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Fantasy Art Tutorials in the FARP Section

Drawing Horses

By Suz


Allow me to introduce myself--my name is Suzanne Jessup. I have been drawing horses since I could first pick up a pencil. When I was younger, I was one of those starry eyed little girls that you always see gawking at horses in the fields and at horse shows. I bought my first horse when I was fourteen. That is when I began to really draw horses! Hopefully, through this tutorial, I can help you to draw horses as well!

I would like to add that none of the work on this site is available for clip art. =o) It is all original art work by myself, and is copyrighted to me. With that said, let us begin, shall we?

There are a lot of things you need to know before you can draw a believably realistic horse. You will need to know about a horse’s anatomy, how he moves, and how he acts. I am going to break this tutorial down into several steps for you. I also believe that it is fair to tell you that you will not be able to draw better horses right away. Believe it or not, practice makes perfect! In this spirit, this tutorial will give you homework. Hopefully, I can help you to draw better horses.


I am of the school of thought that you can not draw anything well unless you know how it is put together. Trust me, knowing anatomy really does help! I have only attempted an understanding of it recently, and I can already see where the knowledge has helped me to become better!

Understanding anatomy will help you to create a solid understanding of how a horse is put together, and it will help to give you a strong foundation to build your horses.

The following is a sketch I made of a basic equine skeleton. I found it very helpful to actually draw. That way, I remember where the bones are, which bones connect to which bones, and it helped to give me a better understanding of how a horse is built. I suggest drawing this a few times if you are serious about drawing realistic horses. It can only help =o).

Lets get a little more in depth and take a look at a horse’s muscles. Understanding the placement of the muscles will help your horse take on a more realistic look. Placing muscle definition correctly in your drawing will help give a more life-like touch to your horse. Good muscle placement also helps make action drawings more realistic and can help your drawing take on a sense of movement as opposed to a simple pose drawing.

Horses have very large muscle groups. They are very powerful, and sometimes complex. Muscles layer on top of one another as well, and thus create further muscle definition. To keep things simple, and because I am still learning, I have only included a basic sketch of muscle groups. I suggest sketching one or two of these as well. Familiarize yourself with muscle placement and become comfortable with it. This should be more than enough to help with definition and your understanding of function.

One of the biggest problems I see fellow artists make with their horses, is poor muscle definition in the front legs. I will admit that I too have difficulty with them. There are so many smaller muscles in the foreleg, that definition can become frustrating. It is also difficult when you do not understand where the bones lie under the muscle, or where the tendons are. This sketch should help. I also suggest that you make your own sketch of this. Like I said before, it can only help =o).


Over the centuries, men have developed hundreds of specialized breeds of the horse. We have bred the bulky and powerful draft horse to pull our carts, our plows, and to carry our knights and heroes. We have bred swift Thoroughbreds to race and jump. We have bred beautiful Arabians to drink the wind and dazzle our eyes. We have bred tiny gentle breeds of ponies to look after our children, and we have bred every breed and every size in between.

Each different breed of horse has been specialized for certain work. Large and gentle draft horses were bred hundreds of years ago as powerful and obedient steeds of war. They carried knights and heroes and, when they were not becoming heroes themselves, draft horses helped us to develop our land.

Draft horses are usually significantly heavier in appearance than most other breeds of horse. Even the bones of draft horses are larger than the bones of the lighter breeds. Draft horses’ necks are thicker, their backs often appear shorter, and they can be much taller than most other breeds. It is not uncommon for a draft horse to be so tall that the head of his master is level with the horse’s shoulder. Their manes are usually thick and often appear almost curly. Draft horses’ tails are often bobbed and the hair is often kept cut short. This way, their tails do not become entwined in harnesses or riggings.

The quarter horse is a favorite of America’s cowboys. They are named such because of their endurance. It is said that a quarter horse has excellent speed and endurance, but only for a quarter of a mile =o). They have tremendous endurance, especially for long journeys. They would, no doubt, be an excellent choice of steed for a long quest. Their hind ends are usually very muscular and therefor, very powerful. Of all breeds of horse, the quarter horse is one of the fastest accelerating runners. They maneuver quickly and gracefully and, as a general rule, are sturdy and surefooted.

