Horse books were important to me as a child. When I headed off to school, I stocked up on books that would keep alive my love for my horses.
One of the books that was most important to me as a child, though, wasn't about horses at all -- it was about words.
In this book, a kingdom of little creatures was about to meet its doom. They could be saved only by finding two words that meant exactly the same thing.
The little creatures brought many pairs of words to their king, who patiently explained the nuances that distinguished them.
At the end of the book, the kingdom was saved when one particularly bright creature brought the king the pair of "end-finish." A neat way to solve the problem and end the story.
The horse industry, like every other field, has a vocabulary of its own. Some of the terms used by horsemen are obvious and understandable to everyone; others need a bit of explanation.
Here, then, is a basic horse lover's glossary.
A foal is a baby horse of either sex and is referred to as such for the first few months of its life. Then the foal is called a weanling until its first birthday, when it becomes a yearling.
Notice that the terms foal, weanling and yearling are not gender-specific.
Female horses are referred to as fillies until they are 5 years old. Then they are known as mares. When they become mothers, they are called the dams of their offspring.
Male horses are called colts until their fourth birthday, unless they are castrated, in which case they are called geldings regardless of their age.
A male horse capable of reproducing and older than 4 is referred to as a stallion or simply as a horse. When he retires to the breeding shed he is at stud, and when he becomes a father he is the sire of his offspring.
It is a common error to refer to any young equine as a colt. That term is properly reserved for young male horses.
Another common error is to call any young equine a pony. The designation depends on size, not age. A pony is shorter than 14 hands 2 inches at the withers, while a horse is taller.
In addition, there are certain breeds -- Shetlands, Connemaras and Welsh -- whose members are always referred to as ponies (and are usually within the height requirements for being a pony).
A hand, which is equal to 4 inches, is the standard measurement used to determine an equine's height. The measurement is taken from the horse's withers to the ground.
The withers can be found where the horse's neck joins the back and is usually the highest point of the horse's back below the neck.
The most common colors of horses are bay, chestnut and gray.
A bay horse has a brownish body with a black mane, a black tail and black on the lower legs. A chestnut horse is a reddish-brown color that can range from a light copper to a deep sorrel.
Horses that look white are referred to as gray, as are horses that are dappled gray or dark gray. A roan horse is black (blue roan) or chestnut (strawberry roan) but has white hairs mixed throughout its coat.
True black horses are quite rare. Most horses described as black are really a dark brown and are so registered by the various breed associations. To determine whether a horse is truly black, look at its muzzle, flanks and the base of its tail. If those areas have brown hairs, the horse is dark brown.
A Palomino has a golden body with a light, creamy colored mane and tail. Paints and Pintos have large patches of white and another color on their bodies. Appaloosas have coats with spotted patterns.
When you brush a horse, clean his feet and get him spiffed up, you are grooming him. When you put on his gear to ride, you are tacking up.
Tack is all the equipment used when riding a horse. Basic tack consists of a saddle and bridle, but there are also martingales, breast plates and side reins.
There are three basic types of saddles in common use: English, Western and Saddle-Seat. Each of these types has several variations.
The primary purpose of a bridle is to connect the bit in the horse's mouth with the reins in the rider's hands. A halter fits over the horse's head in much the same way as a bridle, but does not have a bit. A halter is used primarily when leading a horse or cross-tying him for grooming.
One term that applies only to racing is often misused. Before and after each race, jockeys have to be weighed with their tack to make sure that they meet the required weight specifications for that race. Before the race, the jockey weighs out; after the race, the jockey weighs in.
But racing terms will take an entire column on their own sometime.
July 12: Weave-A-Dream Horse Trials in Hampstead, 239-2558.
July 18: Trail Work Day at Union Mills Bridle Trails, 346-7060
July 19: Carroll County Western Circuit Show at Spring Valley in Glen Rock, Pa., 239-7885.
July 19: Carroll County English Horse Shows Association at Lehigh Pony Club, 756-6057
July 19: Mid-Maryland Horse and Pony Show at Howard County Fairgrounds, 875-0964
July 25: Trail Ride at Liberty Watershed at 4:30 p.m., sponsored by the Carroll County Equestrian Council, 833-4593
Aug. 4: Carroll County Equestrian Council Meeting at Gillis Falls Reservoir site on Grimville Road, 833-4593