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Medical Index
First Posted: Aug 8, 2010
Aug 22, 2010

Skeleton of the Horse

Horse Skeleton

Skeleton of the Horse
Article provided by Hayfield Riding Centre/Aberdeen, Scotland

This article is a direct quote from the above web site. There was no visible copyright on the site. I found this information to be so well done it is provided for visitors to HorseHints.org as an informational reference.

An Introduction to the Skeleton of the Horse

The Skeleton can be divided into two main section, the axial skeleton which is made up of the skull, spine, ribcage and pelvis and the appendicular skeleton which is made up of the bones of the limbs.


A number of bones Fused together. Protection for brain, inner ear, parts of eye and nasal passages. Mandible (lower jaw) Maxilla (upper jaw) Bboth contain teeth. Nasal bones. Zygomatic or supraorbital procees protects the eye. Occipital bone forms back of skull and joins the top of neck.


Collection of bones, vertebrae, lying one behind the other in a line from the base of skul to tip of tai. Housing and protection for spinal cord. Attachments for muscles, tendons and ligaments which support weight of the body. Connects head and limbs. Cervical 7 vertebrea, atlas is the first bone in the neck followed by axis. Thoracic 18 vertebrae, conection with the ribs. Lumbar 6 vertebrae. Sacral 5 fused vertebrae, part of hip girdle. Coccygeal average 18 vertebrae forming tail.


18 pairs of ribs each connecting to a thoracic vertebra. Protection for heart and lungs. 8 true ribs connected to sternum or breast bone directly, 10 false pairs conected to sternum by cartilage.


Scapula - Shoulder blade- one either side of the rib cage. Connected to spine by muscle and ligaments, only allows freedom of movement and absorbtion of concussion. Horse has no collar bone, no fixed connection to the spine to forelimbs. Horses front part of ribcage and internal organs are held in place by a muscular sling called the Thoracic Sling

Humerus - Upper end form point of shoulder. Connection of shoulder blade to forelimbs. Lower end joins forelimbs at the elbow.

Radius and Ulna - Upper part of the foreleg. Ulna a short bone forms point of elbow. Radius a long bone stretches to the knee joint.

Knee - Carpus bones and pissiform bones. Joint allowing movement in the foreleg: 6 carpus, 3 on top of 3. Plane joint allows movement, pissiform bone at the back.

Cannon bone - Bone of the lower leg. Weight bearing bone, circumfrence of the cannon just under the knee is a guide to the hors''s abillity to bear weight and do hard work, referred to as 9" bone. Stretches from the knee joint to the fetlock joint.

Splints - Two bones either side of the cannon bones ( fore and hind). Help support some of the carpus bones of the knee, real function lost through evolution. In length approx two thords of the cannon bone, vestiges of toes. Lost through evolution.

Sesamoids - 2 bones behind the fetlock joint. Provide agroove to hold the tendons of the leg. Also acts as a pulley system for movement of the lower leg.

Pastern - 2 bones in the lower leg and foot. Connection between the joints of the leg and leg. Long pastern found between fetlock and pastern joint, short pastern found between pastern joint and the coffin joint.

Pedal bone - Hoof like shaped bone of the foot. Attachment for tendons/ ligaments from muscles in the forearm.

Navicular bone - Bone of the foot.


Pelvic girdle - 3 fused bones called the ileum, ischium and pubis. Tightly attached to the spine allowing transfer of propulsion to hind legs. Protection of the uterus. Joined to the spine through the sacroileac joints, ischium forms the point of buttck.

Femur - Large bone of the hind limbs. Connects with the pelvis at the hip joint and with the hind leg at the stifle joint.Tibia and fibula - Tibia is the larger of the two bones from the stifle to the hock, fibula is the smaller bone that extends half the length of the tibia and sits parallel to it. Forms the upper part of the hind limb.

Patella - Bone in the stifle joint. Similar to the knee cap in humans.

Hock - Tarsus bones and tuber or os calcis. Joint allowing movement of the hind leg. 5 tarsus and tuber or os calsis at the back forming point of hock.

Hind leg below the hock. Hind cannon with splint bones. Long and short pastern, sesamoid bones, pedal bone and navicular. Similar the fore limbs.

For More Information:

All About the Horse's Conformation/Part 1
All About the Horse's Conformation/Part 2
All About the Horse's Conformation/Part 3
Horse Skeleton Video
Horse Muscles and Their Use

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