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What is a horse rider called? (You might be surprised.)

horse rider called what
Written by Horse Rookie

Equine Talk Translated

Every hobby has its own terminology and shorthand, but equine sports seem to have more than their fair share. Many rookies describe their foray into the world of horses as trying to learn a foreign language.

Even finding the correct terminology for a horse rider can be challenging. You could offend someone by choosing the wrong label, so knowing who’s who in the horse-riding zoo is critical. 

In this article, we’ll break down some of the most common labels for horse riders—aside from “just plain crazy!” If you want to learn more about horse-care lingo, check out our article on Horse Care Terminology: Foreign Language or Feasible?

What is an Equestrian?

An equestrian is the most common and general term for horse riders (and those who spend a lot of time around horses, mounted or not). It’s a gender-neutral term that applies to any discipline (i.e. activity), so it’s a great option when you aren’t sure what to say.

What is a Cowboy or Cowgirl?

If you want to use a gender-specific rider term, consider cowboy (male) or cowgirl (female). Note: These words are typically reserved for riders in Western disciplines.

What is a Jockey?

A jockey refers to a racehorse rider. Jockeys are small in stature, which makes it easier for the horses to carry their weight at high speeds. This is a gender-neutral term.

What is a Vaquero or Vaquera?

Though rarer in the United States, the terms Vaquero (male) or Vaquera (female) are sometimes used to describe horse riders who tend cattle.

These words have Spanish roots and are often referenced when talking about foundational cowboys and horsemen in 16th-century America.

What is a Buckaroo?

This is technically a gender-neutral term, though it’s typically used to describe male horse riders in Western disciplines and rodeos. Sometimes a buckaroo is also a term of endearment for young riders

What is a Bronc Rider?

This refers to a person who competes at rodeos by riding bucking horses—with a saddle. 

What is a Bareback Rider?

This refers to a person who competes at rodeos by riding bucking horses—without a saddle. 

What is a Pickup Rider?

A pickup rider assists at rodeos by helping bronc and bareback riders dismount safely once their rides are over.

They work in teams to ride up alongside the bucking horse to a) release the bucking strap and b) give the rider someone to hold onto as they slide off the horse to the ground.

Though the vast majority of pickup riders are men, we’re excited to see some tough ladies entering the arena these days too.

What is a Vaulter?

A vaulter is essentially a gymnast on horseback. They compete individually or as part of teams and can be any gender.

What is a Catch Rider?

This refers to someone who competes on horses that they do not own or train. Typically, these riders have little familiarity with the horses and may be asked to compete with very little advance notice.

For equestrians who want to gain a lot of experience on different horses, and make some extra cash, this can be a great way to do it.

What is a Calf Roper?

A calf roper is someone who competes in the sport of calf roping. It’s a fast-paced discipline in which a calf is released and the horse and rider run after it and rope it.

The horse should stop and ‘hold’ the cow while the rider jumps off, runs to the calf, and ties three of its legs. The goal is to complete these steps fastest.

What is a Team Roper?

As the name implies, this sport involves a pair of riders chasing a cow. One rider ropes the head (horns) and helps turn the cow so the other rider can rope the back legs. The goal is to do so fastest. 

What is a Jumper or Show Jumper?

An English-style rider who jumps over fences in an arena (versus cross country) is called a jumper or show jumper. This is a gender-neutral term.

What is an Eventer?

An eventer competes in one or three-day eventing, a sport comprised of Dressage, Show Jumping, and Cross Country. 

What is a Reiner?

This gender-neutral term refers to riders who participate in the sport of reining. It’s a Western discipline where the horse performs a predetermined pattern featuring slow and fast circles, spins, and sliding stops.

What is a Rancher?

A rancher is a term that may describe a horse rider, or it may not. Some people who have or work ranches use horses for daily tasks. Others prefer machinery like four-wheelers.

What is a Barrel Racer?

Barrel racing is a Western speed event where horse and rider gallop around three barrels that are set up in a triangle. The rider with the fastest time (and no penalties) wins.

What do you call a horse owner?

Typically… poor?! Kidding aside, there is no special term for someone who owns a horse. Equestrian is a suitable label for horse owners and those who ride horses they do not own.

What do you call someone who looks after horses?

A person who looks after other people’s horses is commonly known as a groom or stablehand.  In the past, they were also known as ostlers, but this term is rarely used nowadays. 

What do you call a female horse rider?

The most common terms are equestrian and cowgirl, which are not discipline specific.

What is a recreational rider?

If someone rides in their spare time but doesn’t compete, they’re often referred to as recreational riders. In the UK, they’re more commonly known as Happy Hackers, referring to the fact that they generally prefer trail riding to working in an arena.

Recreational riders ride for pleasure, not results

Source: Canva

What are nicknames for horse riders?

Other than crazy, broke, and tired? Horse riders can be known by many different nicknames.

  • Horseback rider
  • Rider
  • Jockey
  • Equestrian
  • Horseman
  • Wrangler
  • Cowboy / Cowgirl
  • Jumper
  • Rancher
  • Barrel racer
  • Trainer

A lot of times, people will simply refer to horse riders as horse girls or barn chicks. If someone is teasing an equestrian, you’ll hear names like Dust Eater (if they fall a lot), Pooper-Scooper, or hay gal.

A few select horse riders are sometimes referred to as horse whisperers, for their ability to understand horses.

A person who loves horses is called what?

The most technical term for a person who loves horses is a hippophile (from ‘hippo,’ meaning horse, and ‘phile,’ meaning one that loves). A lot of people also use the term equestrian when referring to someone who loves horses.

A hippophile and her hippo - sorry, horse!

Source: Canva

You also may hear terms like horse-enthusiast, horse-crazy, or horse-fanatic. In the horse world, there’s a saying: you got bitten by the horse bug. Usually, this refers to a 12- or 13-year-old girl who sticks with horses beyond an initial childhood fascination.

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About the author

Horse Rookie

I began riding horses at age six, and I'm just as infatuated (OK, more!) with the sport decades later. My AQHA gelding exemplifies the versatility of the breed -- reined cow horse, reining, roping, ranch riding, trail, dressage, and jumping. We're also dipping our toes (hooves) into Working Equitation!