You may find a great variation in the number of bones in various horses from different sources. But I will provide the accurate answer to the question – how many bones does a horse have?
As a veterinarian, I have counted the number of bones from 50+ horse skeletons. Thus I gather a deep knowledge of these equine bones with their number.
Quick answer: most horses have 200 – 205 bones. This variation occurs due to more or fewer numbers of vertebrae (especially in lumbar and tail regions) and ribs.
I will also explain why different horses have various numbers of bones. Horses with variations in the lumbar and tail bones will be discussed in this article.
I will also share the exact number of bones from various regions of the horse’s body. Thus you will get the number of bones from limbs, skull, and vertebrae separately with their variation.
That might help you to understand why the bone number from different horses varies from 200 – 205.
How many bones does a horse have?
Bones are the main component of the equine skeleton and are considered the hardest structure of the body. I have counted these bones from the various horse’s skeletons and found the followings –
Most of the local breeds of horses have 205 bones in their skeleton,
Let’s see how there are 205 bones in the horse’s skeleton –
- Skull bones (including hyoid, mandible, and auditory ossicles) = 34,
- Vertebral bones (cervical to caudal) = 54,
- Ribs of the horses = 36,
- Horse sternum bone = 1,
- Bones in the thoracic limb = 40, and
- Pelvic limb bones = 40,
Thus, the horse has 205 bones. Here, the caudal vertebrae (tail bones) are counted only 18. Again, the temporal and hip bones (os coxae) are undivided.
But, as usual, I have counted the tarsal, carpal, and sesamoid bones from limbs.
If the number of caudal bones is more or less, you will find a variation in the total number of bones. In that case, some horses may show 200 bones; others may show 206.
Let’s see when the horses have 200 bones and where the differences from that horse possess 205 bones. Table 1 will show the differences in bone count from different regions between a horse possess 200 and 205 bones –
|Bones in various regions||Why 200 bones in equine||Why 205 bones in equine|
|Skull bones||32 (ossicles not included)||34|
|Vertebral column||51 (cadual bones = 15)||54 (caudal bones = 18)|
|Thoracic limb’s bones||40||40|
|Pelvic limb’s bones||40||40|
How to count bones from the horse’s skeleton?
To count the bones from the horse’s skeleton, you might know their name and position. Then it would help if you counted them region-wise from the horse skeleton.
From Table 1, you already understand that the variation may occur only in the tail bones. So, it is important to know the number of various bones from the horse’s vertebral column.
I will discuss the type of vertebral bones (cervical, thoracic, lumbar, sacral, and caudal) from equine species. Again, you might also know the name and position of different skull bones from the horses.
You might also know their name and position to count the bones from the horse’s limbs. The below-mentioned article might help you to get an overview of different bones from the horse’s skeleton –
As the variation found in the vertebral column, let’s focus on bones from it.
Number of bones in the horse’s vertebral column
First, let’s see the vertebral formula of the horse – C7T18L6S5C15-21
Thus, you might find 51 – 57 bones (vertebrae) in the vertebral column of the horses. In most local breeds, you will find almost 18 caudal (coccygeal vertebrae).
(Here, C = cervical vertebrae of the horse, T= thoracic vertebrae of the horse, L=lumbar vertebrae of the horse, S= Sacral vertebrae, and C= Coccygeal or caudal vertebrae).
So, you will find 5 segments in the horse’s vertebral column. And the vertebrae from these 5 specific segments possess different unique features.
The below-mentioned articles might provide details information about various vertebrae of animals –
- Typical vertebra of the ox – Arch, body, and processes of the animal vertebrae with diagram, and
- Animal vertebrae identification – osteological features of cervical, thoracic, and lumbar vertebrae with diagram,
Now, count the number of vertebrae from the horse’s vertebral column. Table 2 shows the exact number of vertebrae from 5 different segments of a horse’s vertebral column –
|Vertebrae in horse||Number of bones||Special Features|
|Cervical bones||7||The first 2 are modified|
|Thoracic bones||18 (except Arabian Horse)||Have a long spinous process|
|Lumbar bones||6||Possess larger transverse processes|
|Sacral bones||5||Fused to form horse sacrum|
Spinous processes are separated
|Caudal bones||15 – 21 (variable)||Don’t show typical features|
|Total vertebral bones||51 – 57||Average 54 bones|
Most horse breeds typically possess 54 vertebrae in their vertebral column.