The Arabian is perhaps one of the oldest and most beautiful of all of the breeds of horses. Arabians originated in the desert, and have great endurance. Although they are not the fastest breed, Arabians are often the favorites of riders who compete in grueling endurance races. Arabians earn the name "drinkers of the wind" because of their nostrils. If you were to compare the breeds, you might find that when working, the Arabian will flare its nostrils wide and take in great gulps of air. They also have larger, well-shaped ears, bigger eyes, a "dished face," tapered muzzle, and a more delicate appearances. Arabians are said to be very loyal. It has also been said that their masters treasure them greatly, and in the desert, it is not unheard of for an Arabian to share a tent with his master.


Most horses have four simple gaits: the walk, trot, canter, and the gallop. Some specialized breeds of horses have special gates, but we will not deal with that here. It is a good idea to keep in mind where a horse’s legs are going to be positioned for each gait. This way, if you desire to draw a walking horse, you will not accidentally draw one that has decided to amble on at a brisk trot! =o)





Horses also have a wide variety of other movements. Horses rear, jump, backup, they move side ways and diagonally, they buck, they frolic, and they like to goof off just like we do. Horses can also be quite playful, graceful, reluctant, bored, uninterested, uncooperative, afraid, and upset; their movement reflects that.


The best thing that I can tell you to do now is to spend as much time as you can observing horses in their environments. You will see how they interact, get a good feel for their movement, and you will pick up a lot about their behavior and expressions that I could never teach you. For those of you who are not fortunate enough to have access to a horse, I suggest going to your local library. There are several books there that will help you to gain a better understanding of horses. May I suggest: The Noble Horse, The Encyclopedia of the Horse, and The Ultimate Horse Book. These books are excellent references.

If you have done your homework, chances are, you have built a solid foundation for drawing horses and all of this will come to you. If you haven’t taken the time to understand a horse’s anatomy, I am afraid the following sections may not help you much. I can not say it often enough: understanding anatomy is crucial to drawing believably realistic horses!


I would like to point out that the lessons that follow are aimed at those who already have some drawing skills. I trust that you already know a little bit about basic sketches and the like, so I will not go into too much depth about it. I suggest reading the FARP article on drawing and sketching if you are a beginner. I would also like to take this opportunity to state that I have never received lessons of any sort and I may not be up on the terminology behind technique, so I beg that you bear with me!

Hopefully, you are a little more comfortable with a horse’s anatomy by now, and you know what kind of horse you need for the job, so please, allow me to help you put that brave steed on your paper?

We will start with the head. This is the part of the horse that will give your drawing the most character. As I said before, anatomy is priceless! In the spirit of this statement, I feel the need to share a few more bones with you--specifically, the horse’s skull. I suggest you draw this on your own as well. It can only help!

Pay attention to where the eye sockets are. Notice that the teeth meet at an angle, not parallel like people teeth. Please pay attention to the fact that the horse’s jawbone starts under the ear and extends (in one solid and unbendable piece) to the teeth and chin. A horse’s head is a lot of bone, and it appears harder in the areas of the skull. A horse’s head softens where it is fleshiest (this applies to the body as well). The nostrils, lips, and chin are the softest areas on the horse’s face. They are entirely moveable and are more than capable of expression—(we will save expression for a later, more advanced lesson).

Now, lets get some ponies on your paper, shall we?

Horses are fairly round creatures. You can get away with sketching a pretty good horse with only circles and ovals. That is how I always start. I like to sketch out a basic form. It gives me a foundation with which to work.


Step 1 In looking at a horse’s head from the side; you will notice that the cheek and muzzle are both fairly round parts of the horse’s face. I start with these. First, I sketch the circle that will become the cheek. I will then decide what angle I would like the horse’s head to be at. Do I want his nose high in the air? Do I want it tucked gracefully at his chest? After I have decided, I will sketch the muzzle-circle. The size of the muzzle circle should be smaller than the cheek by about half. How small exactly will depend on the breed of horse you want. In this case, I am drawing an Arabian, so the muzzle is smaller than it would be for a heavier breed of horse. Connect the muzzle and the cheek with what will become the jaw line and the forehead. Pencil in the curve of the neck and position your ears. I like to suggest the eyes with a small oval. The eyes are usually approximately 1/3 of the length of the horse’s head from its ears to its nose. Now, take a look. Are you satisfied with it so far? This is the basic outline your horse will take. If you want to change it, do it now, while it is still easy!

