Just for Fun

What’s in a (horse) name?

2 May 2019

What’s in a (horse) name?

This week I read a debate on Facebook regarding a well performing pony dressage Welsh Cob whose EA registered name was now different from his Stud’s registered name. Understandably, the breeder was disappointed that such a such a lovely pony was no longer publicly flying the flag for his breeding. Certainly, any horses competing at FEI level must retain the name issued on the horse’s original birth document although there are no EA guidelines on this matter.

Similarly, I was recently delighted to see a long-lost foal of mine pop up on Cavalletti for sale. However, my excitement at seeing how beautifully she’d matured into a grown mare was slightly diminished when I realised she was now known by another name.

Of course, the practical side of me knew it was silly to feel insulted by the name change. I’m not a breeder so I wasn’t concerned that my stud name was missing or anything like that. It was more that (a little like the agonising process of settling on a child’s name) there had been a lot of love and thought that went into naming that filly.

I think anyone entrusted with the honour of choosing a horse’s name will relate to the struggle of finding the perfect moniker. If you’re signed up to a few Facebook horse groups, you’re likely to find a “help me name my horse” post at least every second day.

Many people empowered with this decision of choosing a name for a foal turn to lists. Even before the offspring drops, we’ve come up with options for both stable and registered names – here’s a good one if the foal comes out blingy, or this is one for a regal colt, or one for a spirited filly. Colour, characteristics and personality can factor into the naming shortlist too.

If you’re part of a breed registry, then you might want (or need) to choose a name that encompasses the horse’s pedigree or starts with a particular letter. It’s definitely a good idea to consult the relevant studbook before you settle on your favourite name choice, as every registry has its own set of unique rules. In addition, selecting a name rooted in cultural heritage can be a way to honour your horse’s breed or pedigree.

But while there’s often a lot of tradition associated with naming a horse, sometimes your choice simply comes down to finding a name that’s different from the other horses at your stable. There’s only so many Luckys or Stars you can have before it starts getting confusing – for both us and them. Horses do work out the sound of their names, and it’s nice to be able to call them and have them respond.

Naming racehorses is another kettle of fish altogether. Besides choosing a memorable or meaningful name, you need to select a name that meets the guidelines of the racing authority – like containing less than 18 characters. The regulations also rule out the names of horses who’ve raced in the past 17 years and anything that might be seen to be obscene or racist.

Then – and this applies to both racehorses and showhorses – you really need to say your choice of registered name aloud. It may look catchy on paper, but visualise yourself slowly sounding out your clever name for a judge…or try and shout it out quickly like during a race call.

There’s naming superstitions in the horse world too. You’ll find some of the racing oldtimers will only pick out seven letter names to follow in the traditions of champions like Phar Lap and Carbine.

Perhaps this is where my feeling of being slighted arose when I discovered my old horse sporting a new name. I grew up with the superstition that changing a name is bad luck. And while I can’t actually uncover a credible source for the bad luck belief (perhaps it came from the one about changing the name of a ship?), I do believe names are intrinsically linked to our destinies.

Every name tells a story. What sort of horse do you think of when you visualise a Jet, or Diablo, or Queen? When you change a horse’s name, you’re deviating from the dreams of that original owner and the kind of horse they imagined them becoming. Which may or may not be a bad thing, but I do think it’s worth considering before you decide to bury your horse’s previous name.

Regardless, there’s one thing I think we can all agree on. A great horse is a great horse, regardless of what name you may call them.

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