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I know the difference between "лошадь" and "конь" - лошадь is a female horse and конь is a male horse. I also know that we should treat "конный спорт" as a set expression. Thus, "лошадиный спорт" would be wrong. Another horse collocation is "лошадиный помёт". "Конный помёт" is not that natural, I think. But why? Not only male horses are used in horse riding (as far as I know). And not only female horses, well, do their business.

My question is why is it often so necessary to distinguish between the two sexes when talking about horses?

Even asking a simple question, like "Do you ride a horse?”, we should think about which is more natural: Ты ездишь на коне? Ты ездишь на лошади? By the way, I was told that "на лошади" is more natural, but I have no idea why... I hope you can clarify it. Thank you!

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    «Конский помёт», on the other hand, sounds totally OK. «Конский» means "belonging to horses" while «конный» means something that entails the use of horses. – mustaccio Oct 12 '18 at 13:37
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    the tendency seems to be that the use of лошадь is connected with exploitation of horses as a labor force, and of конь with sports and military – Баян Купи-ка Oct 12 '18 at 14:47
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    Just FYI: as far as I know, female horses are not used in sport in Russia (at least I was told by my coach that they are not, I have never participated in competitions myself). This is done in order not to distract non-castrated male horses. – Baskakov_Dmitriy Oct 12 '18 at 14:47
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    In general, animals that took part in peasant's life tend to default on female gender (кошка, собака and even pests like мышь, крыса), and wild animals tend to default on male gender (волк, медведь, кабан). It is not always so (лиса is feminine word, for example), but more often than not. Basically for peasants knowing gender of their domestic animals was really important. You can get milk from a cow but not from a bull, you know :-) – Arioch Oct 12 '18 at 16:40
  • @Arioch: do you have any kind of source for that? – Quassnoi Oct 15 '18 at 10:10
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Word "конный" is used for things that are somehow related to horses and the uses of horses for man's needs: "конный двор" (stables), "конный завод" (stud farm), "конная тяга" (horse traction), "конный полк" (cavalry regiment), "конный разведчик" (mounted scout) etc.

Words "лошадиный" and "конский" are used for things that are connected directly with the horses themselves as physical beings: "лошадиный/конский череп" (horse skull), "лошадиное/конское ржание" (horse neighing), "лошадиный/конский помет" (horse dung), "лошадиная/конская доза" (dose for a horse — an idiom meaning "a large quantity"). These two adjectives indicate different genders of the horse, and the default one (in cases where the horse's actual gender is unimportant) seems to be "лошадиный".

I hope now you can see the difference in their usage better.

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  • There probably should also be лошадный. At least there is безлошадный word :) – Arioch Oct 14 '18 at 19:35
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    Безлошадный is "he who doesn't own a horse". As in a peasant so poor he cannot afford one. It's a property of a human, not that of a horse. – Synedraacus Oct 17 '18 at 3:31
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Лошадь is a bigger notion than you stated, it describes the family of animals, comprising both he-horses, in other words жеребец or конь and she-horses кобыла in Russian. Конь is colloquial, because specialists would rather say жеребец and кобыла. As for collocations they appear in speech during the history and can't be explained mostly.

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Part of the problem is that those two words aren't even the original gender distinctions (as pointed out above with the actual horse breeder terms like жеребец and кобыла). Конь was the original Slavic word and лошадь is a loanword from Tatar for roughly same thing (I think). In Turkic languages that word seems to have had a meaning generic enough to end up now meaning things from "pack horse" to "foal" to "camel". It happens to sound like a feminine word in Russian, so it became one. Separating the two by carving out their niches was the result of a series of historical stylistic trends and fashions and grasping them might just be a matter of getting the feel of it.

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A male horse is жеребец if he is... well, functioning, and мерин if he is emasculated. A female horse is кобыла. In literature you can also come across кобылица, that is just the same.

Лошадь is a more common word denoting horse, though it is feminine, but it can be used talking about that animal in general. E.g. табун лошадей means a herd of horses of either sex. Конь is also a common word, but it is masculine. In the song "Ходят кони над рекою, ищут кони водопою" there's no idea whether they are stallions, geldings or mares. They are just horses. But if you know that it is a mare, you would rather say лошадь than конь about the animal.

There are some set expressions in which these words are NOT interchangeable, e.g. бред сивой кобылы; врёт, как сивый мерин; конь германский (colloquial); конь в пальто (colloquial); тёмная лошадка; тягловая лошадь. Just as you say "nightmare", but not "nighthorse".

Btw, конский навоз. Here лошадиный навоз is also possible.

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"Конный спорт" and "лошадиный помет" are just phrasemes/set phrases. Russian language does not have a word for a "genderless" horse so it has to be either a he-horse something or she-horse something. There is no any logical reason behind that, it's just impossible to say it in a gendreless way in Russian.

So don't think about it as a distinguishing between two horse sexes. It's not.

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    There is a slang word for a genderless horse: "коняжка"/"коняга". The word is feminine, but the horse may be male or female. – Baskakov_Dmitriy Oct 12 '18 at 14:52

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