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Equine Reciprocating Systems: Connecting Tendon to Bone

The third installment of this series examines bone formation and its relationship to the muscle tendon


Pictured Above: Stages of long bone growth. Bones are shaped in the early embryo as tangles of collagen fibers. As the animal grows, these are filled in by cartilage and then by calcium-apatite deposited by chondroblasts and osteoblasts.

Farrier Takeaways

  • The only living parts of bones are the cells associated with them.
  • Bones require oxygen and nutrients, which are delivered by the bloodstream.
  • One reason that sesamoid fractures may take relatively longer to heal is the limited blood suppy.

The forelimb reciprocating apparatus of the horse is a unique and important biomechanical system that every farrier must understand before good decisions concerning hoof trim and appliances can be made. Detailed study of tissue types is the first step, but we also have to be careful of our choice of terminology. I have criticized the time-honored definition of tendon as “a tissue that connects muscle to bone” because — as I have presented in previous articles — all tendons are tendons of muscles, and therefore it makes absolutely no sense to speak of a tendon “connecting to” muscle. But what about the other end? Do tendons connect to bones? The answer is yes, and I will share some fascinating microscopic and macroscopic details.

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Photomicrographs of bone cells. “µm” stands for micron, equal to one millionth of a meter or one thousandth of a millimeter. Above, an osteoblast; below, an osteocyte. Note the many “arms” (actually hollow tubes) that project from the cell bodies, which reach out to touch those of nearby

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Deb Bennett

Dr. Deb Bennett has studied classification, evolution, anatomy and biomechanics of the horse. She worked at the Smithsonian Institution, until founding the Equine Studies Institute. She is an author who has published four books on horse-related topics, in addition to articles in most major equine magazines in North America.

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