A bit of googling will help you out loads! Wiki has quite in-depth pages, but here are some basics:
ENGLISH AND WESTERN
In America, there are two main 'styles' of riding, known as English and Western. In the UK, 'english' riding is just called riding, and western riding isn't really practiced. Different countries have many individual styles as well; for example Australian riders often use a system that is a hybrid of both English and Western.
English riding uses a saddle that looks like this, though there are variations for different disciplines and sports:
English disciplines and sports include dressage, show-jumping and three-day eventing. Dressage is often described as 'horse ballet'; the horse and rider perform a series of movements that show off the horse's athleticism and the communication between horse and rider. Competitive dressage is what you see at the Olympics; the 'haute ecole' is what you see Lipizzaners doing, with airs above the ground and so on. Show-jumping involves going over jumps as fast as you can, knocking as few things down as you can. Eventing involves dressage, cross country and show-jumping. Cross-country involves a long course with many large jumps that horse and rider must clear cleanly and in good time.
There are also many fun games for young riders - egg and spoon races, races without stirrups, things like that. An event where many of these races take place is called a gymkhana.
English riding generally arose from the sort of riding done in the UK; fox-hunting and racing have both contributed to the style.
English riders will typically wear jodhpurs or breeches (jods are the most common in the UK) and ride in some combination of jodhpur boots, tall boots, mucker boots, half-chaps, and so on. Competitive dress involves smartly tailored coats and other shiny fun clothing.
Western riders use a saddle like this, which was developed for cowboys who had to spend all day in the saddle. As with English saddles, there are variations for different disciplines.
Western sports include barrel racing, reining, cutting, pole-bending and more, but I don't know much about those so I urge you to look them up on Wikipedia or ask someone else to explain.
Western riders traditionally wear jeans and cowboy boots, and competitive costumes are often very gaudy and highly decorated.
There are also other sports that are not strictly English or Western, for example endurance riding, where riders and horses must complete a course that can be anything from 20-100 km or more. In endurance riding, health and safety are emphasised: it is not a race to the finish but a personal challenge for each horse and rider, and horses must undergo regular vet checks along the way to show that they are still sound (no hoof/leg problems) and that they are not over-exerted.
A horse's gaits are the different ways it moves its legs. While I'm listing them in order of speed, gait isn't simply how fast you're going. You can have a walk that is the same speed as a trot.
The four main gaits that nearly all horses can do, from slowest to fastest, are:
There are variations which I will talk about below.
This is the slowest gait. It has four beats. The horse moves its legs one at a time: inside hind, inside fore, outside hind, outside fore. (Inside = on the inside of the arena, outside = closest to the wall.)
When riding the walk, if it is slow you will feel your hips move from side to side with the horse's hips. If you're moving at a good fast walk, known as a marching walk (and you generally want to get your horse moving like this so he's actually working, not just ambling along :)) then he may bob his head a little and you will move backwards and forwards with his back more than side to side with his hips.
The trot is the horse's natural gait for covering long distances. The trot is a two-beat gait: the horse moves first one diagonal pair of legs, then the other: inside hind + outside fore, outside hind + inside fore.
It can be very bouncy for the rider. In the image above, you will see that the rider is 'sitting' the trot: she absorbs the motion in her lower back and stays in the saddle. There is also 'rising trot'; the horse doesn't move any differently, but the rider uses their motion to lift their bum out of the saddle on one beat, and sit on the other. In America this is known as 'posting', in the UK it's called 'rising to the trot'. This video explains more about it.
When rising to the trot, there's something called 'diagonals' that you need to pay attention to. The horse's power to drive itself forward or round a corner comes from its inside hind leg. The horse therefore needs to be able to really reach under itself and take a strong step with this leg, and it's easier for the horse to do this when the rider is out of the saddle. So the rider times their rising so that they are out of the saddle as the horse reaches forwards with the inside leg. Because the legs move in diagonal pairs, they can tell when to do this by glancing down at the horse's shoulders. They want to go up as the outside fore goes forward, and sit as the outside leg comes back. This is known as 'being on the correct diagonal'. Some riders can feel when they're on the wrong one but most of us just glance down to see.
You ask for the trot from walk by squeezing/kicking for the horse to go faster.
The canter is a three-beat gait and quite fast. The horse moves its legs in the following sequence:
- outside hind
- inside hind + outside fore
- inside fore
The last leg to move is known as the 'leading leg'. In the image above you can see that it is the foreleg closest to the camera. It is important that the leading leg is on the inside as it makes it easier for the horse to move around a corner/circle/turn - if it is on the wrong lead, the horse is unbalanced, as you can see if you visualise it in your head. When you're running round a circle on two legs, you reach forwards more with the inside one. There is a move in dressage called the counter-canter, where the horse is on the outside lead, but for most of us we just want to stay on the inside lead.
There are many ways to ask for the canter, but I will just go over the two that I know, as I'm not very experienced. Better riders on better horses have far subtler means of asking for a canter.
Total beginners will ride a nice strong trot and then sit and kick. The old clever school pony will therefore go into canter. To make sure the horse is on the correct lead, the rider asks for the canter going into a corner so that the horse does it automatically.
Slightly better riders will go into sitting trot, and move their inside leg forward onto the girth, and their outside leg back, and then squeeze or kick. This also tells the horse which lead to go on.
The canter has a rocking motion that can seem a bit scary at first but in the end is much more comfortable than trot because you're not bouncing about! You relax your lower back and ride the motion forwards with your hips.
The gallop is very similar to the canter, except that the middle stride becomes two strides: inside hind then outside fore. It's a bit faster and is what you see in racing.
Jog and lope
The jog is a western variation of the trot. The legs move the same way, but the horse moves in a less bouncy fashion, making it more comfortable for the rider to sit the trot.
The lope is a western variation of the canter. The horse moves more slowly and smoothly. In shows, this has been exaggerated with the horse moving incredibly slowly with its head close to the ground, but the original intent of the lope was to have a ground-covering gait that was easy to ride.
Some horses, such as the Tennessee Walking Horse, are known as 'gaited'. This means that they have additional gaits that may replace or be in addition to the trot. Google or Wiki 'gaited horse' to find out more.
VICES AND BEHAVIOURS
'Vice' is a word for any kind of bad behaviour; a human might say that chocolate is their one vice, meaning that they eat too much of it. There are thousands of possible vices in horses; they are undesirable behaviours that are unsafe, unhealthy, awkward, or otherwise unwanted. Cribbing is a bad habit where a horse grips onto wood or a nearby object with its teeth and sucks in air. It destroys the stable and can harm the horse's teeth and lungs. Other vices could include not loading onto a horse trailer, not leading well, or biting. Obviously you want a horse without major vices and should try and train them out of any that they do have.
We also have a terminology thread here that you may find interesting and helpful.
Thank you for your replies, I had no idea there was that much to it. Thank you for linking to the terminology thread my only experience with horses is clean race horse stalls and I can tell you those animals had a lot of vices!