Why Does My Horse Have a Cresty Neck & What Can I Do About It?

Why does my horse have a cresty neck? 

This question may concern you as a horse owner if you have noticed your equine displaying an overabundance of fat along the neckline. 

If your horse has developed a cresty neck, it's natural to be worried. A cresty neck is not just a cosmetic issue; it could point towards an equine metabolic disorder. It can also be a sign of underlying health problems and might indicate the potential of developing debilitating diseases. 

Therefore, it becomes essential for you to understand why your horse has a cresty neck and what you can do to help manage the same. 

What is a Cresty Neck in Horses?

Cresty neck in horses - causes and solutions

A cresty neck in horses refers to the abnormal accumulation of fat and tissue along the upper neck, creating a pronounced crest-like appearance along the neckline of your equine. This condition can affect horses of any breed.

Ideally, the crest that is located just behind the mane should have a smooth and slightly arched profile. The crest becomes a concern when it turns excessively thick and firm, as this would indicate an unhealthy accumulation of fat rather than a healthy build-up of muscles. 

Why Does My Horse Have a Cresty Neck?

If you have begun to notice an unusual cresty neck in your equine, it could be due to a combination of different factors. 

Some of the reasons that could answer your question, "Why does my horse have a cresty neck?" are: 

Diet & Nutrition

While we all love our horses a lot and can't resist slipping them sugar cubes and other treats, it is important to note that, just like human beings, an imbalanced or high-calorie diet can harm your equine friend. 

A diet rich in carbohydrates and sugars can lead to an unhealthy accumulation of fat deposits in your horse, including in the neck. 

Lack of Exercise

If you have begun wondering, "Why does my horse have a cresty neck?" it could be because your equine has not been getting enough regular exercise. 

Regular exercise can help maintain your horse's muscle tone and metabolic health by preventing excess fat build-up. Equines that do not enjoy routine exercise are more prone to weight gain and fat deposits in the neck area. 

Insulin Resistance

Insulin resistance could be another reason your horse has begun showing signs of a cresty neck. Because your horse's body cells become less responsive to insulin, it eventually leads to an increase in blood insulin levels and promotes fat storage, particularly in the crest of the neck. 


Older horses can become more prone to developing a cresty neck due to the various metabolic changes they begin to experience as they age. Aged horses also tend to exercise less regularly, leading to a loss of muscle tone and the development of a cresty neck. 

What are the Major Signs & Symptoms of a Cresty Neck in Horses?

Cresty neck in horses - Major Symptoms

  • Visible Fat Deposits: You will be able to see the presence of excess fat along the top of the neck, typically just behind the mane.
  • Hard Crest: The crest may feel firm or hard to the touch rather than having a normal, soft muscle feel. 
  • Pronounced Arch: The crest of your horse's neck will seem more arched and prominent than the normal, smooth profile. 
  • Difficulty Feeling the Neck Vertebrae: You may find it challenging to feel the individual vertebrae along the top of your horse's neck. This may be due to the unusual thickness of the fat layer. 
  • Resistance to Neck Flexing: Your equine may resist flexing their neck, particularly during exercises that involve turning the neck and bending. 
  • Changes in Body Condition Score: If your horse has a cresty neck, it is highly likely that their overall body condition score reflects the excess body fat.

How to Diagnose a Cresty Neck in Horses

Diagnose a Cresty Neck in Horses

Do a Thorough Visual Assessment

Examine your horse's neck and look for any excess fat accumulation along the top of the neck, just behind the equine's mane. A cresty neck will appear more pronounced and have a firm or hard feel. 

Observe the mane position. If your horse's mane is leaning to one side or standing up, it could indicate fat deposits in the neck crest. 

Feel the Crest

You can easily determine whether your horse has a cresty neck by feeling the crest with your hands. A cresty neck in a horse feels thicker and firmer than a regular equine muscle structure. 

Use the Cresty Neck Scoring System

Cresty Neck Scoring (CNS) is a system that researchers have developed to measure the crest fat in a horse's neck. This scoring system was introduced by Dr. Carter in  2009 and can be a highly practical method of assessing a cresty neck in your horse.

Visual aid depicting a horse's cresty neck, a common concern among horse owners.

Reference: Carter, 2009 Evaluate Overall Body Condition

Assess your horse's overall body condition using Body Condition Scoring (BCS), which can help you determine your equine's total body fat. A cresty neck is often accompanied by an overall higher body condition score due to excess body fat. 

Consult with a Veterinarian

Consult with a veterinarian as additional bloodwork may be necessary to determine glucose and insulin levels as well as if there are any underlying metabolic health concerns. 

The Link Between a Horse's Cresty Neck and Their Metabolic Health

Equine obesity - identifying cresty neck symptoms

Your horse's cresty neck is a major visible indicator of underlying metabolic issues. There have been well-established links between metabolic disorders and a cresty neck in horses. 

Metabolic disorders in equines, such as Equine Metabolic Syndrome (EMS) and insulin resistance, indicate an inability on the horse's part to respond to insulin. This ultimately leads to elevated insulin levels in the bloodstream. The association between a cresty neck, fatty deposits and metabolic disorders goes beyond cosmetic concerns, as it significantly raises the risk of severe health complications. 

