What Are the Withers on a Horse? (Equestrian Explained)

What are the withers? Horse owners know that they are part of a horse’s anatomy, but do you know what they are for?

I will explore these questions and more so that you can understand the withers’ function. Read more to learn!

What Are the Withers on a Horse?

The withers are the spinal processes in a horse’s spine that join the neck to the rest of the horse’s body. They are seen by the human eye as a lump in their shoulder area.

Since the withers are secure in place, they are used to measure horse height. The rider measures from the top of the withers to the ground.

Horse height is measured in units called hands, and one hand equals four inches.

I don’t know the exact height of the gelding that I ride, but he is anywhere from 16 to 17 hands. This equates to 5′ 4″ to 5′ 8″ tall! He’s quite the tall horse!

If the withers are moving asymmetrically, and the horse is showing signs of compensatory head nod movement, this could be a sign of forelimb or hind limb lameness.

A lame horse cannot be ridden for a long period of time.

The withers and their compensatory asymmetries are a key part of diagnosing left forelimb lameness and other types of lameness, like primary hind limb lameness.

The withers help veterinary professionals catch the movement for forelimb lameness and forelimb lameness.

One study  [1] found that the vertical asymmetry of the withers caused a head nod in horses that showed true forelimb lameness based on the compensatory head movement asymmetry caused by primary hind limb lameness.

For every bit of pelvic asymmetry in horses caused by hind limb lameness, the withers experience more and more movement asymmetry.

If the spinous processes of the withers are asymmetrical and prevent the horse from moving properly, they will display compensatory movements consistent with lameness.

This is why lameness assessment in horses is so important. Not only can it help you avoid unnecessary vet bills, but it allows you to see if you have a balanced horse by assessing their movement symmetry.

CHECK: Best English Saddle Pads for Sale

What Are the Withers Used For?

The withers connect the soft tissues of the neck. They also allow the back to go up when a horse lowers and extends its neck, allowing it to collect itself and have a shorter stride.

As a para-dressage rider, I know that my horse’s ability to collect is extremely important for the tests that I ride with him, whether at home or at a show. A horse that can collect is a balanced horse!

The withers should blend in with the crest of the horse’s neck and the swoop of their back. They should not stick out too much or be invisible.

If a horse’s withers are broken, they can still be ridden.

Normal withers can also hold a saddle in place so that it does not slide off when in use.

Be sure to also read our Tips for Muddy Horse Pastures

Where Are the Withers Located on a Horse?

The withers are located at the highest part of a horse’s back, at the base of the neck. Here is a short video that gives an overview of the withers.

ALSO CHECK: What Is In An Imapct Gel Saddle Pad?

How Do You Measure a Wither on a Horse?

a girl fitting a saddle pad on high wither horse

Taking a wither tracing or measuring the horse’s withers is an important part of the saddle fitting process. [2]

To measure the withers, find a piece of wire and place it two inches behind the shoulder blade. Then, gently bend it around the withers.

Once the wire is bent, take it off your horse, and measure the length from one end of the ridge to another to get the width of your horse’s withers.

Make sure to also read our guide on how to measure a western saddle gullet.

What Does High Withers on a Horse Mean?

When a horse has high withers, it means that it has a narrow chest and back and it will be more difficult to find a saddle that fits. An ill-fitting saddle will put pressure on the withers and cause discomfort.

A high-withered horse will not be at a disadvantage when it comes to its ability to compete. They will do just as well as a horse with normal withers.

However, high withers also increase stride length, giving horses the greater ability for jumping and racing.

READ MORE: English Saddle Pads for High Withered Horses

Check out this video.

@sarahbummie

Reply to @_just.a.future.cop_ #highwithers #horses #horse #quarterhorse

♬ original sound – user5947611510792

FAQs

Can you ride a horse with broken withers?

Horses with broken withers can still be ridden because the withers heal as bony spurs in the area where they were broken. Although they feel sharp, they do not cause pain.

Conclusion

Now that you know that the withers are the tallest vertebrae in the horse’s back at the base of the neck, which allows them to lower their neck to lift their back and collect, you can understand your horse better.

You can also measure your horse’s height. And remember to assess the withers on your horses to know if they are well balanced and not lame.

equestrian showing What Are the Withers on a Horse

What are the withers on the horse? Let us know your opinion on this topic below!

References

  • 1. Rhodin M, Persson-Sjodin E, Egenvall A, Serra Bragança FM, Pfau T, Roepstorff L, et al. Vertical movement symmetry of the withers in horses with induced forelimb and hindlimb lameness at trot. Equine Veterinary Journal. 2018;50:818–24.
  • 2. Learn How to Make a Wither Tracing for Saddle Fitting [Internet]. The Spruce Pets. [cited 2022 Feb 23]. Available from: https://www.thesprucepets.com/wither-tracing-for-saddle-fitting-1887239
Bryanna Tanase
Bryanna Tanase

Bryanna is a 23-year-old Florida-based Grade 1 Para-dressage rider based in Florida and she has been riding for 5 years. Horses are her passion and her ultimate goal is to be selected for the US Para-Equestrian Team and represent the US at the Paralympics. She rides at Quantum Leap Farm and Emerald M Therapeutic Riding Center and her equine partners are Shane, an American Paint Horse, and Cappy a Welsh x Thoroughbred. When she is not helping at the barn, riding, or training, she is learning about horses, writing articles about them, and using her social media platforms to raise awareness for therapeutic riding and para-equestrianism, shares her journey, and advocates for greater inclusion of para-equestrian in the media and equestrian sport at large.
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