Here, the horse’s vertebral column diagram shows the number of bones from its various segments. You will also find the separately labeled diagrams on various vertebrae of horses here.
Again, you may learn the deep anatomy of these specific vertebrae from other articles from anatomy learners.
Unique features of the vertebral bones of the horses
You will find unique features in the horse’s vertebrae compared to dogs and cows. Let’s discuss the most important unique features of the horse’s vertebral bones.
The number of cervical vertebrae in a horse is similar to that of cows. That means you will find 7 cervical vertebrae, but they all possess longer bodies compared to the cow’s cervical vertebrae.
Again, the atlas and axis (first and second cervical vertebrae) of horses possess unique features. You will find the foramen transversarium in the wing of the horse’s atlas vertebra. But, the cow’s atlas has no foramen transversarium in its wings.
You may know more about the typical features of a cow’s atlas from the below-mentioned article –
You will see distinct grooves at the caudal aspect of the spinous of the horse’s thoracic vertebrae. The mammillary process of the few caudal thoracic vertebrae is well-developed.
The number of the lumbar vertebrae of a horse may vary from 5 – 6. But the local breed and others (except Arabian horse) possess 6 well-developed lumbar vertebrae.
Most unique features are found in the last lumbar vertebrae of the horses. You will see articular surfaces at the caudal aspect of the transverse processes of the last lumbar vertebra.
The wing of the horse sacrum is prismatic and pointed. You will find separated spinous processes in the horse sacrum.
Finally, the caudal or coccygeal vertebrae are ill-developed bones in the horse’s vertebral column.
How many bones does a horse have in its tail?
The caudal or coccygeal vertebrae form the framework of the horse tail. The horse’s tail has 15 – 21 ill-developed bones. The average number of bones from the horse’s tail is 18.
From first to last, these tail bones become reduced in size. You will only find the typical body in the first few bones of this series.
These first few caudal vertebrae of the horse possess dorsoventrally flattened bodies. You will see the middle constriction in the body of the first three or four caudal vertebrae.
They also possess convex and elliptical articular surfaces (at both ends). The ventral surface of these tail bones has a median groove.
The median coccygeal artery passes within this median groove of the tail bones.
The transverse process of these tail bones gradually reduces and fades out at the end. Again, the dorsoventrally flattened body of the horse’s caudal vertebrae becomes gradually cylindrical.
You will find the pointed end at the last caudal vertebrae of the horses.
Number of ribs and sternum of a horse
Typically the horse has 18 pairs or 36 ribs and only 1 sternum. Exceptional may occur in abnormal conditions or Arabian horses.
Among these 36 ribs, the first 16 are sternal, and reminders are asternal. You will find the full guide on horse ribs in the below-mentioned article –
Let’s practically count the number of ribs and sternum from the horse’s thoracic cage. Here, Table 3 shows the number of ribs and sternum from a horse –
|Ribs of horses||Number of ribs||Sternum of horse|
|Sternal ribs||8 pairs or 16||Number: 1|
|Asternal ribs||10 pairs or 20||Segments: 7|
|Total ribs in horse||18 pairs or 36||Shape: canoe|
- So, total bones in the horse’s thoracic cage = 36 + 1 = 37 (except upper vertebrae),
The shape of the horse sternum is somewhat unique to cows and dogs. It is canoe-shaped and compressed laterally. But the caudal end of this sternum is dorsoventrally flattened.
You will also find 7 segments (sternebrae) in the structure of the horse sternum. The cow or ox also has 7 segments in their sternums. But you will find some unique features in the ox sternum compared to the horses (especially in manubrium and xiphoid cartilage) –
Number of skull bones in the horses
There are 34 bones in the horse’s skull. For description purposes, skull bones are divided into two main groups – facial and cranial.
You might know the name of these facial and cranial bones from the equine skull. Then you should identify whether the bone is single or pairs in the horse’s skull.
