Last Updated on October 6, 2022
Are horse’s spines straight or curved? How do these athletic animals manage to carry a rider on their back? How many vertebrae do horses have? We’ve got all your questions about horse’s spines answered right here!
Are Horse’s Spines Straight?
The spine of a horse is a remarkable piece of anatomy, enabling the horse to run, jump, roll, and perform many other athletic functions. But are horse’s spines straight, or do they need to bend and flex?
The spine of a horse is not straight but follows a gentle curved line, which can bend on both a horizontal and vertical plane. Overall, the spine of a horse is incredibly flexible and strong, enabling it to carry out many different movements. Each section of the spine has a specific function, with different levels of mobility.
The reason that some novice riders may think that horse’s spines are straight is because many trainers and instructors talk about ‘straightness’ and ‘bend’. This does refer to the spine’s alignment, but more in terms of how the horse is moving and carrying its body. The spine itself will be either straight or curved, depending on the movement the horse is carrying out at the time.
How Many Vertebrae Do Horses Have?
The vertebrae of a horse are the individual bones that together make up the spinal column or spine. These run in a long chain, with each vertebra adjoining the next. This results in a series of joints that enable the spine to bend and flex as the horse moves.
This might sound a bit odd, but the number of vertebrae that a horse has can vary! The spine of a horse is very long, running from the top of the neck right through to the end of the tail. The average number of vertebrae in a horse is 54, but in some horses, this is as low as 51 and in others as high as 58.
The first part of the spine is the cervical vertebrae, which form the neck of the horse. There are seven cervical vertebrae, and the first one connects to the skull. These vertebrae have a wide range of movement, which enables the horse to bend and flex its neck much more than other parts of the spine.
Behind the cervical vertebrae are the thoracic vertebrae, which form the front section of the horse’s back where the saddle and rider sit. There are 18 thoracic vertebrae, each of which aligns with a pair of ribs. Some horses have an extra thoracic vertebra, and others, such as Arabian horses, may have one less.
The thoracic vertebrae connect to the lumbar vertebrae, which form the part of the spine from the back of the saddle to the pelvis. Most horses have six lumbar vertebrae, although many Arabians and Spanish Mustangs have five. Together with the thoracic vertebrae, the lumbar vertebrae form the site where the saddle and rider sit.
Following this are the five sacral vertebrae, which are fused together to form the sacrum. This is an integral part of the pelvis and connects to the upper section of the hind legs. Because they are fused together, the sacral vertebrae act as one bone and do not flex or bend.
At the very end of the spine are the caudal vertebrae, which run from the pelvis to the end of the fleshy part of the tail. The number of caudal vertebrae varies widely in horses – the average is 18, but it can range from 15 to 25.
Equine Cervical Vertebrae Anatomy Explained
Many people mistakenly assume that the spine of a horse runs along the top of the neck, but in fact, this is not the case.
The cervical vertebrae of the horse start just behind the skull, with the first one – the atlas, or C1 – attaching to the skull. The second cervical vertebrae, the axis or C2, sits directly behind the atlas. It is these two bones that enable the horse to nod its rather heavy head!
While these two cervical vertebrae do sit just below the mane, the remainder is much lower down the long axis of the neck. They run diagonally downwards in a steep curve, with the final one aligning with the horizontal thoracic section of the spine.
How Can The Back Of A Horse Carry A Rider?
It can be difficult to comprehend how a horse can carry a rider whilst performing all the athletic feats we train them to do! But the anatomy of a horse is uniquely adapted for this purpose, as the saddle area is incredibly strong and resilient.
This is due to a combination of the thoracic and lumbar vertebrae, which are supported by a complex network of bones, muscles, and ligaments. This section of the spine can flex and move, but not to the same extent as the neck. The thoracic spine is also supported by the ribcage, and the lumber vertebrae are heavier and taller with more weight-carrying capacity.
What Is A Horses Tail Spine Called? – Are Horse’s Spines Straight
The section of a horse’s spine that makes up the tail is called the caudal spine. This is made up of the caudal vertebrae, which start at the base of the pelvis. If you feel the fleshy part of the tail, you will be able to palpate the bony vertebrae within.
This is a highly mobile and flexible section of the spine, which enables the horse to move its tail. This is vital not only for swishing away flies but also as a communication tool when the horse is distressed or feeling threatened.
Summary – Are Horse’s Spines Straight
So, as we have learned, horse’s spines are not straight but are incredibly flexible and strong. Different parts of the spine have different levels of mobility, as each section has a specific function. The spine of a horse follows a gently curved line, which can bend on both a horizontal and vertical plane.
We’d love to hear your thoughts on are horse’s spines straight! Have you learned a fascinating fact about horse’s spines that you’d like to share with us? Or maybe you’ve got some questions about common problems that affect the horse’s spine. Leave a comment below and we’ll get back to you!
Kate Chalmers is a qualified veterinary nurse who has specialized in horse care for the vast majority of her career. She has been around horses since she was a child, starting out riding ponies and helping out at the local stables before going on to college to study Horse Care & Management. She has backed and trained many horses during her lifetime and competed in various equestrian sports at different levels.
After Kate qualified as a veterinary nurse, she provided nursing care to the patients of a large equine veterinary hospital for many years. She then went on to teach horse care and veterinary nursing at one of the top colleges in the country. This has led to an in-depth knowledge of the care needs of horses and their various medical ailments, as well as a life-long passion for educating horse owners on how to provide the best possible care for their four-legged friends.
Kate Chalmers BSc (Hons) CVN, Dip AVN (Equine) Dip HE CVN EVN VN A1 PGCE