Understanding the horses the hyoid apparatus

Hyoid bone 🦴 seemingly insignificant bone


It is such a small bone, but yet the function of this tiny bone is essential to the wellbeing and movement of our horse. Let’s have a closer look at this tiny bone.

The hyoid is not only connected directly to the tongue, forelimb and poll but indirectly to the hindquarter.

So what are the connections?

Without trying to be too complicated here are the connections

The first connection ( sternohyoid muscle)

  • connect the horse’s tongue & mouth to the chest of the horse.
  • From here the fascia connections and muscular connections carry through from pectoral (chest) muscles along
  • the lower inside of the horse,
  • along with the abdominal muscles and into the pelvis.

The second connection (omohyoid muscle)

  • to the shoulder joint,
  • linking into the fascial chain
  • that runs from the head, along the lower inside of the neck,
  • middle of the shoulder and all the way to the toe on the hindlimb.
  • This puts a spin on understanding to the term ‘riding from your leg to your hand’, and the connection between your leg aid and the activity of the hindlimb.

The third connection (occipitohyoid muscle)

  • connects the hyoid to the poll,
  • creating a direct chain from the shoulder through the hyoid to the poll, and
  • from there through
  • the nuchal ligament (back)
  • the dorsal muscular chain (back)
  • back to the hindquarter,

I find it incredible how such a small detail inside if the horse is yet connected to everything.

As always if the smallest piece gives way, we find ourselves in a bit of trouble.

Incredible dynamic, connected chain all nicely linked together.

The hyoid is directly connected to the tongue 😜 it plays a role in breathing and swallowing while moving.

Why is it so important to understand this tiny bone?

It has such an impact on the entire movement of our horse.

Therefore a restriction, pain or any dysfunction in the hyoid may have a direct impact on the mobility of the forelimb, leading to a possibly shortened or stilted gait.

This can be transferred to the hindquarter as an inability to engage the hindlimbs.

So let’s look after this tiny but significant bone.

The delicate hyoid structure is well hidden and quite protected but accidents can happen.


Here are some scenarios you could use to positively influence looking after this bone:

  • Having a lovely soft feeling in your rein and just be careful of the pressure that we place on the bit.

  • Choosing a bit that allows movement of the tongue without restriction.

  • Using auxiliary gear attached to the headset of the horse, bit or poll could have an effect on the hyoid apparatus.

  • keeping it in a rigid posture

  • Approaching the training slow and steady with a cavesson and educating the horse true self-carriage

  • Practices, where the tongue is handled (including during a dental procedure), can lead to a potential unbalancing of the hyoid or, in worst-case scenarios, a fracture of the hyoid bone.


My passion is teaching riding, and understanding some of the underlying function helps me to place it in perspective. There is more to horse riding than just sitting on the horse and going for a ride.


To prepare this article I read work from the following website as well as the teachings of


skeletal x-rays of hoses head and neck, showing the muscle attachment to the hyoid apparatus
skeletal x-rays of hoses head and neck, showing the muscle attachment to the hyoid apparatus