Let’s see the bones from the facial and cranial part of the equine skull –
Bones of the cranium include –
Occipital, sphenoid, ethmoid, parietal, interparietal, frontal, and temporal, and
Bones of the facial include –
Maxilla, premaxilla, palatine, pterygoid, nasal, lacrimal, malar, turbinate, and vomar,
You will also find 2 other bones related to the horse’s skull – mandible and hyoid bones.
Different articles provide detailed descriptions of these facial and cranial bones from the horse’s skull. Here I will only count the number of these bones from the equine’s skull.
Before that, let’s identify some of the major bones from the horse’s skull. I tried to show the most common and important bones from the equine skull with a diagram.
Counting of equine skull bones
Here, Table 4 shows the counting of the cranial bones from the equine skull –
|Name of the cranial bones||Number of horse’s cranial bone|
|Total cranial bones =||11|
Thus, you will find 11 bones in the cranial segment of the horse’s skull.
Now, let’s see the paired or unpaired bones (with accessories bones) from the facial part of the equine skull. Table 5 shows the paired and unpaired bones (total bones) from the equine skull –
|Name of the facial bones||Number of horse’s facial bone|
|Total facial bones =||21|
|Total bones in cranial part =||11|
|Cranial + facial bones (total) =||34 (thirty-four bones)|
Thus, you will find 21 facial bones (including the hyoid and mandibular) in the equine skull. Again, there are 2 auditory ossicles in the structure of the equine skull.
So, you will find a total of 34 bones in the skull of the horses.
Unique features of the horse’s skull
I have already discussed the anatomy of the horse skull here in anatomy learner. So, let’s see the unique features of the horse’s skull bones now –
The shape of the horse skull is comparatively longer and four-sided compared to the cow. Again, the frontal bones of the equine skull are not wide like the cows.
There is no cornual process in the frontal bone of the horses. You may also know the difference between the horse and cow’s skull from the below-mentioned article –
You will see the zygomatic process meet with the malar and supraorbital processes. The parietal bone of the horse forms the roof of the cranial cavity.
There are 6 alveolar sockets for the incisor teeth in both the premaxilla and cranial parts of the mandible bones. The two halves of the horse mandible are completely fused cranially.
You will see the alveolar sockets for the canine teeth at the junction between the maxilla and premaxilla bones. Again, the mandibular bone also possesses alveolar sockets for the lower canine teeth.
How many bones does a horse have in its front legs?
The horse’s front leg has 20 (twenty) bones in its different segments. You will find the scapula, humerus, radius, ulna, carpal, metacarpal, sesamoid, and phalanges in the front leg of a horse.
In each front leg, you will find 20 bones in the horses. Thus, there are a total of 40 bones in the equine’s front legs.
The number of these bones is slightly different in equine species compared to dogs and cows. You will find 24 bones in each front leg of a cow, whereas the dog has 44 bones.
The below-mentioned article will provide a detailed guide on the bones from the front leg of a cow and dog –
- Cow leg anatomy – bones, muscles, and vessels from the front and hind legs of the ruminant with diagram, and
- Dog leg anatomy with the labeled diagram – bones, joints, muscles, and vessels,
Before counting the number of bones from the equine’s front legs, you might know the basic features of the following –
- Scapula of the horse,
- Horse humerus bone,
- Radius and ulna of the horses,
- Location and shape of the carpal bones,
- Metacarpal of the horse, and
- Three phalanges and sesamoid bones,
I tried to show the above bones in the horse front leg labeled diagram. Now, it will help you count the number of bones from its front legs.
Bone count from horse’s front legs
I will start counting the front leg bones from proximal to distal ends. Here, Table 6 shows the name and total number of specific bones from each front leg –
|Bone of horse’s front leg||Number of bone|
|Radius and ulna bones||2|
|Carpal bones||7 or 8|
|Metacarpal bone (large||1|
|Small metacarpal bones||2|
|Total bones in each frog leg =||20 (twenty)|
|Total bones in frog legs =||40 (forty)|
So, the total number of bones in the horses’ right and left legs is = 40. The number may vary (38) when the carpal bone of any equine species is 7.
