In order to effectively communicate with your veterinarian about there are a few terms you should know that indicate location, or where on the horse we are talking about. Some of them will “sound like Greek to you” (though most are based in Latin) while others can be remembered using logic or some easy to recall examples:


Dorsal: Near the topline or back. Think dorsal fin on a shark.

If you run your hand down the middle of your horse’s back, you are touching the dorsal midline. The withers are dorsal to the shoulder. 

Ventral: The bottom or towards the belly. A horse that has colic surgery will have an incision made on the ventral midline. The udder is on the ventral abdomen.


Cranial: Towards the head (or the cranium). The point of the hip is cranial to the tail.

Caudal: Towards the tail. You place the saddle caudal to the horse’s neck.

Now when we’re talking about the head you’re already as cranial as you can be so you really can’t say something is more cranial than something else on the cranium.

Rostral: Towards the tip of the nose. The nostrils are more rostral than the eyes.

Just because we like to make it confusing, terms change when we talk about things below the knees and the hocks.

We still use dorsal to indicate the front of the limbs. But for the back of the legs we use

palmar and plantar (depending on if it’s a front of back leg):

Palmar -front legs. Like our hands have palms.

Plantar - back legs. Like we get plantar fasciitis in our hind limbs (our feet).


Lateral: Towards the side, away from midline, the outside. The ear is lateral to the forelock.

Medial: Towards midline, the inside. The chestnut is on the medial side of the leg.


Proximal: Closer to the origin (the body). The knee is proximal to the foot.

Distal: Away from the origin (body). Think distal=distant. The fetlock is distal to the knee.


With horses having so many appendages, we sometimes have to describe a location in relation to the first location and it can either be on the same side or the opposite side. Much less commonly used terms;

Contralateral: The opposite side of the horse. Horses with broken legs tend to develop laminitis after putting too much weight on the contralateral limb.

Ipsilateral: The same side of the horse. When the horse fell on its side, it injured the right eye and the ipsilateral shoulder (the right shoulder).

Try using these terms the next time you describe where a bump or a cut is on your horse!