Regional fat accumulation is linked to a variety of health conditions, such as diabetes, in humans. Similarly, nuchal crest adiposity—fat deposition along the crest of the neck, or the so-called “cresty neck”—is associated with an increased risk of insulin resistance and other metabolic disorders in horses.

In 2009 Rebecca Carter and colleagues at Virginia Tech developed the “cresty neck score,” or CNS, which veterinarians and scientists use to determine neck crest adiposity. Previous studies have linked laminitis risk to neck crest adiposity, but can the CNS be used to determine a horse or pony’s risk of metabolic disorders? That’s what a team from the University of Bristol, in the United Kingdom, set out to determine.

Sarah L. Giles, PhD, and colleagues randomly selected 96 leisure horses and ponies living in a herd environment on pasture for at least six hours per day. The researchers asked the owners in two separate seasonal questionnaires to divulge general information about their horses and ponies, including turnout management, blanketing, dental history, and daily feed and exercise routines. A single observer measured the horses’ and ponies’ CNS at two time periods: once between February 5 and March 24 and once between July 20 and September 1. The team used a CNS of three or higher (on a 0 to 5 scale, in which 0 indicates no crest) to define whether a horse or pony had a cresty neck and then sought to identify risk factors associated with nuchal crest adiposity.

The team found that about 46% of horses and ponies had a cresty neck at the end of winter versus 33% at the end of summer.