Biological structure of a horse – the build and anatomy

Today, we will take a closer look at the biological aspects of a domestic horse’s body, but also at the basic characteristic of a horse’s appearance and behavior, which differentiate it from other mammals. This animal, famous for its exceptional strength and gentle temper, has won the sympathy of many national and foreign breeders. Formerly, horses were a cheap pulling power, now they are more often involved in e.g. sports, recreation, and therapy.

Biological structure of a horse – species specifics, body build

It’s worth knowing that a horse is an animal that people started breeding about 5000 years ago. Even though it comes in many types and races, each of them fulfills unified criteria for the equine species. Regardless of the origin and coloration, the domestic horse is a one-toed hoofed mammal, which in Poland appears in several native versions. Polish breeds of these amazing animals include e.g. Konik, Felin Pony, or Polish Noble Half-Bred. What’s interesting is that the first one (in terms of horse anatomy) is very similar to an extinct wild breed, tarpan. 

The horse’s body (like every mammal’s body e.g. human) consists mostly of the head, neck, legs, and torso. The two basic parts of the head are the top one (cerebral), and the bottom one (viscerocranium). Unlike humans, horses have a long muzzle, wide nostrils, flexible ears, and much bigger eyes. In this part of the body, you will also find a hair layer in the shape of a mane and forelock – a tuft of hair that covers the horse’s crown of the head. The head is based on a long neck, which is characterized by an evident bend and strong muscles. The neck has two sides (left and right), back of the neck, and mane that connects the back of the neck and dangles on both sides. Here, you will also find the throat, pharyngeal joint, and vascular grooves on both sides of the neck. An important part of the horse’s body is the mouth, in which the horse is able to produce up to 30 liters of saliva a day.

Horse head diagram, horse head parts

Horse head anatomy. Source:

Horse anatomy in the two remaining elements is very different from human (homo sapiens) anatomy. The torso consists of three structural parts – the front, middle (linking), and hindquarters that are joined with four limbs. The torso includes a wide and strong chest, a massive back able to carry heavy loads, and a hairy tail. In the center part of the torso, you will find the crucial material for human exploitation of this animal – the so-called back. The horse’s back has productive muscles, allowing people to ride the animal effortlessly, and the animal to perform certain activities, such as running, galloping, or jumping. While riding at a walk and trot paces, the horse can not only work on his back muscles but also on improving the effectiveness of his thighs and buttocks. It is also worth noticing the tail (part of the croup) that requires regular care, consisting of a base, floccus, and braid.

Horse legs are extremely important for maintaining the proper condition of the whole body. The horse limb has many strong ligaments that are moved with the cannon, knee, and hock. Horse legs are tall and famous for their durability, they end with hooves, covering the middle fingers. The hoof anatomy has one regularity – this element of the horse’s body should be rounded in the finger part (front) and wider in the hoof part (back). Two neighboring walls of the hoof (the thickest front wall, and a thick side wall by the heel) are supported with a bone that is surrounded with a heavily supplied with blood hoof material.

Horse hoof anatomy, horse hoof parts

Horse hoof anatomy. Source:

Remember about care – the most sensitive points on the horse’s body

The most vulnerable and susceptible to damages in the horse’s body are the hooves. If you do not take proper care and apply prophylactics, various illnesses will appear, such as rotting of the frog. Rotting usually is caused by prolonged standing on the dirty ground, mud, or used litter. Horse hoof is exceptionally sensitive to regular shoeing with the so-called liners but also to close contact with sharp and heavy objects.

To maintain the horse’s optimal health, he needs regular cleaning, professional shoeing, and a proper diet. While giving him the food (fodder), you should consider his physiological abilities, for instance, a stiff stomach with the capacity of 7,5-15 liters, intake of energy from the fatty acids in the digestive process. The horse conformation allows us people to use him for transport but constant carrying of heavy loads may lead to worsening of his condition and durability. Thus, it’s good to equip your horse with protectors for work, which work like shoes. They will help your horse keep proper balance and decrease the risk of injuries. 

The horse coat is also subject to unfavorable external factors. The hair is susceptible to dirt, which lessens the horse’s mood, and easily carries diseases such as fungus, mud fever, or atopic dermatitis. In the aspect of hygiene, you might find it helpful to use certain care tools, such as curry comb, or soft hairy brush. For protection, it is recommended to use skincare products, such as antipruritic balm, or care spray.