Metabolic Health Concerns

As mentioned above, there is a prominent connection between your horse's crest neck and their insulin resistance. Insulin resistance starts when your equine's cells lose the ability to become adequately responsive to insulin. This leads to the development of a cresty neck. 

Most experts also consider a cresty neck in horses to be a visible reminder of Equine Metabolic Syndrome. Horses suffering from this syndrome are more likely to be obese, face insulin resistance, and face an impact on their overall metabolic health. A combination of these conditions can ultimately lead to systemic health issues beyond the neck.

Risk of Laminitis

Your horse's cresty neck is also an indication that they are at higher risk of developing laminitis. Laminitis refers to the painful inflammation of the laminae in your equine's hoof, potentially leading to lameness or permanent damage.

Chronic Inflammation

Unhealthy and excessive fat deposits can contribute to your horse's low-grade inflammatory state. Chronic inflammation has been associated with multiple equine health issues, including a compromised immune system and joint issues. 

Cardiovascular Strain

The Body Condition Scoring system lists cresty neck as a sign of obesity in horses. Obesity and metabolic disorders can lead to excessive strain on the cardiovascular system and lead to a risk of conditions such as hypertension and heart disease in horses. 

Limited Performance Potential

Metabolic health issues can have an adverse effect on your horse's performance and energy level, having a severe impact on their overall performance potential. Horses with compromised metabolic health tend to struggle more with exercise, impacting their ability to engage in physical activities. 

Reduced Lifespan & Quality of Life

Horses whose cresty neck issues and metabolic health problems go unaddressed may be at risk of a significantly reduced lifespan. Pain and discomfort associated with health conditions like laminitis or EMS can also have an adverse impact on the equine's overall quality of life.

Keys to Maintaining Proper Metabolic Health in Horses

A healthy metabolic system in your horse can play a huge role in reducing the risks of your equine suffering from a cresty neck. You can consider adding supplements containing magnesium and chromium to help promote a healthy metabolism. 

Research has shown that the following ingredients can help provide support to a horse's healthy metabolic function:


  • Helps in insulin regulation and improves the effectiveness of insulin in managing blood glucose levels. 
  • Essential for muscle function and overall mobility, which can help manage weight and metabolic health. 
  • Helps lower inflammation. 


  • Helps in maintaining insulin sensitivity and enables body cells to better respond to glucose uptake. 
  • Allows efficient glucose metabolism and promotes the efficient utilization of glucose for energy. 
  • Supports healthy body weight in horses prone to obesity and cresty necks. 

It is important to get in touch with a vet or a professional equine nutritionist to establish an optimal nutrition plan for your horse. Do make sure to review and update your plans to account for changes in your equine's nutrition, exercise, health, and other factors.

Top Tips on How to Manage a Cresty Neck in Horses

The key to managing a cresty neck in your horse is consistency and careful attention to the equine's diet, overall health, and exercise. Once you understand the holistic approach you need to take to help your horse with their cresty neck, you should be able to manage this condition efficiently.

Here is our list of the top tips on how to manage a cresty neck in horses. 

Balanced Diet

Choose a diet for your horse that is low in sugar and starch to prevent insulin resistance and fat deposition. Always pick good quality forage (hay or pasture) as your horse's primary source of nutrition to maintain a healthy weight.

Supervised Feeding

Monitoring the type and amount of feed your horse receives is extremely important. Do your best to restrict access to high-calorie feeds that are rich in sugar and carbohydrates. 

Weight Management

Make it a priority to assess your horse's body condition using the Body Condition Scoring system. You can make adjustments to the horse's exercise and diet accordingly.

Regular Exercise

A regular exercise routine will help your horse burn calories, support their insulin sensitivity, and promote their overall well-being. 

Feed Supplements

Consult with your vet about providing your horse with magnesium and chromium supplements. These minerals can help support insulin sensitivity and glucose metabolism. 

Note: Individual horse needs vary, and supplementation should always be tailored to the horse's specific requirements. 

Veterinary Monitoring

Make it a point to schedule regular veterinary check-ups that can help you monitor your horse's overall health and give you an idea of your management plan for them. If you suspect any metabolic issues and wonder, "Why does my horse have a cresty neck?" you can work with your bet to conduct blood tests to help assess insulin levels and other metabolic markers. 

Educate Yourself

Above all, educate yourself about different metabolic conditions in horses. Understanding any underlying factors can help you adopt better management practices and prevent your horse from suffering from metabolic disorders.


The answer to the question "Why does my horse have a cresty neck?" can be attributed to various factors, with metabolic issues being one of the most common underlying causes. Understanding the link between a cresty neck and metabolic disorders is essential for horse owners. 

A cresty neck in horses is a sign that should not be ignored. It's important to understand the underlying causes and take steps to manage them effectively. Work closely with a veterinarian to determine the specific cause of your horse's cresty neck. The vet can perform a thorough examination, conduct diagnostic tests, and provide guidance on managing the condition, especially if it is linked to metabolic disorders like insulin resistance or equine metabolic syndrome.

Early detection and intervention can contribute to better outcomes for the horse's health in managing a cresty neck and any associated metabolic health issues. 

Keep your horse's metabolism in reign to prevent "cresty" surprises!