Step 2 From this point, I put a little more and more detail into my horse’s face. I do it a little at a time, and I start with simple suggestions. This way, they are easier to change, and they will become like guidelines for me when I complete the line sketch. I like to suggest the nostril, the cheekbone, and the line of the mouth lightly. By now, you should have a pretty good idea of what your horse will look like. Are you still satisfied? If you aren’t, change it. I have noticed that if I am not satisfied with a drawing in its earliest stages, I will not be satisfied when it is complete! Also, I have also noticed that most of the faux pas are committed in the earliest stages: eye placement, mouth size and placement, nostrils, ears, etc.

Step 3 If you are satisfied with your basic sketch so far, then it is time to bring your horse a bit more life. It is time for more detail. This is when I add muscle definition, hair, and all of the defining lines that bring character. If you look carefully, and remember you anatomy, you will notice that the parts of the horse’s face that are not fleshy still greatly resemble the horse’s skull. Notice the definition around the eyes, the bridge of the nose and the jaw. This is our foundation showing through.

Step 4 It is time for the final breath of life! =o) This is another area of the drawing where we will use our knowledge of anatomy. Because the horse’s head is built on his skull, and his muscle built on that, his outside body has the same shape. We know where his muscles are, so we can define them with shading. We know how his skull is shaped, so we can give his harder forehead a realistically solid look. Hopefully, now you see why I urge you to learn anatomy! Once you learn anatomy, everything else is cake!


Drawing the head from the front is a more complex angle to learn. It is an angle that many, many artists have trouble with (including myself). Nevertheless, I hope that I can help you to draw this angle.

Step 1 I usually start the front view off with a square oval. This is the shape that represents to me the horse’s jaw. I then add a smaller squared oval to represent the horse’s muzzle. With those in place, I draw a guideline for the horse’s eyes: this should be 1/3 the ways down the "jaw." With the eye line in place, I draw the circle that will become the horse’s forehead and I pencil in the basic placement and shape of the ears.

Step 2 I begin to solidify my lines. I will suggest the horse’s eyes at the sides of his face. I will use ovals to represent nostrils, and I will give more shape to the head and to the ears. I also like to draw lines from the corner of each eye to between the nostrils and from the corner of ear eye to almost the center of the horse’s forehead. The diamond shape that results will give you the area of the horse’s face that will be like a flat plane and will require the least amount of detail.

Step 3 When I am satisfied with my outline, I begin to add my detail. Things begin to take shape now. This horse has been working hard: I gave him flared nostrils. He is also quite alert: his ears are both pointed forward. He looks animated and interested. He is ready for finishing touches.

Step 4 I gave this horse a nice blaze on his face (the white area). I think markings like that give a horse a lot of character. Notice though, that in the "diamond" I showed you earlier, there is little need for detail? This is the plane on his face. It is a hard area (skin on bone). Notice also that the horse’s eyes are at the sides of his head, not at the front, and his ears have a good space between them. I think we are ready to move on! =o)


As I told you before, the horse has a lot of round areas. We can suggest a lot of him with circles and ovals. This applies to his body as well as his head. Starting with circles also gives the finished horse a soft "live" look.

Step 1 I like to start with the part of the horse’s body that will be closest to me. Because this horse is facing us, I started on his chest and worked from there. I suggested each half of his chest with its own oval. I also suggested where his neck would meet his chest and went up from there to his neck and head. I then placed an oval to suggest the horse’s barrel (belly) and an oval for his hind end. When I had the bulk of his body penciled in, I then felt comfortable enough to go for leg placement. I wanted a relaxed look, so I spaced his front legs a bit. I suggest the knees and ankles first then fill in the leg with ovals. When you have the entire basic outline, take a step back and look at it. Remember that most people goof up in the first few steps of the drawing. Remember too, that if you are not satisfied now, chances are, you will not be satisfied later. Feel free to play with leg placement and head placement. Don’t be afraid of your eraser. This is a loose sketch. There is nothing permanent about it…. yet. =o)

Step 2 I move fairly quickly from step to step because I have been doing this for years. You may choose to take your time. Either way, you will work towards this: a less basic sketch of what your completed horse will look like, complete with a little bit of character. In this step, I simply give outline to a form that already existed. I begin to suggest muscles and the facial expression. I also add a little hair, and sometimes, I will start to play with background (but not today). This is also a loose sketch so far. Nothing is permanent. Feel free to work with it. Play with your horse. Get the feel of him. Do you like how he looks? If not, change him! =o)

Step 3 This is where we get to refine the animal. I look at where I want my light source and lightly play with shadow. I also refine all of the lines. I give him more detail. He has better muscle definition now. At this point, if you do not like him, you may as well start over, because shading him in might only frustrate you. You could always go back to step 2. The steps are not in stone. You are still free to play here. Maybe move a leg. Maybe his head is in the wrong place. You might think his neck is too long. It is still not too late to play.

