When it comes to horse body parts, many people get confused about the terminology. Having an understanding of the various terms helps when shopping for tack or looking at horses from different angles. Being able to identify certain body parts allows you to better understand how your horse is moving and what his needs are.
The shoulder – The area of the front leg (forelimb) between the front hooves and housed muscles that provide support for the front limbs and chest. The shoulder is important for balance, lunging, and speed.
Upper arm – The part of the horse’s forelimb that connects the shoulder to the elbow. The upper arm is often used for holding a bridle or whip.
Knee – The joint on a horse’s front leg that functions similarly to the human knee. The hind leg knee, also known as the hock, is similar to the human ankle. The back of the hock contains the gaskin, a keratin growth that is sometimes referred to as an extra toe.
Cannon bone – The long, straight bony structure on the back of a horse’s hind leg. This is often used for walking and carries weight. The cannon bone provides strength to the horse’s hindquarters and aids in movement.
Fetlock – The joint on the horse’s hind leg that functions similarly to a human ankle. The fetlock is often used for walking and can allow a horse to move sideways. The ergot on the back of a horse’s fetlock is a small, horn-like callous that can flake off or be removed during regular farrier work.
Pastern – The back part of the foot of a horse that is attached to the hoof. The pastern provides shock absorption and flexibility during movement.
The head – Contains the eyes, muzzle and other parts that help a horse see and perceive its environment. A healthy head is essential for a horse’s ability to learn and perform in all disciplines.
Neck – The upper portion of a horse’s neck that extends to the crest of the mane. A healthy neck is a vital part of a horse’s appearance and movement and should blend smoothly into the shoulders and withers.
Tail – Both the bone structure and hair on the back of a horse. Tails are vital in displaying behavior, deflecting insects and aiding in movement.
Aside from the above, there are several other terms that can be confusing to a novice. Proximal – Closer to the center of the body. Distal – Further away from the center of the body. Angular – A reference to a specific angle that is used in measuring horse body parts such as the angle of the shoulders or the hip.