Head to Hoof and Back Again
There’s something about horses that is majestic, almost magical. At first glance, many people notice their eyes, markings, as well as their flowing mane and tail. But do you know what a horse’s gaskin, stifle, or croup is? Do you know where these body parts are located?
No matter how old you are or how many years you’ve been riding, learning equine anatomy is always important. The more you learn about your horse’s body, the more knowledgeable you will be as a horse owner and rider.
An Overview of Horse Anatomy
As with everything regarding anatomy, there are layers to the learning process. If you are new to horse body terms, I recommend starting with the “laymen” anatomy terms.
For example the horse’s “knee,” is technically called the carpus. Instead of becoming more confused or overwhelmed with more of the medical terminology, keep things simple. You can always learn the proper name at a later time.
What parts are unique to a horse?
When I first started to take a deep dive into learning horse anatomy I was most amazed by the fact that horses do not have collar bones. This means that their entire front leg is attached to the body only by muscle and soft tissue. Pretty amazing, right?
Horses also have a fixed pelvis, which means although they have slight lateral movement of the hind limbs, they are unable to ‘do the splits.’
Horse Anatomy Terms
We’ve listed common horse body parts below that you will encounter as you interact with horses. Test yourself and see how many you already know!
Body Parts of a Horse:
- Muzzle: The lower portion of the horse’s head that includes the nostrils, chin, and lips.
- Poll: The top most point on the horse’s head, located directly behind the ears.
- Crest: The top arch of the horse’s neck where the mane grows out of.
- Neck: The portion of the horse’s body that is between the head and shoulders.
- Shoulder: The upper portion of the horse’s front leg.
- Withers: The bony ridge at the base of the neck between the shoulder blades. This ridge is created by the top portion of the thoracic vertebrae. Horses are measured at the withers.
- Knee: Also referred to as the “carpus.” This is the joint between the upper arm bone and the cannon bone. It is anatomically similar to the human wrist.
- Cannon: The large bone that sits between the knee and the fetlock joint.
- Fetlock: The joint below the knee and above the hoof.
- Pastern: The space between the hoof and the fetlock.
- Hoof: Made up of keratin, this structure encapsulates the bones of the foot and has its own set of anatomical terms. Learn those here!
- Croup: The portion of the back of the horse between the end of the low back, or loin, and the dock of the tail.
- Hip: The uppermost section of the hindlimb.
- Stifle: Most similar to the human knee joint. It is found a hand’s distance down and back from the flank swirl.
- Gaskin: The portion of the horse’s hind leg between the stifle and the hock.
- Hock: The pointed joint of the hindlimb between the stifle and the fetlock. This is anatomically most like the human heel.
How a horse’s body is put together is often referred to as conformation. Proper balance and symmetry throughout the horse’s body will aid with proper biomechanics.
Why is conformation important?
Your horse’s body works together as a whole. Because of this, a conformational “fault” such as being toed in, could cause shoulder and elbow problems in the future.
Not only does conformation affect the health and soundness of your horse, it can also play a part in your horse’s willingness and ability under saddle.
Certain horse body types make specific movements more or less difficult.
How to Learn
Learning your horse’s body parts may seem overwhelming at first, especially if a lot of the terminology is brand new to you. But don’t fret!
It’s really not too hard, and once you get the hang of it the terms and names of things will soon be second nature to you.
How do you remember the parts of a horse?
My biggest advice to learning horse body terminology is to start small. Choose one portion of the horse and master those terms first.
Also, take into consideration your specific learning style. Are you a visual learner? Or do you prefer listening to something auditory? Perhaps you need to physically do the thing you’re learning to have things stick.
Whatever it is, have fun and embrace the learning process!
Horse Parts Diagram
Creating a horse diagram either on a drawing or a photo of a horse is a great way to learn. Use pencil, dry erase marker, or perhaps use a digital copy to be able to write and erase as much as you need. Repetition is key when learning anatomy!
If you have horses available to you, you can also test your learning by looking at a real horse. Use your diagram to find the part on your horse and reinforce your learning.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: Where can I find a quiz on parts of a horse?
The internet is a gold mine of information when it comes to learning about horse body parts. A simple internet search is bound to bring up numerous quizzes you can take and retake.
There are also various horse anatomy apps that can also be downloaded for learning. One highly-rated app is Equine 3D.
Q: What is the back part of a horse called?
The back portion of a horse is the hindquarters; this could also be referring to the hip.
Q: What are horse thighs called?
The horse’s thighs are called the gaskins.
Q: What is the hind end of a horse called?
The hind end of a horse is called the hindquarters.
Q: What are the parts of a horse leg?
The front leg is made up of the shoulder, upper arm, knee, cannon bone, fetlock, pastern, and hoof. The hind leg is made of the hip, stifle, gaskin, hock, cannon bone, fetlock, pastern, and hoof.
Interior view of the lower leg. Photo Cred: Canva
Learning equine anatomy is a great learning opportunity to increase your horse knowledge. Not only will it give you a better understanding of how horses are put together, it can be vital information in certain training and medical situations.
Learning about horses is a lifelong adventure, start small and have fun with it!
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