Friday, May 1, 2009

The Hind Leg

The hind leg is the engine of the quadruped. When a draft horse pulls a heavy load, the read end drops lower and the legs develop tremendous power.

The front legs pull hard, too, and they are important in turning and in leading off gait changes.

The rear legs seem to play a key role in changes of forward and backward direction.

Here's a brief film clip of the 2-week-old filly Flashy Princess. She gets confused about the barn gate and doesn’t know which way to go. If you watch her hind legs, they're doing a lot of work has she changes her mind about going forward and backward.

I'm trying to learn more about this, so I’d be interested if any animators or horse experts among you can offer your thoughts about the different roles of the front and rear legs in a horse's movement.
If you have trouble with the embedded video, try this link:
By the way, thanks to Irene Gallo for mentioning my upcoming book in her blog. Check out her post here, and if you don't know about "The Art Department," it's a must read for anyone in the fantasy and science fiction art field.


Unknown said...


One look at the image and I thought the post was about bad art directors...a horses ass....;v)

Sorry, I could not help myself...that's Or'Doodle talking....

James Gurney said...

Yes...or art critics.

I always thought of "a horse's ass" as a mean epithet until I started doing some drawings to understand it better. It's a beautiful thing, the way all those muscles tuck into that incredible flank shape.

You would pay me the highest compliment if you compared me to a horse's rear end.

Unknown said...


I think you have spent too much time looking at the wrong Shank my friend. :v)

There is an ol Irish saying about sheep herders who spent long hours away from home with their goes something like this....Tis a Land where men are men and sheep are afraid!

Erik Bongers said...

What do you mean, confused?
That's the way we belgians always enter barns.

Lazy KZ said...

Horse owner and artist (newby on the art side of things). Most horses have 4 gaits. Walking is a 1 beat rhythm. 1 foot falls at a time. Trot is 2 beat. Usually both right legs move and then the left side moves. Canter is 3 beats. Rides like a rocking chair. The gallop is when all feet are suspended at the same time. Hope that helps.

Stapleton Kearns said...


I am certain you know about Animals in Motion written by Edwin Muybridge in 1899.
My copy here in my lap has an extensive description of "leads"

My edition is from Dover (who else?) and its SBN is 486-20203-8

jeff said...

Interesting to note the other horse apparent concern for the filly.

I second Animals in Motion by Edwin Muybridge is still one of the best after all these years.

Anonymous said...

Animator and horse freak here...

This is a really big subject.. Classical riding works at what's called 'collection'- carrying the weight as much as possible on the hind end, making an uphill kind of feel. This takes a lot of energy but a horse can pivot and accelerate amazingly.. hard to find a more extreme example than bullfighting horses:

A horse that's just moseying along will conserve energy with the weight over the forehand, making a downhill slope.

Hope the baby was okay! And I think a horse's ass is a beautiful thing too. :)

Oscar Baechler said...

There's a greatly revealing pic in "The Animator's Survival Guide" under the topic of "does a horse move like an ostrich or a man?" They then do an overlay to show how the front legs are like a man's legs while the back legs are like an ostrich.

As far as I've ever been able to tell, unless they're laying down or stressing a leg, it's worth noting how often the femur/tibia bend and tibia/calcaneous bend are equi-angular. If you get a chance, be around next time one of those horses gets horse-shoed. Better yet, try lifting up their leg.

Also, check out my mom's horses!

Anonymous said...

It was good of your friend to get out of the way of the momma--she'll go through the barn wall if she thinks baby is hurt. ;)

Horse movement is a beautiful thing! I like to watch Dressage to get a good idea of what horses are capable of when properly collected is here:

The rear muscles can really power the whole body, and when weight is shifted back, can pivot the fore very quickly at high speeds. To see what that looks like, barrel racing is the thing to watch:

I've had horse babies get into similar troubles with gates and fences. They bounce back pretty quick, and hopefully will think twice before sticking their head in again. :)

James Gurney said...

You guys rock! Thanks for all those great insights and links.