Step 4 This is it! Are you ready to have a pony? Because like it or not, you got one! =o) Muscle definition should be soft when a horse is relaxed like this. There is no real need for harsh lines here. The shading should be blended softly on cloudy days like this….The highlights and shadows on a horse’s body are more than difficult to explain. However, it you were to look back at your anatomy, you might recognize that the horse has kept the basic form of the skeleton and the definition that we saw in the muscled area. Understanding this and your light source will help you to shade the animal realistically. Body shots from the front like this are difficult because complete anatomical references are difficult to find, and the muscles of the chest are layered and complex. Your best bet is to look at a horse. Feel his chest, and watch it as he moves.

I put the following sketches in the tutorial to give you an idea of proportion and perspectives. Several people have asked to see horses from different angles, and so I offer you these: Try drawing them =o)

I suggest that you draw many horses in many different poses to get a feel for them. Do not worry at first if they are not perfect. Time and a lot of practice is the only effective teacher. I like to go out to a field full of horses with my sketchpad and draw them as they graze and interact. You might like to draw pictures from books or magazines as well. Either way, practice makes perfect, and no one is perfect, so keep practicing! =o)



Horses are the foundation for several mythological creatures. I could never draw them all, but I thought you might take interest in a few.

I know that the traditional unicorn is not a horse with a horn, but I am fond of the interpretation. The horned horses are more powerful to me than the deer-like creature they are rumored to really be, so I offer you these:

I know also, that horses love their mistresses, so I offer you this:

And then, there are the creatures that are part horse. We have the Hippocampus, Seahorses, Pegasus, centaur, and many, many others. With this in mind, I offer you these:

And now we have come to the end. I do not believe that I have much more than this to offer you for now. .I am still learning a lot about art and about drawing horses. I will, as soon as I am comfortable doing so, author a more advanced article as a supplement to this one. I hope to be able to master expression and action. When I do, I will share with you what I have learned. Until then, good luck. I hope I have been able to help you!

Book recommendations
   Draw Horses With Sam Savitt
For those who are studing horse to artist form to motion the horse...
[More info!]

   Draw 50 Horses
Arabians, Pintos, Morgans and Clydesdales: jumping, bucking, rearing, grazing and kicking -- all are in this collection of 50 drawings.
[More info!]

In association with Amazon.com

FARP Article Guestbook

17 Jul 2009:-) Chelsea L Pennelly
So helpful! Thank you very much!
30 Aug 2009:-) Jessica Kathryn McGee
I just wanted to say you do wonderful work! I love how you have layed out the lessons. I got a lot out of it!
14 Feb 2010:-) Daniela Black Phoenix Irimiash
*thumbs up* Good tutorial! 1 Very useful! 12
25 Mar 2010:-) Sgt Josh Hooper
Thanks mate. This should really help out my drawings. ^^
8 Jul 2010:-) Marieka I Welke
Thanks! This might actually be the first tutorial that will help me! thanks again!
29 Nov 2010:-) Trish dayah
This is so amazing I can draw horses way better now sometimes I can draw it all by myself.

Thank you
27 Mar 2011:-) Darya Dasha Sen
Dear Suzanne! Thank you very much for the horse drawing guide! My husband adores horses, and I decided to make a surprize for him - to draw a picture of a horse and give him as a birthday present. I must confess I have never ever learnt drawing professionally, so before drawing the picture I am trying to practise as much as possible. I followed your recommendations and made several pictures of horses. I wonder, if it is not too much trouble for you, could I send them for you to have a look and to express your honest opinion of them? Thank you in advance!!!
23 Jul 2011:-) Louise Berry
Thanks so much! I am around horses all the time so I can see how realistic they are 1 I have a welsh pony, a newforest pony, & a little connemara x irish mare - I love them all! Your arabian is really realistic too - reminds me of my friend’s horse, Dipsy!
Thanks again,
24 Aug 2011:-) Alice Flamethrower
25 Apr 2012:-) Lesley Barlow
Thank you so much for sharing this - & for the recommendation of Sam Savitt book which i have now bought & find it very impressive & helpful 2
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