Looking at a horse can tell a lot of things, but now, researchers can tell even more. A study at the Queensland University of Technology looks at the link between size and shape measurements and certain hormone concentrations in ponies.1It is believed that ponies with more fat will suffer more ailments, including equine metabolic syndrome (EMS). 

Researchers measured 26 ponies for their body condition score (BCS), neck circumference, cresty neck score (CNS), girth circumference and height. After, researchers performed an oral glucose test and collected blood samples. In the blood samples, the presence of serum insulin, serum triglyceride, and plasma adiponectin concentrations were marked. Adiponectin is a protein hormone important for metabolizing fat; however, low levels are correlated with those with higher BCS, leading to inability to metabolize enough fat, resulting in insulin resistance. 

The 26 ponies were separated into three groups based on body weight (BCS ≤7 and CNS ≤2; 11 ponies); regional fat deposition (BCS ≤7 and CNS ≤3; 9 ponies), or obese (BCS ≥8; 6 ponies). In comparing the oral glucose test results with the morphometric measurements, the ponies with higher CNS scores positively correlated with postprandial serum insulin. However, BCS and girth and neck circumference did not correlate with the hormonal variables. 

Researchers discussed the findings, explaining that: “Ponies with regional adiposity, or fat pads, had greater insulin response to the oral glucose test than those ponies in ideal body weight, but obese ponies did not differ from those of ideal weight or regional adiposity.” Some areas of fat are not detrimental; however, if the horse is overall obese, problems can occur, including EMS. BCS is often used to predict endocrine dysfunction, but now researchers realize CNS might provide better results.

Early detection is important, but EMS can be avoided. “Diligent management can help keep easy keepers from becoming victims of EMS,” says Catherine Whitehouse, a nutrition advisor at Kentucky Equine Research. “At the top of the to-do list is the implementation of a diet that meets the nutritional requirements of the horses and ponies without offering too many calories. Moderation is key.” Starting with the ponies’ diet can prevent issues down the road, but exercise can also play a key role in prevention. Researchers believe that as little as 30 minutes of forced exercised per day can help keep EMS from developing.


Fitzgerald, D.M., M.N. Sillence, and M.A. De Laat. 2018. Morphometric measurements for identifying equine metabolic syndrome. In: Proc. Australasian Equine Science Symposium 7:29