A horse’s skeleton is made up of many different bones, about 210 in total. Together, these bones form a framework to which muscles and other body tissues can attach. This way the body gets support and shape. It also protects internal organs such as the brain, heart and lungs.
How are all these 210 bones distributed in the horse’s body? We start with the skull. The skull may look like a whole, but it’s made up of 37 bones (including three small bones in each ear). If you have the chance to look at an equine skull, you will see all the seams that form the connection between the different bones. Furthermore, the horse’s lower jaw consists of two branches. From the skull we go to the spine. The vertebral column, also known as the backbone, consists of 54 vertebrae. These are divided as follows: 7 cervical vertebrae, 18 thoracic vertebrae, 6 lumbar vertebrae, 5 sacral vertebrae (fused into one strong bone) and 15 to 20 sacral vertebrae. The first two cervical vertebrae (the atlas and the axis) form a pivot joint that allows the horse to move its head in all directions. The ribs are attached to the vertebrae. These 36 ribs together form the rib cage, some breeds even have 37 or 38 ribs. The sternum is located in the centre of the rib cage.
Looking at the horse’s legs, there are 40 bones in the fore legs and 40 bones (including the pelvis) in the hind legs. The splint bones are so-called rudimentary bones, these are remnants of the horse’s ancestors. Millions of years ago, the first equine walked on four toes per leg and was the size of a dog. Throughout evolution, the horse has changed, so that it now walks on one toe. You can compare this to the middle finger in humans. The advantage of this change is that the horse can run faster and longer.