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It's Spring, the grass is growing like crazy, and you are worrying about the probability of founder in your horse or pony... How can you tell if the animal is at risk or if an attack is coming?   One way is to have a series of blood tests pulled and checked for insulin and glucose, but that is expensive and unwieldy, to say nothing of the horse's opinion of all those needles in his neck!

What else can you do?   For some time we have known that the neck shape and feel of the crest of the horse is a good way to detect early warning signs.

Look out for a cresty neck developing, and if you see one take action. Restrict access to grazing either by putting the horse on a dry-lot or using a muzzle. If the horse normally has a cresty neck, palpate the crest each morning and evening. If the crest gets bigger or feels harder, then reduce access to grass. It is also a good idea to increase the horse's magnesium and chromium intake. Increase the Magnesium to 2g/100 lbs. body weight and the Chromium to 0.5mg per 100 lbs. body weight.

Once the crest decreases in size or hardness, you should reduce the Magnesium dose to 1g/100 lbs. body weight and Chromium to .25mg/100 lbs. body weight. Keep a close eye on the neck crest as that is your quickest and easiest barometer of the possibility of founder.

Horsemen and women have thought for some time that cresty necks are a warning of impending laminitis, but we never really knew for sure. It was often suggested that this was 'an old wives tale' or just a figment of our imaginations, however recent research by Virginia Tech on the pony herd in Middleburg, Virginia has given us some corroboration of that old wisdom.

In a number of studies, the researchers at VA Tech found that there were several blood parameters that were early indicators of the possibility of laminitis and founder. High insulin, high resistance to insulin (slower clearing of glucose from blood after administration of insulin), high triglycerides & high resting glucose were some of them.

However, in another study they found that several body characteristics correlated well with the blood parameters that most closely predicted the probability of the horse foundering. Most specifically, the basal level of glucose and insulin was most closely correlated with neck crest height. Neck crest adiposity, measured as a ratio of neck circumference to height (measured at mid neck), was correlated with Triglyceride and leptin levels. The neck crest adiposity was also associated with obesity.

There was a distinct difference between horses and ponies, and while the same generalizations help (fat, cresty necked ponies were more likely to founder), the ratios of neck thickness to height and other measurements were generally different for horses vs. ponies.

How can you assess at home how likely your horse or pony is to develop laminitis and founder?
The neck crest to will help you decide.

The researchers at VATech came up with the following scoring table:

0 = No Palpable crest
1 = Very slight palpable crest
2 = Can feel but not see a crest
3 = Beginning to mound
4 = Crest has perpendicular lines
5 = Crest droops to side.

A horse or pony with a score of 3 or more and a Body Condition score of 7 or more can be considered at risk of laminitis.
A horse with a neck score of 4 or more is at risk, even if the body score is as good as 5 or 6.

Click this link for help with the Hennecke Body Condition Score to decide what score your horse is.
So, watch those necks. If you see the horse or pony developing a crest, or if you can palpate a crest, it is time to take action! Reduce time on grass, cut out grain based feeds, and increase the Magnesium/Chromium in the diet.

While this isn't news to many of us, it is good to finally get some scientific validation of this observation.

Now is the time to keep an eye on those necks and make sure you have a good supply of Magnesium and Chromium on hand.


Yours truly,
Melyni Worth, Ph.D.


For further information, contact DR Melyni Worth at or call 540-942-4500.

Dr. Melyni Worth Ph.D. - 2009 (c)

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