How to draw a horse

Horses can be pretty difficult to draw. The key is having a thorough understanding of horse anatomy and mechanics.

Draw a bag of groceries – paper or plastic, you choose. 

Now draw a plastic grocery bag containing five oranges, a bag of chips, and a jar of peanut butter. Much easier, right? Why? Because by knowing what’s inside, we better our understanding of our subject.

Same goes for horses: if you understand horse anatomy, then sketching a horse becomes much easier; when you understand the mechanics of a horse, your horse drawing will naturally look more mechanically sound and real.

Knowing about the anatomy of your subject makes the business of learning how to draw easier.

You'll find my video above, and I've listed 10 steps to drawing horses below. If this inspires you to educate yourself further, why not head over to Schoolism.com to discover courses, workshops and more?

 01. The anatomy of a horse’s legs 

A horse’s hoof is analogous to our middle finger or toe

Contrary to popular belief, horses do not have 'backward knees'; their knees are just not as obvious as those of a human. Same with a horse’s shoulders: it’s not immediately obvious that the shoulders of a horse are actually more front-facing than positioned at the top of the horse’s back. Once you understand these two key points, horses will start to make a lot more sense to you.

02. The spine of a horse

A horse’s spine is not where you assume it is

The curve of a horse’s back is not made by a curved spine, but by the spinous processes, which are projections on each vertebra that muscles connect to. In actuality, the spine is quite straight. Above the shoulders, it runs closer to the middle of the neck than the back. By knowing where a horse’s neck bends from, you will be able to draw a horse’s neck better in different positions.

03. Understanding the main skeletal structures

The structures under the skin should guide your drawing

A horse’s rib cage has a similar shape to a human’s, but remember ribs don’t extend to the bottom of the belly. Also, muscle, fat, and skin can make the rib cage look bigger than it really is. 

A horse’s skull is triangular with a large jaw that has a wide area for muscles to attach to. A horse’s pelvis is flatter than a human’s because a horse doesn’t stand upright so its pelvis doesn’t bear weight.

04. The main shapes of a horse

Start with macro shapes and build up

Let’s start with the front half of the torso, which is kind of bean-shaped. Then we have the front and back sides of the horse, which feel like padding around the bean. The neck has to be thick because of the muscles required to hold the head up. For the head, we can follow what we did previously with the skull and add some big muscle indications towards the back of the jaw. 

05. Gesture

Simple and loose but communicates clearly

Now that we understand the most important parts of a horse, we can gesture a loose sketch. It's almost like a cave drawing here but you can see indications of the directions of the legs, the angle of the pelvis, the rib cage and midsection. The head and neck are strongly indicated and the position of the tail shows that the horse is in motion. The gesture sketch communicates the most vital information about your subject.

06. Sketch language

Good sketch language unifies your work over multiple sessions

Sketch language lets us take visual notes so that we can bring our work to finish later effectively. In this case, we want to indicate landmarks of where the bones influence the surface the most, such as the joints because this is where the indications of bones are clearest and lead into the muscular areas. We can use these indications to suggest the directions of the bones as well. 

07. Redrawing the horse in detail

Add stretch and compression to refine and show dynamics

Accurate landmarks in the sketch makes this job much easier. Look at every simplified line and see how more anatomical information can be added. Use straight lines for muscles that are stretched or taut with tension, and curved lines for parts that are softer or being compressed. Add subtleties to the muscles and detail to the horse’s features to give anatomy to the horse while still maintaining the original essence of the sketch. 

08. Subtle angles

Subtleties give drawings life

Perfect profile or head-on drawings can feel graphic and staged. Think about subtle angles: for example, the horse’s eyes and the position of its head is almost profile, but a hint of the other eye is visible adding more life as a result. Also, the positions of the front legs are subtly different from one another because otherwise they would feel very robotic. We vary the view of each back leg for this same reason.

09. Line weight

Much subtle information can be communicated through line weight

Line weight can communicate many things. We can use it to emphasize the size of the horse’s torso. Line weight can also separate one element from the other, like in the front legs. Areas where bones are indicated are harder, which gives them sharper shadows, which can be represented with stronger line weight. For more subtle lines such as muscle definition, draw a few thin lines side by side to indicate a softer line. 

10. Secondary action

Secondary actions provide context; our horse isn’t in a vacuum

Secondary actions such as hair blowing blowing wind add dynamics to our drawings. For action poses, these are even more important for showing motion. When showing secondary action, we must keep in mind things such as emphasizing shadow or separating different groups of hair with the appropriate line weight. Secondary action can also refer to different elements that are affected by the horse, like a cloud of dust that the horse kicks up as it gallops.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Bobby Chiu has been a professional artist for over twenty years, and is the founder and creative director at Imaginism Studios located in Toronto. He specializes in concept art and character design, and also teaches on Schoolism.com.