Italian Word of the Day: Cavallo (horse)

One of the most majestic and well-loved animals in the world is the horse or cavallo (masculine, plural: cavalli) in Italian.

IPA: /kaˈvalːo/

Il mio animale preferito è il cavallo.

My favourite animal is the horse.


A male horse is called a stallone (stallion) whereas a female horse can be called either a cavalla or giumenta (mare).

If you add the preposition a in front of cavallo, you get a cavallo which is how Italians say on horseback / horseback riding.

Mi piacerebbe andare a cavallo.

I would like to go horseback riding.


Horse on nature. Portrait of a horse, brown horse

Figuratively speaking, it can also mean between / over or to straddle or overlap.

Il corso si terrà a cavallo tra giugno e luglio.
(Il corso si terrà tra la fine di giugno e l’inizio di luglio.)

The course will take place between June and July.


Istanbul si trova a cavallo tra l’Europa e l’Asia.

Istanbul straddles Europe and Asia.


Two equally used expressions for to ride/mount a horse are montare a cavallo or simply cavalcare.

There are dozens of useful words that contain the word cavallo, in both its literal and figurative sense. This is because the horse, probably more than any other animal, has played a vital role in the civilisation of human kind.

  • cavallo da corsa = racehorse
  • ferro di cavallo = horseshoe
  • cavallo di razza = thoroughbred
  • cavallo a dondolo = rocking horse
  • cura di cavallo = drastic measures
  • febbre da cavallo = a very high temperature
  • mossa del cavallo = a clever, unexpected move
  • cavallo di battaglia = strong suit, forte
  • coda di cavallo = ponytail

There are other things that bear the name cavallo besides just the horse, including the knight in the game of chess, the crotch of your trousers (most likely because you have to open your legs to sit on a horse) and a piece of equipment used in gymnastics (also called the horse in English). Knight is also an interesting word because it translates as cavaliere in Italian, which comes from cavallo. It means a person who rides a horse.


Idioms featuring the word ‘cavallo’

Essere a cavallo

Literal translation: to be on a horse
English meaning: to find a successful way to solve a problem, to have a good chance of obtaining the desired result


Essere matto come un cavallo

Literal translation: as crazy as a horse
English meaning: to be crazy


Campa cavallo! (che l’erba cresce)

Literal translation: while grass grows the horse starves
English meaning: yeah right, whatever, in your dreams, that’ll be the day


Il cavallo buono si vede a lunga corsa

Literal translation: the good horse can be seen in the long run
English meaning: reliable people are those who show their good qualities even after a long period has passed