The 11 systems of the horse – The Muscular System

If you've been following along with my Blogs, I have started going through the 11 systems of the horse.  This blog is about the all important muscular system

Firstly, what is the muscular system made up of?

Around 60% of a horse's total body weight is made of muscles and tendons!  The muscular system is made up of muscles, fascia and tendons.  The muscle are comprised of about 70% water and the other 30% is made up of fibres and nerves.  Muscles can also stretch up to 90% and the tendons about 10% and these contracting and releasing create the movement of the skeleton and therefore the movement of the horse.  The muscles are connected to the skeletal system by the tendons.

What kind of injuries can muscles incur?
Muscles can suffer from overuse, overstretch and then tear or incorrect work preparation.  Poor nutrition, poor conformation or a structural imbalance can cause injuries to muscles.  They can also suffer from a blow out.

Imagine what would happen to your muscles if you got up on a cold morning and decided to go for a run.  If you just started running without first loosening up your muscles, say by walking for a bit, there would be a good chance you would cause some injury to your muscles.  Similarly, when you returned from your run and did not do an effective cool down and stretch out.  Your muscles would likely suffer at least from cramping and a build up of lactic acid.  The horse is the same!

How does massage help the muscular system?

Massage improves the circulation and can increase immunity due to the increased circulation and subsequent lymphatic flow.  Massage improves the muscle and tendon function and therefore decreases the risk of injury to muscles and tendons.  Massage improves the elasticity of the connective tissue and increases nutrient uptake.  It helps to detoxify the horses body.  The range of movement can be improved with regular massage and also prevent and release muscle knotting.

If muscles are allowed to tighten they will cause the joints to ride closer together thus decreasing the range of movement available to the horse.


A image of the superficial muscular system of the horse.
A image of the superficial muscular system of the horse.

1. Superior labial levator

2. Caninus

3. Nasolabial levator

4. Masseter

5. Sternomandibular

6. Subcutaneous

7. Brachiocephalic

8. Splenius

9. Cervical ventral serrated

10. External intercostal

11. Cervical trapezius

12. Ventral trapezius

13. Subclavian

14. Deltoid

15. Latissimus dorsi

16. Descending pectoral

17. Triceps

18. Ascending pectoral

19. Common digital extensors

20. External abdominal oblique

21. Tensor m. of the fascia latae

22. Superficial gluteal

23. Femoral biceps

24. Semitendinous

25. Digital extensors