Equine Skeletal Anatomy
Horse Bones Structure and Function

If you can understand equine skeletal anatomy, you'll have a good grasp on the framework of how the horse's body is built.

Our equine friends have about 205 bones in their body that provide structure, give rise to joints to allow for movement, and offer protection to vital organs.

Below you can see a equine skeletal picture with the major bones labeled.

  • Some aren't shown, such as the splint bones and others like the knee and hock are made up of many smaller bones that I have not listed.

What Does the Horse Skeleton Do?

Provides a frame work for the body- The basic form of the body is determined by the skeletal placement and structure. This is mostly determined by genetics, and is the horse's primary conformation. Poor nutrition can hinder good genetics, but good nutrition can't undo what nature already determined.

Joints for movement -The space between where one bone ends and another starts are called joints. In the case of the equine, the bones are held together with strong ligaments. The muscles contract across the joints causing movement.

Protection for vital organs and structures - Equine skeletal anatomy, as with most anatomy provides for protection of the vital organs and structures of the body. This offers another layer of protection to those things that are essential to life.

  • Some of the vertebrae house the spinal cord. The spinal cord is essential as it transmits all the electric signals from the brain to each part of the body.
  • The ribs and breastbone (not shown) form a natural protection for organs such as the heart and lungs.

Other facts about Equine Skeletal Anatomy

  • Horses have about 54 vertebrae. This part of the skeletal anatomy varies because there are different amounts of thoracic, lumbar, and coccygeal vertebrae depending on the breed and genetics of each horse.
  • It may not seem like it, but the skeletal anatomy is very vascular. That means there is a good blood supply with special bone remodeling cells. This is what allows fractures (breaks) to heal and keeps the frame work strong.
  • Bone can only grow when there is still a growth plate. Some growth plates fuse early, others last for several years. Once it fuses and the cartilaginous plate is replaced with bone, growth is no longer possible. Any injury to the this plate can cause growth to stop or a deformity to occur.

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