Q:I have a 13-year-old Dartmoor pony stallion that I leased to a breeder a number of states away for the past two years. As a young/mature stallion he was quite well-muscled and stocky with a pronounced crest. When he was returned to me a month ago he was seriously underweight with significant muscle atrophy (wasting) from close confinement, severely wormy, and had tooth problems. The crest of his neck has become quite soft to the extent that it flops back and forth. He has begun to develop muscling on the underside of his neck. He has never foundered or been laminitic as far as I know; it appears to be either genetic or from malnourishment.

I have seen stallions with severely fallen crests, and the condition is unsightly and appears uncomfortable for the equine. While my pony's is not that bad, what would be your recommendation to arrest the progress? And, is there any way to remedy the matter, either surgically or otherwise? Would gelding him help the situation (i.e., diminish the testosterone)? Has there been any research completed on remediation for fallen crests that you could recommend to me and my veterinarian?

Libby Whitley Fulion, via e-mail

A: Unfortunately, I too was unable to find any research on broken or fallen crests, new or old. I would recommend first pursuing metabolic testing to rule out any metabolic cause for the condition such as hypothyroid, insulin resistance (a reduction in sensitivity to insulin that decreases the ability of glucose to be transported into the body's cells from the bloodstream), and pituitary pars intermedia dysfunction (equine Cushing's disease).

I doubt castrating him will make a big difference, as I have even seen this condition in a handful of mares. Extremely cresty necks or fallen crests are relatively common in the smaller breed horses such as Miniature Horses and many pony breeds that often have very arched, thick necks. From what little literature I could find on this condition it is often more associated with the animal being overweight, as the crest of the neck often can be a site for additional fat stores. It is likely when he left your care and lost weight that it became more noticeable. There are no surgeries I am aware of to resolve the condition. There is some talk that stretching work through the topline might help strengthen the musculature at the top of the neck and help reduce some of the lower neck musculature, but there was no research I could find to support this.

Unfortunately, fallen and broken crests are often linked with a genetic component (again, often seen in smaller horse breeds) and obesity. I would talk with your veterinarian about ruling out metabolic issues and pursue treatment should something show up on bloodwork. Aside from that I don't believe there is any "cure" for this condition.

About the Author

Kristen Slater, DVM

Kristen Slater, DVM, practices with Kasper & Rigby Veterinary Associates in Magnolia, Texas. Her practice interests include preventive medicine, reproduction, sports rehabilitation, and conditioning.

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