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Fallen Crest
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interested1
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 Posted: Thu Jan 13th, 2011 12:20 am
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I have just joined ESI in my search for answers.  I have a 15 yo Andalusian stallion who many years before I got him has suffered a very bad fallen crest, I believe from massive weightloss.  It does improve slightly with work and I realise it will never stand straight again, but being the wonderful horse he is, we still cover the occasional mare, (I have been advised not to put him over purebred mares so use him over other breeds).  We have bred some nice foals, no fallen crests, and I was wondering if it is caused through just weightloss, and if it is not a genetic fault, what is the risk if he was used to cover a purebred mare of the offspring having a fallen crest?

DrDeb
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 Posted: Thu Jan 13th, 2011 07:35 am
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Dear Interested: Welcome to the Forum. I have to apologize right off the bat, because, having just checked our members' log, I fear that our automatic "spam" deleter has mistaken you for a spammer and bumped your registration. If you will be so kind as to simply register one more time, I have altered the settings so that you should have no further problem.

As to your query: a horse's "crest" is made of fibro-fatty tissue similar in texture to the foam wedge found in a nurse's shoe -- like high-density foam. Like foam, the crest tissue can take up water like a sponge; but it can also fracture like HD foam. There is thus an important difference between a "fallen" crest and a "broken" crest.

When a horse's crest "falls", this can indeed be due to weight loss, but more importantly, it is due to the loss of water held within the crest tissue. This is not a bad thing, but a good thing; for a crest that is made hard by the retention of water is nothing other than edematous -- and when the crest swells with edema, other parts of the horse's body -- especially the hoofs -- are liable to be in trouble, too. People who own breeds of horse, including anything with Iberian background, should be more alert than anyone else, although everyone needs to pay attention to this sign: that just before a horse has a bout of laminitis, and equally just before he ties up, you will find that the crest stands up firm and hard. If anyone owns a cresty breed, they should monitor the crest every time they see the horse, and if there is a trend toward the crest getting firmer than the soft, spongy feel which is normal, then they should speak to their veterinarian about administering an electrolyte solution containing both table salt and magnesium, which will often stop an attack in its tracks.

It is very important for cresty breeds to have their mineralized salt block available at all times, and never forget to replace the block when the animal has licked it down to a nubbin. Equally, if there is any history of founder/laminitis for the individual horse, the owner should consider dry-lotting the animal and feeding a controlled diet. All hay should be soaked for at least half an hour before feeding, and the animal absolutely must never be permitted access to green, growing grass (i.e. grass that's either been rained on or irrigated 2 to 24 hours before).

A "broken" crest is one, by contrast, that has had its fabric torn. Whereas a crest that has merely fallen will flop over to one side, a broken crest will seem to be in "chunks" or sections. This is much more rare than the crest that is merely fallen to one side.

As to the heritability of either a broken or fallen crest, I have heard this question or belief before and find it rather silly -- verging on the primitive in fact. Injuries are not inheritable, and a broken crest is an injury. A crest on an Iberian-bred stallion, or indeed on a Draft stallion or a Morgan or a Welsh Pony, can be pretty high by nature, and the higher the crest's shape, the more likely it will be to fall over when it "deflates" -- in other words, when the horse is at a healthy weight and is not retaining water dangerously. So if you have a fear that your horse will pass on a crest that has a high shape, then yes indeed, this is inheritable. But really, why would anyone mind?

As a horse ages, all its connective tissue becomes less elastic, whether that which forms the digital cushions or the mesenteries of the intestines or the tendons and ligaments that invest the legs. The "fibrous" part of the fibro-fatty crest is connective tissue -- indeed, this is the component composing most of the crest. For this reason also, the crest, no matter its height, is liable to fall over after the horse reaches age eight or so.

This query to me is a great example of how ignorance can come to play a big economic role in the horse industry. First, because you can certainly cause a stallion's crest to stand up more erect by feeding him until he's obese: and obese, you understand, has become the norm for halter competition in all breeds. A horse of normal weight is rarely seen in any halter class. How healthy is this?! Is this the way you want your horse to live, and is it the way YOU want to treat him?

Second, because of some kind of primitive idea that a crest that falls over to one side would be "passed on" to foals, what might really be a good stallion may not be permitted to pass his genes on to mares of the same breed.

Third, because you yourself did not know to simply laugh in the face of anyone suggesting this to you, it's possible that you're being victimized in a different way -- which is, that your horse really isn't of breeding quality, and some "authority" has told you not to breed him very much, ostensibly because of the crest, but really because they're reluctant to tell you the truth, which is that you should have the animal gelded.

