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Horses are by their very nature strong animals. For thousands of years, they’ve carried heavy humans on saddles on their backs, pulled carriages, wagons, and other extremely weighty equipment. But, how strong are their legs really?
Let’s find out.
How Strong Are Horses Legs?
Well, there’s no clear-cut answer, other than “really strong.” After all, there are many different types of horses out there. A miniature pony is going to have weaker legs than a Clydesdale. Ultimately, the strength of the legs of a horse depends on its breed, age, nutrition, and overall health.
What Makes A Horse’s Legs So Strong?
Muscles are fairly simple: the more you use them, the stronger they get. Horses, unlike humans, spend most of their entire lives on their legs, running, pulling equipment, or just holding up the weight of the horse itself. So it should be no surprise that horses have strong legs, right?
But then, why are horse legs so thin? Both the front legs and hind legs look pretty slim, even though you’d think they would have a lot of muscle mass. Well, oddly enough, horse legs don’t actually have a lot of muscle in them. The secret is actually very durable, strong tendons.
All of the real muscle in a horse is in its main body, which is connected to the leg bones via these tendons. As long as the tendons remain undamaged, the muscles in the upper body can move them very quickly.
So, in reality, horse legs aren’t actually that strong, in regards to exerting power. After all, it’s the muscles in the main body of the horse that is exerting all the strength. What horse legs are, however, is very durable.
Horse legs may not be the source of power, but they have to be durable enough to withstand it. For that purpose, horse bones are very dense, and therefore capable of absorbing much more energy than many other animals. And yet, it’s commonly said that horse legs are brittle? Is that the case?
Are Horse Legs Brittle?
You may have heard that horse legs are brittle, which may seem true since horses tend to break their legs more than any other part of their body. However, horses don’t break their legs so often because they are brittle, but because they use them more than any other part of their body.
Think of it this way: you are much more likely to break your arms or legs than you are your sternum, That’s because your limbs are more involved in the things you do, and thus at higher risk of being damaged. A horse uses its legs for just about every single thing it does in its life.
That being the case, bones in the leg are the most common ones for a horse to break. The unfortunate reality is just that those bones that are most likely to break are also the most important ones a horse has. Nearly any leg bone break is a serious issue for a horse.
Now, even though horse bones are quite dense, this does not mean it doesn’t have stronger and weaker bones in its body, comparatively speaking.
Which Horse Bones Are Most Vulnerable?
When it comes to the legs of a horse, it is the ones in the lower legs that are most susceptible. Usually, a bone breakage occurs when a horse falls: the weight and momentum behind such falls can easily snap even their strong bones. There are certain bones very likely to break, detailed below.
- The Pedal Bone: This bone usually breaks when a horse lands on an uneven surface, or in some cases when it kicks a wall. As long as the coffin joint doesn’t break along with it, it can usually heal relatively easily. If the coffin joint is involved, surgical intervention will be needed.
- The Pastern Bone: The pastern bone, when it breaks, often occurs in a way where it extends down from the fetlock joint. Depending on the severity of the break, mere bandaging and rest could be enough to heal, but compound fractures here will limit future potential.
- Sesamoid Bones: These are two small bones near the back of the fetlock joint, and they support ligaments at the rear of the pastern and cannon bone. As part of the suspensory apparatus that allows the horse to hold its weight, breaking these can often result in permanent lameness, leading a horse to be euthanized.
- The Cannon Bone: These fractures often extend into the fetlock joint. Breaking the cannon bone is very similar to breaking the pastern bone, and you can expect similar treatments and prognoses based on the severity of the break.
- The Knee Joint: Knee fractures are usually chips, rather than full breaks. These can result in pain and inflammation but rarely incapacitate a horse. However, even in such cases, surgery can often be necessary.
Other common bone breaks include the navicular bone and splint bones. For a graph showing the location of all these bones and more, you can go here.
Reducing The Risk Of Bone Breaks
If your horse engages in dangerous physical activity, there will always be a risk to its bones. The most important thing in reducing that risk as much as possible is healthy nutrition. Always research the proper diet for your horse breeds and ensure they are getting the nutrients they need for proper bone development and health.
Other than that, don’t push your horse too hard. If it appears exhausted or in pain, don’t ignore potential problems. Small, not-so-serious breaks can become much larger and more costly if left untreated.
Horses have strong legs because their muscles and tendons are very powerful, allowing them to propel their bodies forward. However, the legs themselves are durable due to dense bones, not because of muscle mass in the leg itself.
Naturally, a large horse is going to have more strength than a small one, and diet and health play a major role in just how strong a horse’s legs will be. Horse leg bones are not brittle but are the most common source of fractures simply due to how much a horse uses their legs.
While it’s true that some leg fractures are so serious that a horse would have to be euthanized, it is not true that every fracture is the end of the line for a horse, as rest and surgery can often save them. Ultimately, the best way to prevent bone fractures is to keep your horse away from dangerous activities, but failing that, a healthy diet is always mandatory.
Each breed of horse is different, and you should always conduct research on the specific breed of your horse so you can know everything you need to about its potential health risks, common dangers, and ideal diet and care routines.