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What is "bone"?

From: Ellis

Dear Jessica. I look forward each week to reading your horse-sense advice, and now I have a question for you. What is "bone" exactly? I have been taking lessons for one year and my teacher now thinks I am ready to own a horse. We have looked at three horses so far. One was not sound, so he is not a prospect. The other two seemed very nice horses to me, but my teacher says that because I am a large man (6'2" and 250 pounds) I need a tall horse with a lot of "bone". I assume that this means that a taller horse would have a larger skeleton, but one of these horses was very tall, and yet my teacher said he did not have enough "bone." My teacher is very competent but has a certain way of putting her head on one side and making a "tch" sound when she thinks I am being stupid, so I don't want to ask her this, so I am asking you. What is "bone"? Thank you very much


Hi Ellis, thank you, I'm glad you're enjoying horse-sense!

When people speak of a horse's "bone", they are referring to a measurement taken at the circumference of the foreleg, just below the knee. Horses have very slim legs, and a great deal of weight and mass to carry, so the quality of their support structures is very important. It's not always possible to determine the

Quality -- density -- of bone is another matter, and a more variable one than you might think. Horses that have been over-fed and over-stressed at a young age may have poor-quality bone; in this case, even a good external measurement won't save them from unsoundness. Some of the smaller breeds are known for the density of their bones: Arabians, for instance, and Icelandic Horses. But size is a factor too -- horses that grow very tall do NOT grow thicker legs to match their increased height and weight. So, all other things being equal, the combination of smaller size and dense bones -- the "natural" size of 15.0hh and 1,000 pounds -- is a great "plus" when you're looking for something that is likely to stay sound over the long haul.

The other issue here is the size of the horsein relation to the size of the rider. Don't worry about the height -- yes, you are tall, but the horse you want to find is not a TALL horse but rather a horse with a wide, round BARREL. A slab-sided horse will not take up enough of your leg, even if it is quite tall; a round-barrelled horse will take up a lot of leg, even if it is much shorter. A sturdy, well-sprung Morgan or Arabian or Morab or Quarter Horse, for instance, should be very suitable. Look for a stocky, solid, short-backed horse with strong, clean legs, a deep body,and strong loins. THAT is weight-carrying conformation!

Don't restrict yourself to tall horses -- instead, think in terms of your leg and the horse's barrel. And think in terms of bone/weight ratio: the minimum measurement for riding horses is generally considered to be 7" per 1,000 pounds. But when you look at the horses that many large riders try to find -- 16.2hh or taller, 1,350 pounds or more -- you'll see that these are not necessarily the best prospects for continued soundness: bone/weight ratio in such horses is often only 5" per 1,000 pounds. This is why advertisements for larger, taller horses, especially breeding stallions, often mention "8" of bone" or "9" of bone" -- breeders are trying to create larger, SOUND horses with support structures that correspond to their height and weight. It isn't easy. It's not that difficult to find a 15.0hh, 1,000 pound horse with 7" of bone, but -- do you remember the 16.2, 1,350 horse? What should HIS bone measurement be? Would you believe 9.5"? That's not as easy to find.

So "bone" is not such a simple concept, and it's not at all a stupid question. Remember, the ONLY stupid question is the one you DON'T ask. ;-) You can get into much more trouble through ignorance than through asking for information -- and I strongly suggest that you talk to your instructor about this problem, bcause it IS a problem if you can't ask your instructor questions without feelinf embarrassed or awkward or stupid. Your instructor should encourage questions, take them seriously, and answer them thoroughly!


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