Equine Reciprocating Systems: Periosteum, Joints and Growth

In the fifth in this series, Dr. Deb Bennett illustrates how the horse matures and the role joints play in locomotion


Farrier Takeaways

  • No horse of any breed is skeletally mature at or by the age of 2. The average time of skeletal maturity across all breeds and sexes is 6 years old. Tall, long-necked breeds may require longer.
  • Mammals have epiphyses that serve to separate growth cartilage from hyaline cartilage and thus to exclude growth plates from joints and shield them from most of the stresses that affect joints.
  • Epiphyses are not growth plates. Growth plates are remnants of the cartilage out of which embryonic bone is formed.

The periosteum, thin but tough connective tissue that enwraps all true bones, was the focus of the third installment of this series, “Equine Reciprocating Systems: Connecting Tendon to Bone.” Knowledge of the periosteum creates a good starting point for learning the structure of joints. Reciprocation — the coordinated opening and closing of joints within a limb — would be impossible unless individual bones met each other in a way that is both precisely engineered and smoothly functional.

If you read the third installment in this series, “Connecting Tendon to Bone,” you know that the periosteum tends to become modified: double-walled flaps called intermuscular septa develop from it, the dorso-scapular “ligament” develops from it and the sensitive laminae of the coffin bone are nothing more than another specialized development of periosteum. Now we are about to examine yet another modification — the joint capsule. Before discussing that, a review of bone development in the horse is in order.

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Diagrammatic bone representative of a

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Dr deb bennett

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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