Cresty necks long have been considered a harbinger of equine metabolic problems, including a risk factor for laminitis. New research1 casts a shadow on this long-held belief, suggesting fat that accumulates along the crest vastly differs from fat stored in other parts of a horse's body.

University of Bristol researchers examined approximately 100 grazing horses at the end of winter and at the end of summer and assigned each a cresty neck score (CNS) of 0 (no sign of a crest) to 5 (a crest so large it flops to one side, also known as a “fallen crest”).

Researchers compared the scores and found that scores dropped in the summer and increased in the winter. At the same time, general fat distribution followed a more typical seasonal response. They were higher at the end of summer, when forage had been plentiful. They were lower at the end of winter, when natural forage had been scarce.

The physiological function of crest fat might be different than once thought, the researchers believe. Rather than mirroring body-wide accumulation, the crest might act as a repository for long-term fat storage, thus it's immune to food availability changes. Another possibility involves the sensitivity of the CNS method, which might not be precise enough to measure seasonal fluctuations, researchers say.

1 Giles, S.L., C.J. Nichol, S.A. Rands, and P.A. Harris. 2015. Assessing the seasonal prevalence and risk factors for nuchal crest adiposity in domestic horses and ponies using cresty neck score. BMC Veterinary Research 11:13.

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