Here are the most common names for each part of the horse. These are sometimes called the points of the horse. When you talk about horses, evaluate their conformation, or work with them, it's essential that you know how to identify and say or write the correct words for each part. Scroll through the photographs for a closer look at each body part. Identified for you are the:
- Front Cannon Bone
- Hind Cannon Bone
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The muzzle is the part of the horse's head that includes the area of the mouth, nostrils, chin, lips, and front of the nose. The muzzle is very mobile and sensitive. Whiskers help the horse sense things close to its nose and the skin is almost hairless. Beneath the skin is cartilage.Continue to 2 of 29 below.
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The poll is the area immediately behind the ears and the underlying bones are the top of the skull bone and the cervical bones of the neck. In this area are many nerve endings and acupressure points. The poll area is where the bridle path if one is clipped, begins. On some horses, the poll is quite flat, while on others it may be more prominent.Continue to 3 of 29 below.
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The forelock is the tuft of mane that falls downwards between the ears above the forehead. The forelock gives the horse some protection from the weather and helps protect them from biting insects. Some horses have very thick forelocks, while others may be wispy, almost non-existent.Continue to 4 of 29 below.
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Your horse's ears are very mobile and can swivel almost all the way around. This lets it tune into sounds it may hear beside, behind and in front of it. Ears are flexible too, although you shouldn't bend them as might happen when bridling your horse. A horse also expresses itself with its ears. For example, if a horse's ears are laid flat back, watch out. Pricked forward ears means it is interested in what it sees or hears. Ears out to the side can mean the horse is relaxed, but if its eyes appear wary, it almost means it doesn't like what is happening.Continue to 5 of 29 below.
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A horse's nostrils are very flexible. Horses only breath through their nostrils. Cartilage holds the nostrils open, and the nostrils can flare open to allow more air to pass. The folds and hairs in the nostrils help filter dust.Continue to 6 of 29 below.
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The forehead is the area between and just above the eyes. Foreheads can be concave, flat or convex. Arabians often have a concave or dished face. Some warmbloods have convex or almost “Roman noses”.
The hollow above the eyes is the sub-orbital depression. In most well cared for horses, this will be a shallow depression. Older horses or horses and ponies that have seen ‘hard times’ will have very deep sub-orbital depressions. Often the hair coat on the forehead has distinctive markings like blazes, stars or strips.Continue to 7 of 29 below.
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A horse's eyes are set slightly on the side of its head. This enables it to see forward and backward. This comes in handy when it is time to keep an eye out for predators.Continue to 8 of 29 below.
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The wide flat area on the side of the face is the cheek, with the rim of the bone curved along the bottom.Continue to 9 of 29 below.
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The neck extends from the head to the top of the shoulder area, ending at the withers. There are seven cervical vertebrae in the neck. The neck is very flexible. Depending on the build of the horse it may be lean or muscular and curved.Continue to 10 of 29 below.
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The crest is the top line of the neck. Ideally, the crest should be a gentle convex curve from the poll to the withers. On a very fat horse the crest can be very thick, and almost seem to flop over. On a very thin horse, the crest will be straight and thin. Some breeds like Morgans, Arabians, some warmbloods, draft horses, and ponies have a more distinctive crest than breeds like Quarter Horses and Thoroughbreds.Continue to 11 of 29 below.
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The growth of coarse hair sprouting from the horse’s crest is called the mane. Some breeds like the Appaloosa have very sparse manes, while others like Morgans and some draft breeds have very thick manes. Manes provide some protection from the weather. Horses toss their manes to flick away biting insects. If you plan to pull your horse’s mane for banding or braiding you’ll need to provide a little extra protection from insects.Continue to 12 of 29 below.
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The withers are at the top of the shoulder where the neck joins the body. The ‘lump’ seen on many horses is the top of the spiny process of the tallest thoracic vertebrae. This part of the vertebrae is quite high on some horses and shallow on others. Horses are measured for height from the top of the withers, and those with high withers are hard to ride bareback.Continue to 13 of 29 below.
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The shoulder is the large bone that runs from the withers down to the chest. A well-sloped shoulder can indicate a horse that will have smooth gaits. Horses with more vertical shoulders can have choppier gaits.Continue to 14 of 29 below.
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The underlying bone of the forearm is the radius bone. A long forearm is desirable as it can signify a long smooth stride. The radius bone on humans runs between the elbow and wrist joint. Any bones below the forearm on a horse are essentially equivalent to the bones of the hands and feet on humans. All living horses stand on the equivalent of the third digit of a human's hands and feet.Continue to 15 of 29 below.
