Equine Forelimb Anatomy
Introduction to Basic Terms, Skeletal Structure and Muscles

Understanding the basics of equine forelimb anatomy can improve your horseback riding and knowledge of how the horse's body works. The forelimbs are the front legs from the shoulders to the hoof.

Did you know that when a horse is standing still that 60-65% of his weight is on his forelimbs because his head and neck are almost crane-like out in front of him?


that the majority of lameness cases occur in the front limbs?

If you have a horse that is "downhill" in conformation (croup is higher than the withers) due to his anatomy or poor training, it increases his risk of front leg lameness.

This is because of an increased load and concussion on the front legs. That can reduce your partner's ability to perform what it is you require of him.

Skeletal Structure of the Equine Forelimb

Here is the basic skeletal structure of the lower part of the equine forelimb, not including the shoulder.

Once you looked that over, you can see more of a description and the function of each and what it looks like on a real horse.

Basic Forelimb Terms

Here is an actual picture of equine front legs.

The arm is the region around the humerus.

The forearm anatomy includes the radius and ulna along with the muscles, vessels and nerves in that area.

About 1/3 of the way down the forearm on the inside (medial) is the chesnut. It is the leftovers of the first digit. It is a skin like structure that does grow and periodically needs to be trimmed down.

The knee is also known as the carpus. It is made up of rows of smaller bones the radial, intermediate, ulnar, accessory bones in the upper (proximal) row and the first, second, third, and fourth in the lower (distal) row.

It also includes the very lowest parts of the radius and fused ulna, and the very top parts of the cannon and splint bones.

Next is the cannon bone region. It consists of the the cannon bone, and the medial and lateral splint bones.

The of ankle is also known as the fetlock joint. In equine forelimb anatomy the fetlock is supported by the suspensory apparatus. The suspensory apparatus is made of the interosseus muscle, some ligaments, and some tendons.

The fetlock flexes as needed in movement, extends when the foot is off the ground, and dissipates the force when the hoof hits the ground.

The coronet is the very top part of the hoof and within it there is tissue that has a rich blood supply

The hoof acts as a shock absorber and concussion from it hitting the ground forces blood out of the hoof and up the leg. It is a complex structure that you can read more about in depth here, or basics on this page.

Equine Forelimb Anatomy - Muscles

Here you can see some of the muscles that are closest to the surface of forelimb and chest. The deltoideus is a superficial muscle that flexes the shoulder. The horse has more than one layer of muscles.

You'll notice that there aren't a lot of muscles below the knee joint. That is because this area is mainly made up of tendons and ligaments that makes an efficient recoil system.

As you can see, the equine forelimb anatomy is not a simple structure. I do hope this has shed some light on some of the basics for you.

Go from equine forelimb anatomy back to the index page to locate other great learning tools to increase your know-how with horses.