Key features of front leg bones
There are remarkable differences between the horse’s front leg bones and cows. In anatomy learner, You will find a detailed guide on these front leg bones. Now, I will only show the key features of these front legs bones of the equine.
The horse scapula is roughly triangular and has no acromion process on its spine. You will see the larger tuber scapulae and coracoid process in the horse scapula.
The subscapular fossa and glenoid fossa are comparatively deep compared to the cows and dogs.
You may easily identify the horse humerus by its deep and twisted musculospiral groove. Again, the bicipital groove is divided by the ridge, which is known as the intermediate tubercle.
An ill-developed ulna in a horse extends up to the distal third of the radius. Thus you will find only one interosseous space between the horse’s radius and ulna bones.
The radial tuberosity is well-marked in the horse radius compared to the cows. Again, you will also find an extensive trochlear notch in the horse’s ulna bone.
There are 7 or 8 carpal bones arranged into two rows – proximal and distal. Both in the proximal and distal rows of the carpal, you will find 4 bones.
Table 7 shows the name and arrangement of the carpal bones from equine –
|Medial to lateral||Proximal row||Distal row|
|1||Radial carpal||First carpal|
|2||Intermediate carpal||Second carpal|
|3||Ulnar carpal||Third carpal|
|4||Accessory carpal||Fourth carpal|
|Total carpals =||4||4|
You will find 2 small (II and IV) and 1 large metacarpal (III) in the horse’s front leg. Again, there are 3 phalanges in one developed digit – proximal, middle, and distal.
Number of horse’s hind leg bone
You will also find 20 bones in each hind leg of the horses. Thus the total number of bones from the equine’s hind legs is 40.
You might know their name and location by counting the bones from the equine’s hind leg. Let’s see and identify the below-mentioned bones from the equine hind leg –
- Hip bone or ox coxae (consists of ilium, ischium, and pubis),
- Femur and patella of the horse,
- Tibia and fibula bones from the hind legs,
- Tarsal bones from the hind leg,
- Metatarsal bones,
- Phalanges and sesamoid bones (including proximal and distal sesamoids),
The labeled diagram identifies all these bones from the equine’s hind legs. Now, let’s count the number of bones from the hind legs of the equine species.
Bone count from horse’s hind legs
Again, I will count the bones of the horse’s hind legs from proximal to distal ends. Table 8 shows the name and number of the bones from equine hind limbs –
|Bones of the horse’s hind legs||Number of bone|
|Hip bone (os coxae)||1|
|Tibia and fibula bones||2|
|Metatarsal bones (small)||2|
|Large metatarsal bone||1|
|Total number of bones in each leg =||20 (twenty)|
|Total number of bones in hind legs =||40 (forty)|
Thus, you will see 20 bones in each hind leg of the horses. The total number of the horse’s hind legs is 40 (forty).
But I did not divide the ox coxae into two halves or three bones (ilium, ischium, pubis). If you consider these bones the single bone, then the number of bones from the hind limb will increase.
Key features of horse hind limb
The os coxae of a horse are more inclined forward. You will not find any prominent gluteal lines on the gluteal surface of the horse hip.
The ischial tuberosity is not trifid like the cows. To understand the basic difference between the cow and horse hip, let’s see the below-mentioned article –
The horse femur is the massive bone with a third trochanter at the upper end of the lateral surface. You will find the deep fovea capitis femoris on its head with a deep notch.
Again, the supracondyloid fossa and trochanteric fossa are also deep in the horse compared to the cows.
The patella of a horse is a roughly triangular and sesamoid bone. It possesses a blunt apex and indistinct angles.
The horse tibia is the longer and larger bone in the hind limb. It possesses a grooved cranial tuberosity. Again, the groove at the distal extremity for the ridge of the tibia tarsal is obliquely directed.
The tarsals of the horse are arranged in three rows. Table 9 shows the arrangement of the horse tarsals –
|Proximal row||Tibia tarsal + fibular tarsal|
|Middle row||Central tarsal|
|Distal row||First and second fused|
Third tarsal and
Fourth tarsal bone
|Total tarsal bones||6 (six)|
One large (III) and two small (II and IV) metatarsal bones are in the equine hind leg. The metatarsal and metacarpal are the cannon bones in the equine species. The below-mentioned article might help you to know their (cannon bones) details anatomy –
How many sesamoid bones does a horse have?
