Homology study: the foot in humans vs. horses. These images are not to the same scale; rather, the feet have been reduced to equal length as measured from the point of the hock to the tip of the coffin bone. The human foot has been rotated about 90 degrees to put it in the stance normal to equines. Horsemen refer only to the structures surrounding the coffin bone as the horse’s “foot,” but the anatomical foot consists of everything between the horizontal blue lines. Color coding shows bones that are homologous (have the same embryological and evolutionary origin). An equivalent diagram for the forelimb was presented previously (AFJ, November, 2019 pp. 66-74).

Hock Provides the Horse Thrust Under Immense Strain

The peculiarly structured joint plays a critical role for performance and working horses

Second in a Series

In this series, Dr. Deb Bennett examines the equine hind limb. In this installment, Bennett explores the hock.

Farrier Takeaways

  • Rapid flexion and extension of the joint during normal locomotion engenders friction between closely adjacent structures and between tendons and the underlying bone, necessitating the development of bursae.
  • The compact structure of the hock means that many tendons must fit into a small area; some are even interwound or interlaced.
  • Horses that are repeatedly asked to perform incorrect extensions of stride often develop cunean tendon irritation. Those with “post-legged” hindlimb conformation are also susceptible to chronic tenderness and swelling.

Weight-bearing upon flexed hocks puts enormous strain on all parts of the hock joint. Along with the equally complex stifle joint, the hock is crucial to the horse’s ability to flex and extend the hind limb and create the forward thrust that is the “impulsion” so often sought by horse owners who compete in the Olympic disciplines.

In the Western disciplines, the hock must stand up to sliding stops, rollbacks and bursting acceleration. Horses used for packing or trail riding must have hocks that will go all day, up and down steep hills, without rupture or fatigue.

The hock is structured by bones of peculiar shape. The tibial tarsal bone or astragalus upon whose oblique trochlea the distal end of the tibia rides also has a large shelf to support the deep digital flexor (DDF) tendon. The large fibular tarsal bone or calcaneus interlocks with the astragalus…

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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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