The Critical Importance of the Horse’s Stifle and Hock in Movement

The hind limb reciprocating system coordinates motion and economizes the required effort

Fourth in a Series

In this series, Dr. Deb Bennett examines the equine hind limb. In this installment, Bennett explores the coordinated flexion and extension of the stifle and hock.

Farrier Takeaways

  • Coordinated flexion and extension of the stifle and hock are mandated in the horse.
  • Extension of the hock joint can occur only when the stifle is extended, and vice versa.
  • No normal horse ever takes a single step with its hind legs without also moving the joints of its back.

Probably the most famous anatomical demonstration that students of equine anatomy regularly see in the dissecting room — and certainly one of the most spectacular and interesting — is the coordinated opening and closing of the central joints of the hind limb, the “classic” hind limb reciprocation.

Coordinated flexion and extension of the stifle and hock are mandated in the horse (and its nearest relatives the zebras, onagers and asses) by a set of tensionally co-adjusted “bands” that parallel the tibia, forming a jointed parallelogram1 in which, if the stifle joint is opened the hock joint must also open and vice-versa (Figures 1 and 2).

The bands are formed by yellow ligaments and by muscles with tendinous cores that have long tendons of insertion. They originate on the femur but insert primarily on the hind cannon bone and calcaneum. They are elastic and thus store energy when, and to the degree that, they are stretched. Thus, not only does the hind limb reciprocating system foster precise…

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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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