A horse has 14 sesamoid bones that locate in front and hind legs. Among these, you will find 3 sesamoid bones in each front leg. In contrast, each hind leg of the equine has 4 sesamoid bones.
Before counting the sesamoid bones from the limbs, let’s know what it is. These small seed-like bones develop within the tendon and ossify after birth.
They (sesamoid bones) work as pully to avoid friction. You may also get an idea of various types of bones from the below-mentioned article –
Now, let’s count the sesamoid bones from the equine’s limbs. Table 10 shows the number and location of the sesamoid bones from the horses –
|Sesamoid bones in forelimb|
|Proximal sesamoid||2||Between –|
Distal end of metacarpal and
Proximal end of first phalanx
Distal end of 2nd phalanx, and
Proximal end of 3rd phalanx
|Total sesamoid in forelimb||3 x 2 = 6|
|Sesamoid bone in hindlimb|
|Proximal sesamoid||2||Between –|
Distal end of metatarsal and
Proximal end of first phalanx
|Distal sesamoid||1||Between –|
Distal end of 2nd phalanx, and
Proximal end of 3rd phalanx
|Patella of horse||1||Between femur and tibia|
|Total sesamoid in hindlimb||4 x 2 = 8|
|Sesamoid in horse||14 (fourteen)|
The information mentioned above might help you to identify the sesamoid bones from the equine limbs. Again, I am trying to show these sesamoid bones from both the hind and front legs with the diagram.
Frequently asked questions on horse bone
Now, I will enlist the most commonly asked questions on the horse bone. It is recommended to go through the whole guide to get a better idea of bone counting from the horses.
What is the missing bone in the skeletal system of the horse?
The clavicle is the missing bone in the skeletal system of the horse. In various animals, the shoulder girdle is formed by the clavicular and scapular bones.
But, you will not find the clavicle in the horse skeleton. The dog and cat have small clavicles in their skeleton.
It is a thin and convex structure in the dog. You may also get more information on the dog and cat clavicles from the below-mentioned articles –
- Dog scapula anatomy – features of the scapular and clavicular bones and muscles, and
- Cat scapula anatomy – bone and muscles with labeled diagram,
Do horses have 206 bones?
Averagely, horses have 205 bones, but sometimes it may be more or less. Thus, the horse may have 206 bones depending on the number of vertebral bones on its vertebral column.
Most change occurs in the number of thoracic and caudal vertebrae bones. Sometimes you may find 19 thoracic vertebral bones in the vertebral column. Then the horses possess 206 bones.
Do all horses have 205 bones?
205 bones are the typical condition in most horses. But not all horses have 205 bones due to the variation in the number of vertebral bones.
I have already shown how the horses possess 205 bones in their skeletons. Again, you might also understand why this number may vary in different breeds of horses.
How many bones does an Arabian horse have?
The Arabian horses have 200 bones in their skeleton. This is due to the absence of one thoracic, lumbar, caudal vertebra, and pair rib.
Thus you will find 5 fewer bones in Arabian horses than the normal horses. Let’s see the counting of the bones from the Arabian horses –
- Skull bones = 34 (thirty-four),
- Ribs = 34 (17 pairs),
- Sternum = 1 (one),
- Forelimb bones = 40 (forty),
- Hindlimb bones = 40 (forty),
- Cervical vertebrae = 7 (seven),
- Thoracic vertebrae = 17 (seventeen),
- Lumbar vertebrae = 5 (five),
- Sacral vertebrae = 5 (five; fused to form the sacrum), and
- Caudal vertebrae = 15 – 17 (average seventeen),
So the reduced number of bones occurs in the vertebral column of Arabian horses.
So, you got the perfect answer to the question – how many bones does a horse have? Different breeds of horses have 200 – 205 bones in their skeleton. The number may vary due to more or less the number of vertebral bones in their skeleton.
I suggest you count the bones from various segments of the equine skeleton separately. You may take help from the provided diagrams and tables to count the horse’s bone from the actual skeleton.