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The knee of the horse is made of several small bones. Although it is called the knee and bends forward like a human knee it is different in structure to a human knee. A human’s knee joint is a hinge joint. A horse’s knee is several bones held together by small muscles, tendons, and ligaments. The bones in the knee are similar to the bones of a human’s wrists. The stifle joint in the back leg is actually closer in structure to a human knee.Continue to 16 of 29 below.
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The Front Cannon Bone
This bone extends from beneath the structures of the knee to the fetlock joint below. Along the cannon bone runs a smaller bone, called the splint bone. In most light horse breeds a cannon bone circumference that is greater than 8 inches is desirable. This means the horse has a sturdy bone mass to carry a load and withstand work. These bones are somewhat equivalent to the metacarpal bones in a human’s palm. From the horse’s knee downwards the foreleg bones are vestiges of former toes.Continue to 17 of 29 below.
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The Fetlock Joint
The fetlock is formed by the joint between the cannon bone and the pastern bone. At the back of the fetlock lies two small bones called the proximal sesamoids. Occasionally, you may hear the fetlock joint referred to as the pastern joint or ankle. This joint although it may appear so, is not actually analogous to the human ankle. The horse's leg, from the knee down, has no muscle and the structures are more like our fingers than our arms or legs. This is part of the reason too, that the fetlock is prone to strain and injury.Continue to 18 of 29 below.
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The pastern is made up of two bones that extend downwards from the fetlock. The upper bone is longer and the shorter lower bone extends into the hoof where it joins to the pedal bone inside.
The angle and length of the pastern are important to the strength and smoothness of gaits. Too long a pastern, while providing supple shock absorbency for a smooth ride, may not stand up to hard work. A short pastern will be strong but the horse’s gaits may be choppier.Continue to 19 of 29 below.
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The back is the area that extends between the withers and the loins. Beneath the surface of the skin are the upright ‘fins’ of the vertebrae. Along either side are many muscles. It is these upright boney process and muscles that we sit on when we ride. Relative to body size a short back is stronger for riding than a horse with a long back. Dropped or swaybacks (lordosis) can be genetic or a degenerative trait caused by aging.Continue to 20 of 29 below.
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The barrel is the area behind the girth area to the flank. Beneath is the ribcage that surrounds the horse's vital organs. On the mare in the photo, the barrel is distended from repeatedly carrying foals.Continue to 21 of 29 below.
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The loins are the area just behind where the saddle sits, above the flanks. This rooster is perched just behind the loin area. This area can be somewhat sensitive and ticklish, especially if the rider uses a saddle that is too long.Continue to 22 of 29 below.
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The slightly indented area behind the area of the barrel is the flank. This is the area you watch to count your horse’s respiration. If the flank appears unusually sunken this can mean your horse is dehydrated. Always have fresh clean water available for your horse summer and winter.Continue to 23 of 29 below.
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The gaskin is the muscular area between the stifle and the hock. The underlying bones are the tibia and the smaller fibula which are equivalent to our calf and shin bones.Continue to 24 of 29 below.
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Underlying the stifle area is the stifle joint formed between the large hip bone (femur) which is equivalent to our thigh bone and the tibia. The tibia runs from the stifle to the hock. The horse’s tibia is equivalent to our shin bone. The stifle joint somewhat resembles a human knee. Injuries of the stifle joint are similar to injuries of the knee in humans.Continue to 25 of 29 below.
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The hock joint is the largest joint on the horse's hind legs. The joint is made of several small bones, the most prominent being the Os Calsis which gives the hock its angular shape. The strength of the hocks is very important as this is the most active joint in the horse’s hind legs. The equine hock is analogous to the human ankle. Poorly conformed hocks may make the horse susceptible to break down if the horse is worked very hard.Continue to 26 of 29 below.
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Hind Canon Bone
The hind or rear cannon bones are the metatarsals and run between the hock joint and the fetlock. These bones are similar to the bones in your foot, excluding your toes.Continue to 27 of 29 below.
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The croup is the area from the highest point of the hindquarters to top of the tail. It is sometimes called the rump.Continue to 28 of 29 below.
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The area at the top of the tail is called the dock. Below the skin are muscles and the extension of the vertebrae from the spine.Continue to 29 of 29 below.
Switek B. Long-lost horse toes found. Scientific American Blog Network.
Disorders of the Fetlock and Pastern In Horses. MSD Veterinary Manual.
Cook, D. et al. Genetics Of Swayback In American Saddlebred Horses. Animal Genetics, vol 41, 2010, pp. 64-71. Wiley, doi:10.1111/j.1365-2052.2010.02108.x. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2052.2010.02108.x
How Much Drinking Water Does Your Horse Need? Penn State Extension College of Agricultural Sciences.
Evaluating Horse Conformation. University of Georgia Extension.