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J Anat. 2008 Feb;212(2):144-52. doi: 10.1111/j.1469-7580.2007.00848.x. Epub 2008 Jan 9.

Comparative anatomy and muscle architecture of selected hind limb muscles in the Quarter Horse and Arab.

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Structure and Motion Lab, Royal Veterinary College, London, UK.


The Quarter Horse (bred for acceleration) and the Arab (bred for endurance) are situated at either end of the equine athletic spectrum. Studies into the form and function of the leg muscles in human sprint and endurance runners have demonstrated that differences exist in their muscle architecture. It is not known whether similar differences exist in the horse. Six Quarter Horse and six Arab fresh hind limb cadavers were dissected to gain information on the muscle mass and architecture of the following muscles: gluteus medius; biceps femoris; semitendinosus; vastus lateralis; gastrocnemius; tibialis cranialis and extensor digitorum longus. Specifically, muscle mass, fascicle length and pennation angle were quantified and physiological cross-sectional area (PCSA) and maximum isometric force were estimated. The hind limb muscles of the Quarter Horse were of a significantly greater mass, but had similar fascicle lengths and pennation angles when compared with those of the Arab; this resulted in the Quarter Horse hind limb muscles having greater PCSAs and hence greater isometric force potential. This study suggests that Quarter Horses as a breed inherently possess large strong hind limb muscles, with the potential to accelerate their body mass more rapidly than those of the Arab.

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