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September 29, 2020 - A Crested Neck Often an Indication of Underlying Health Issues
Equine Metabolic Syndrome (EMS) is usually the diagnosis

Overweight horses and ponies tend to develop fatty tissue deposits along their body that when left unaddressed, may evolve into a condition known as Equine Metabolic Syndrome (EMS).

EMS includes a range of metabolic derangements and endocrinopathies with clinical signs that include obesity, regional adiposity (fatty deposits), insulin resistance and laminitis.

The start of EMS is not specific, but the cause is usually diet related combined with a genetic predisposition that tends to appear most frequently in middle-aged "easy keeper” type horses. 

A crested neck has proven to be a good indicator of metabolic issues that can be measured by the thickness of cresting. The cresty neck score (CNS) ranges from 0 to 5, with 0 indicating no cresting and 5 applied when the crest is so thickened and enlarged that it has shifted permanently to one side. 

Many horses with crested necks are susceptible to low-grade inflammation of the laminae within the hoof capsule resulting in them being stiff gated or tender footed. If left unchecked horses will experience a decline in hoof quality and functionality leading to permanent lameness.

Following ten years of study, a recent breakthrough at the Queensland University of Technology (QUT) in Australia was the discovery of what causes laminitis in ponies. When ponies overeat on energy rich pasture or grains, which release a lot of glucose, the pancreas pumps out even more insulin in an attempt to balance bodily sugars.

It was found that toxic levels of insulin break down the connective tissue in the ponies’ feet causing lameness. The research team further discovered that a drug developed to treat metabolic syndrome in humans could prevent laminitis in equines.

Velagliflozin belongs to a family of drugs developed by the pharmaceutical company Boehringer Ingelheim. Velaglifozin works by causing the kidneys to excrete more glucose into the urine, thus reducing pressure on the pancreas and lowering insulin levels.

Clinical trials of Velaglifozin are currently running on farms in Europe and when there are enough cases to prove its efficacy and safety before being approval by the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority’s (APVMA).   
In the meantime, once horse owners become aware of the significance of cresting it can be used as a valuable management tool to monitor health issues like laminitis. A noticeable hardening of the crest tissue has been found to coincide with the onset of a laminitic episode. 

The foam like structure of the adipose tissue in the crest is very sensitive to electrolyte and water fluctuations in the horse’s body. As the tissue takes up water it becomes harder, resulting in a subtle electrolyte imbalance.

Electrolytes are minerals dissolved in bodily fluids that can be directly influenced by the content of the horse’s feed intake, particularly on pasture. When electrolyte imbalances are corrected excess fluid returns to the body and the crest softens.

Pasture related laminitis is a much bigger story than the traditional belief about high sugars in spring grasses and fall regrowth. Pasture mineral profiles are subject to a wide variety of influences, in particular weather, which drives growth. Mineral profiles can change daily and directly affect the horses own mineral and electrolyte profiles.

Aside from CNS, a diagnosis for EMS requires a physical exam and laboratory tests. Cushing’s disease and hypothyroidism have similar symptoms to EMS so testing must be done to rule out these disorders. 

An examination for laminitis would look for abnormal hoof growth, dropped soles, separation of the hoof wall and unusual growth lines.

Glucose tolerance testing would include an administration of glucose to measure insulin and glucose response levels. High glucose and insulin levels would be a good indicator of EMS.

Dealing with the symptoms of EMS can be challenging and expensive for the caring horse owner, particularly when the expectation is to continue using the horse, whether for performance, work, or pleasure. 

Though there is no cure, corrective shoeing, oral medication, cryotherapy (icing) and long acting shots can help relieve the discomfort. At some point however, the process becomes a balancing act between cost and the continued wellbeing of the horse.

Short term management of affected horses should involve immediate removal from pasture to a strict hay diet while ensuring the availability of mineral and salt supplements. 

The crested horse should be considered with a wary eye as it is almost always a harbinger of metabolic problems and a high-risk factor for laminitis.


Coming Events

"FREE” Cattle Market Update: October 15that 1:30 p.m. Clearwater County’s annual Cattleman’s Day has been revised due to COVID-19. In lieu of a public event Agriculture and Community Services will be hosting Anne Wasko with a cattle market update.  The presentation will be in a webinar format accessible to both computer and mobile devices. To register call 403-846-4040 or email

Caring for my Land ProgramDo you have any watershed friendly projects in mind? Projects that help protect surface water will be considered, some examples include planting trees as a buffer, riparian fencing, beaver co-existence structures, watering livestock away from a creek or slough or seeding deep-rooted perennial grasses in an erosion prone area. The Caring for my Land program offers 50-50 cost shared funding – for up to $5,000 – through Alberta Environments and Parks "Watershed Resiliency and Restoration Program.” Call Agriculture and Community Services at 403-846-4040 for more details.

Mental Health Webinar: Its Okay to not be Okay: Stress on the Farm: Big Lakes County, Alberta Health Services and Tough Enough to Talk About it are partnering together to offer a free webinar to Alberta producers. The webinar aims to help producers recognize and cope with mental health concerns. Participation is anonymous. Join the webinar from your computer, tablet, or smartphone at or you can dial in using your phone +1 (647)497-9391, access code: 124-586-853.
Bats in your Backyard Virtual Workshop: October 7th from 7 – 8 pm virtually through Zoom. Hosted by Clearwater County and presented by Provincial Bat Specialist Lisa Wilkinson with Alberta Environment and Parks. To pre-register

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