Off side! Navigating your way around a horse

It’s been about seven years since I first posted the Horsemanship Level 1 blogs, so I feel its time for an update.  Even if you already have your Horsemanship 1 it is worthwhile reviewing this material, as subsequent levels are all built upon this foundation.

Horsemanship Level 1: Points and Colours of the Horse

 The first item on the Level 1 checklist is

  1. Identify colour, near and off side, and twenty simple parts of the horse

Near and Off Side

The horse’s left is his near side, the right his off side.  We lead horses, do up their tack, and mount from the near side.  Believe it or not, this all goes back to the days of wearing swords on horseback.  Since a sword is usually hung from the left hip, mounting from the left means the scabbarded sword does not have to cross the horse’s back as the rider swings his leg over.  Also, if you are mounting with sword in hand, your left hand is able to control the reins, and the right hand your sword, as you mount.


The only horse coat colours that have obvious names are black, brown and grey, and there are even subtleties within these.  Fortunately there are plenty of websites and books with colour pictures to study, and the Wikipedia entry is quite comprehensive.  For the purposes of level 1 you will need to know:

  • Bay: brown or reddish coat with black mane & tail
  • Chestnut: light brown or copper coat with matching (or flaxen) mane & tail
  • Grey: including variations such as dappled (circles of dark hair) or fleabitten (flecks of dark)
  • Piebald: large patches of black and white
  • Skewbald: large patches of another colour and white
  • Buckskin: gold or dun with black mane & tail
  • Palomino: gold with white mane & tail
  • Spotted (Appaloosa colouring): spots of dark on white or white on dark
  • Roan (blue and red): an even mixture of dark and white hairs

Twenty Simple Parts of the Horse

Again there are plenty of online references for this, or you can simply turn to the inside front cover of the UK Pony Club’s Manual of Horsemanship.  For level one you should know at least 20 of the following points:

Poll, ear, muzzle, crest, mane, neck, withers, shoulder, elbow, forearm, knee, cannon, fetlock joint, pastern, coronet band, hoof, back, barrel, loin, croup, dock, tail, stifle, gaskin, hock.

Why do I need to know this?

While this type of knowledge may seem rather trivial or esoteric at first, it is actually quite important to be able to share the common language of horsemen.  If you are asked to catch the chestnut mare and check her off hind pastern before tacking up, you’d better not come in from the field with the bay and be looking at her knees!

Going further

For higher levels of Horsemanship you will need to know face and leg markings, colour points, breeds, types, and conformation.  The Manual of Horsemanship is a good starting point, and there is a wealth of information available online.  Or, immerse yourself in the week-long Mounted Combat Intensive from April 8-12, where you will spend all day learning horsemanship, riding, and historical swordplay!

Next: Approaching and haltering

The Full Package

Want to immerse yourself completely in Historical Mounted Works?  The one-week Mounted Combat Intensive is for you.  With two streams, one for beginners and one for experienced riders, this 50-hour program is appropriate for all levels of riding and swordplay.  Learn horse care, history, riding, and swordplay while you bond with a horse you’ll groom, feed, and ride twice a day for a week.  Experienced riders are welcome to bring their own mounts to introduce them to mounted swordplay and knightly games. Read more about the course here.

Mounted Combat Intensive
Mon – Fri, 8 – 12 April
9:00am – 7:00pm
cost: $1045 (full intensive); $895 (half intensive)

Jennifer Landels (Riding, Swordplay, Mounted Combat)
Isabel Landels (Riding, Horsemanship)
Eleanor Landels (Riding, Horsemanship)
Greg Reimer / Devon Boorman (Swordplay)

Horseback Archery

If you’re taking the Intensive, why not stay another day and learn mounted archery?  Our Beginner class is ideal for riders and archers of any level who would like a been-there-done-that school horse and a handler to lead the horse. Riders who are comfortable at trot and canter may choose to come off the leadline.  You will spend approximately an hour and a half on the ground learning Hungarian archery techniques, followed by a chance to mount up and try your hand at shooting from horseback.

Experienced riders who have taken clinics with us or with Fraser Valley Mounted Combat before may take part in the Intermediate workshop.  This class spends about an hour on the ground refreshing archery skills, followed by shooting at walk, trot, and canter.  Those who are not yet comfortable shooting at faster gaits are welcome to stay at a walk.

Cost for both workshops includes use of school horse or haul-in fees.

Beginner Horseback Archery
Saturday 13 April, 10am -1pm

Intermediate Horseback Archery
Saturday 13 April, 2pm – 5pm

Don’t see a course date and time that works for you?  Contact Academie Duello’s front desk at 604 568 9907 to book a private class or a two hour Knight Adventure.

Jennifer Landels Jennifer Landels heads up Academie Duello's Cavaliere Program. She has been swordfighting since 2008, and riding since before she could walk. She started the program as an excuse to combine those passions.
Read more from Jennifer Landels.