Last Updated on November 18, 2022
The question of what is a chestnut on a horse is something that many people wonder! Chestnuts are a very strange part of a horse’s anatomy, and it can seem baffling as to why horses have them at all. Lets find out everything you need to know about what is a chestnut on a horse, as well as some other interesting equine anatomical facts!
What Are Chestnuts On Horses?
Have you ever been brushing a horse’s legs and found a strange lump on the inside of the legs? Chestnuts on horses are unusual growths found just above the knee on the forelegs, and just below the hock on the hindlegs.
Chestnuts are quite unlike any other body tissue on the horse – they are made from an unusually rough body tissue with a firm yet soft texture. Sometimes they will feel like a slightly rough patch of hairless skin, whilst other times they can protrude significantly outwards.
Chestnuts on horses have another amazing feature – everyone is different and unique to that horse! In a way, they are like our fingerprints, and theoretically, you could identify a horse from its chestnuts.
The other very odd thing about chestnuts is that they grow continuously but very slowly. In some horses, they need to be trimmed occasionally to stop them from being torn off, while in others they do not seem to cause a problem at all.
Why Do Horses Have Chestnuts?
Chestnuts on horses are one of the few parts of the horse’s anatomy that has absolutely no purpose whatsoever! Yes, that’s right, they serve no functional purpose at all.
In fact, chestnuts can be more of a hindrance, especially if they grow rapidly. Large protruding chestnuts can easily be knocked and torn, causing them to bleed. Chestnuts cannot be removed from a horse, but your farrier may trim them if they are becoming a problem.
But these unusual growths did once have a functional purpose, many millions of years ago.
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What Is A Chestnut On A Horse?
OK, so if chestnuts have no functional purpose, what is a chestnut on a horse and why is it there?
The chestnuts found on horses’ legs are a remnant of many years of evolution – after all, the earliest horses originated 55 million years ago, and our modern domesticated horses are nothing like their ancient ancestors!
In ancient times, horses were far smaller and walked more like modern-day cats and dogs. They walked on three toes, and over time this changed to just one hoof.
Animals that have toes, like dogs and cats, also have pads underneath the feet to protect them from wear and tear. And the horse may have lost its toes over time, but the pads still remain! So, the chestnuts on horses are actually remnants of these pads and serve no useful function at all.
This may have led you to start wondering what happened to the toes of a horse. Well, the middle toe is still present – this is the hoof and lower leg of the horse! The bones in the toe gradually grew longer, thicker, and stronger, creating the elegant and athletic limb of the modern-day horse.
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The inner and outer toe no longer served a useful function, and gradually diminished in size. However, there are remnants of these bones in the horse’s leg, in the form of the two splint bones that run down either side of the cannon bone.
And the remaining toe? Well, the hoof capsule is the equivalent of our middle fingernail or toenail – yes, that’s right, the horse carries all his weight on what was once a tiny bone! The carpus, or knee, of a horse, is the equivalent of our wrist, and the bones below this have been formed from the delicate finger bones.
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What Are Ergots On Horses? What Is A Chestnut On A Horse?
Another strange lump you may find on a horse’s legs is the ergot. Chestnuts and ergots on horses are very similar – both are made of horn-like tissue that protrudes from the skin.
The ergots on a horse are located on the back of the fetlock. A horse may have ergots on all four legs or none at all. Ergots can range in size from small pea-sized lumps to significant growth of horny tissue.
Fine-haired horses tend to have small or non-existent ergots, while thick-haired horses with heavily feathered legs often have large ergots.
Like chestnuts, large ergots can be a problem if the horse catches them and rips them away from the skin. They can be trimmed by your farrier if they become a problem.
Do Ergots And Chestnuts Need Trimming?
It is not always necessary to trim ergots and chestnuts, but some horse owners may choose to do so. These vestigial remnants of ancient horses do not have a nerve supply, and they can be trimmed with farriery tools without causing your horse any discomfort.
It is common to trim ergots and chestnuts if they are large and protrude significantly from the skin. If they are not trimmed, the horse may catch them and tear them off, causing pain where the ergot or chestnut attaches to the skin.
Horse owners that show their horses will also get their ergots and chestnuts trimmed, as this makes the leg look neater and more streamlined.
Summary – What Is A Chestnut On A Horse?
So, as we have learned, chestnuts on horses are unusual growths found just above the knee on the forelegs, and just below the hock on the hindlegs. They are a remnant of many years of evolution, from when horses were far smaller and walked more like modern-day cats and dogs. The chestnuts on a horse serve no useful purpose and may need trimming if they grow too large.
We would love to hear your thoughts on what is a chestnuts on a horse! Does your horse have unusually large chestnuts that need trimming frequently? Or perhaps you’ve got some questions about another unusual part of horse anatomy? Leave a comment below and we will 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 wenton 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