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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 & nasal passages

Mandible ( lower jaw)

Maxilla ( upper jaw0 both 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 tail

Housing & 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 inthe 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 vertebrae

Protection for heart and lungs.

8 true ribs connected to sternum or breast bone directly, 10 false pairs conected to sternum by cartilage.



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


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.


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 horse's abillity to bear weight and do hard work, referred to as 9" bone etc.

Stretches from the knee joint to the fetlock joint.


Two bones either side of the cannon bones ( fore & 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.


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.


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.


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.


Bone in the stifle joint

Similar to the knee cap in humans.


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

Article kindly provided by Hayfield Riding Centre
Hayfield Riding Centre
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