if I'd had the money.

  11. I love horses. Mine is a pinto pony. Great post.

  12. Nice descriptions of the colors. The photo looks a lot like my old Sarge, a 3 stocking sorrel. I still miss that horse. Trooper, in the photo with me, is a black point bay paint. He has one brown eye and one blue eye. Horse colors are interesting, that's for sure! Living in an Amish community... we see a lot of horses. :)

  13. Thanks everyone -- Lynn, Jennifer, Rachel, Debbie, Chris, Lori, Pat, Faye, and Pegg-- for the nice, encouraging comments. I’ve always loved horses and rode when I was a young girl, although I lost contact with horses until my two children were 7 and 12 when we took riding lessons together. I even have a picture of me in a Dale Evans outfit sitting on a pony that used to travel through the neighborhoods to pose in pictures with children. I think this was mostly in the South, but could have been elsewhere too? There’s a great story about how I came to gather information and write An Equestrian Writers Guide. Will share it if anyone is interested.

  14. Susan, I'd love that you wrote that book. I'd love to hear your writing journey with it.

  15. Thanks,Lynn. My heroine in my novel, The Chamomile, makes a 250-mile trek on horseback from the coast of SC to the mountains of NC. I was so concerned about accuracy (What would they have eaten? How far could they have traveled in a day? What care would they have needed?), I contacted a horsewoman friend of mine who announced on her blog that "here was a chance to help an author get it right about horses." From her blog, I received an email from a man in Romania who escorts people on week-long rides. He recommended I get in touch with CuChullaine O'Reilly, founder of the Long Riders Guild. In order to belong to LRG, you must have ridden on at least a 1,000-mile journey on horseback. So, on a Saturday afternoon, I emailed back and forth with CuChullaine, who was in England. He answered all my questions so clearly and precisely, I told him I would acknowledge him and the LRG in my novel. From that, he told me he gets many similar questions from authors and asked if I would compile an author's guide for the Guild's Academic Foundation. I told him, what I don't know about horses could fill a book, but as and author, I do know how I like to find my information and how much I really appreciate a well organized resource. He put me in touch with other international long riders --Doug Preston, NY Times best selling author of mysteries; Jeanine Wilder, US travel book author; and Jeremy James, British poet. Between us, we came up with the Equestrian Writer's Guide (or A Writer's Guide to Horses, as I like to call it) that also includes a dictionary of Western Terms and European Terms. CuChullaine and his wife, Basha, have become dear email friends. They have moved to France in preparation for a ride around the world that will take four years. CuChullaine is a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, and his expedition will collect the DNA of horses along the way in hopes of tracking the history and migration/movement of horses around the world. What an exciting journey of my own I took because of my writing!


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