Horse names are a fascinating topic to dive into, and there is a lot of fun to be had this time of year as you might be brainstorming a name for that impending foal. There is the registered name, the barn name or nickname, and sometimes, if the owner didn’t prefer the registered name, there may be a show name. Barn names may have nothing to do with the registered name, or they may be some derivative of the registered name. AQHA stallion Shining Spark was called Shiner, Gallo de Cielo was Rooster, Peppy San Badger was Little Peppy, Driftwood was Speedy and, well, Playgun was Playgun.

Often, in many breeds, including Quarter Horses, Paints and Arabians, the sire, dam or both inspired the people naming the horse. A ranch I worked on in South Dakota let the AQHA name all of their foals every year. They just sent in the registration with the name choices blank. The mare I bought from them was Little Lightnin Gal by Docs Lightnin Leo and out of Little Sargent. Just by looking at her sire’s name, who would you guess was in her pedigree? Doc Bar and Leo, of course! A name can be a great way to advertise a sought-after bloodline or give you some bragging rights to your horse’s famous ancestors. Because of this, you will find a lot of Quarter Horses’ names including Boon, Chic, Cat, Doc, Leo, Wimpy, Peppy, Badger, Lena, Jac, Spark, Whiz, Zip and Chip.

“A name can be a great way to advertise a sought-after bloodline… ”

Years ago, when we bred Quarter Horses, we had a music theme. Unrelated to their ancestry, we had a Trick Pony TGE, and a Cowboy Junkie TGE. We had two foals by Chexys Doctor Pepper we named Soda Pop Star TGE and a random Spinnaker TGE (we like sailing). There was also a Pistolero TGE by Gunslinger Chic. The TGE was an identifier for our farm, which some people use across registries to attach a horse to who bred them or maybe even who produced them to sell. We had a mare with the barn name Josey who we did an embryo transfer on and named the foal, Little Cup A Jo TGE… get it?

Little Lightnin Gal with her 2011 foal, Cowboy Junkie TGE.
Little Lightnin Gal with her 2011 foal, Cowboy Junkie TGE.

Thoroughbreds sometimes use the names of their sire, dam or ancestors, or sometimes the people naming them look for iconic names to create their own legacy. If you remember from the “Secretariat” movie, they sent five different names to the Jockey Club, including his barn name, Big Red, which were all refused for various reasons. Then, Elizabeth Ham, the farm’s secretary, sent in the name, Secretariat, from her past career affiliation, and it was accepted. Seabiscuit was named for his sire, Hard Tack, which is another name for “sea biscuit,” the type of cracker eaten by sailors. American Pharoah’s name is inspired by that of his sire, Pioneer of the Nile, and his dam’s sire, Yankee Gentleman. The horse’s name also acknowledges the owner, Ahmed Zayat’s own Egyptian American background. The infamous misspelling of “Pharaoh” is permanent, but inadvertent.

There are a lot of different requirements for a name depending on the individual registries. They must be under a certain number of letters, of course not be taken already, and not sound the same as another name using different letters. Spanish horses’ names (like Andalusians and Lusitanos) indicate what hemisphere they were born in.

Warmblood registries have too many variations to list and are each different. Unlike, say, a Quarter Horse, where—unless they were born with enough white to qualify for the APHA registry—AQHA is your only option, warmbloods can be registered across several different registries. Stallions and mares may be registered as a Hanoverian for example, but are “approved” for several other registries such as Rheinlander, Oldenberg and Westphalian. Then it is up to the owner of the foal to decide which registry they decide to go with—which also depends upon what registry the mare is eligible for. An Irish Sport Horse (Horse Sport Ireland registry) may not be recognized due to ancestry by Hanoverian, but ISHs are recognized by KWPN-NA (Dutch Warmblood Registry-North America).

Some registries require that the first letter of the name corresponds to the year the foal was born. For example, for KWPN-NA in 2024, foals need to be named starting with the letter “U.” This is where we are in our home, brainstorming U names. No markings? Unmarked, Understated, Undercover. Music-related? Unchained Melody, U2, UB40 (already taken by famous stallion), Uptown Funk, U Got the Look, Us and Them, Unforgettable. Latin, Spanish? Unicus, Unum, Unitos. Not so positive? Underwhelmed, Uneasy, Undone. And the list goes on!

Many warmblood registries require you name the foal using the first letter of the sire’s name or sometimes the dam’s name (Trakehner). Sometimes it depends on if it is a filly or colt. There are two Oldenburg registries in the U.S. The GOV (or the Oldenburg Horse Breeder’s Society) recommends their fillies be named with the letter of the dam’s first name, but the colt’s name must start with the first letter of their sires. Like I said, too many rules to list.

The warmblood show jumper breed, Zangersheide, started by an innovative breeder decades ago, seeking to use techniques such as artificial insemination, cloning, and adding French bloodlines to the mix, all of which were not accepted at the time in warmblood registries, created their own registry. Zangersheides are recognized by a lone “Z” put into their registered name, such as Ramiro Z.

Names are certainly good for a laugh, too. A friend of mine always wanted to name a horse, As Expected. That way at the show, the announcer would say, “And in first place, As Expected, ridden by Kathy Smith.” Or the flipside, “And in last place, As Expected.”

Are you expecting a bundle of joy this year in your barn? Remember, there are no rules to brainstorming! Keep an ongoing list and you never know what may come out of it and what will fit the foal once it arrives. Let me know if you are working on a name and what you picked! 

Heather McWilliams © 2024