I don't know that this is the truth, of course, but you need to consider all three possibilities. Whatever may be the case, certainly the horse's crest would be the least of your worries in the breeding shed. Much more important will be the crest as an indicator of his current health status. -- Dr. Deb

DrDeb
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 Posted: Fri Jan 14th, 2011 05:31 am
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As additional help on this, those who are interested can study the following image composed of photos taken during one of my full-body horse anatomy classes. The specimen was a miniature pony stallion that had broken its leg and was donated to our program. He was at a similar bodyweight to what has become the norm in halter showing, in other words, he was fat. He sports a large crest. The images will help you to see a little bit better what the fibro-fatty tissue that composes a horse's crest is like, and how the crest relates to both the overyling skin and fur (including the mane) and the actual muscles of the neck, which all lie below the fibro-fatty crest. -- Dr. Deb

Attachment: Forum Crest fat thicknss Mini stallion label cprsd.jpg (Downloaded 639 times)

Last edited on Fri Jan 14th, 2011 05:33 am by DrDeb

ruth
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 Posted: Fri Jan 14th, 2011 10:24 am
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Good Morning Dr Deb,
On the subject of crests, could you please tell me how to condition score a horse on its crest; I recently attended a veterinary talk about prevention of laminitis and the importance of condition scoring your horse regularly and they indicated that a soft feeling to the crest was a sign of excess fat, whereas a hard feeling indicated muscle (they were talking about condition scoring everywhere with this criterion, but I'm specifically asking about the crest). They suggested a score of 3 or less, but I realise fat scoring is quite a subjective judgment and would appreciate some specific advice on the crest. Yes, I too have an Iberian prone to crestiness, though he is gelded. Many thanks as ever,
Ruth

interested1
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 Posted: Fri Jan 14th, 2011 12:17 pm
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Thankyou for your informative reply.  My stallions confirmation is otherwise very good, his grandsire was the first ever Spanish Andalusian imported into Australia in 1974, so he is also very well bred.  And whats more, he is intelligent and has exquisite movement so I intend to breed more foals from him in the future.  The information you provided was interesting and gives me some confidence to move forward.

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 Posted: Fri Jan 14th, 2011 07:47 pm
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Dr. Deb,

Thank you for posting the photos from your anatomy class. It is true that a picture can be worth a thousand words--I feel I now fully understand what the crest IS. I can  also see why the dissection class is so valuable.

Best,

Annie F

DrDeb
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 Posted: Fri Jan 14th, 2011 09:04 pm
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Ruth, it sounds like the people you have been studying with are full of hot air. As you can see from the dissection specimen, the horse's crest contains no muscle tissue whatsoever. If you pay attention to the comment made here by Annie F., you see that she knows more about it than they do, because Annie has taken a moment to actually learn the true facts of the anatomy. And yes indeed, this is exactly why I wish every student would enroll in the anatomy class.

A hard-feeling crest is a sign that the horse is in immediate danger. So what these people have told you becomes a good example of how the total ignorance of so-called "experts" translates into advice that can cause YOUR horse to suffer harm.

A crest with "normal" feel is slightly spongier-feeling than you would get by poking your finger into the fleshy area just in front of the girth and just above the horse's elbow.

The fatter the horse becomes, the larger and thicker the crest will become. It will tend to thicken more at the top; this is what causes it to tend to fall over to one side as the horse ages.

When a horse is retaining water, the crest becomes "edematous" -- it becomes "inflated" with water pumped into the tiny spongelike spaces which make up its structure, like high-density foam. When this is the case, it will feel hard to the touch -- harder than it "usually" does for the particular horse, and harder than the norm which I explained above. This is the sign the owner must be on the alert for, and if it occurs take immediate action to prevent laminitis and/or tying up. -- Dr. Deb

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 Posted: Sat Jan 15th, 2011 09:04 pm
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Thank you Dr Deb, and I totally concur with Annie's comments - the anatomy pictures are totally illuminating.

SusanMcK
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 Posted: Sun Jan 16th, 2011 02:07 am
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Dr. Deb, please explain: How does table salt and magnesium reduce the water uptake in the crest? How does sugar in the hay affect the crest?

Reason I ask: I have a 10 year old quarter horse mare who has had one bout of laminitus, as well as a 6 year old pony mare. I have learned to monitor their crests, and any time I feel a "hardening up", I switch to a lower quality grass hay (i.e., the field received more rain between cutting and baling. I have learned to monitor all my hay with tags as to cut date, field, rainfall amounts, and cure time to be able to do this).

Every laminitus episode I have ever had has been in winter. Is there a seasonal sensitivity as well?

Any insight appreciated. I feed free choice MN grass hay and have white salt blocks available at all times. Every couple of weeks, I'll top dress the salt blocks with loose grey livestock salt--I've noticed both of these mares seem to consume more salt than my other horses. I've not used "red" salt blocks for a few months now, as they didn't seem to like them as well as the white.

Thanks for your help.

gbush
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 Posted: Sun Jul 15th, 2012 02:07 pm
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Oh my ....I'm so happy to have discovered this site!!

I too own a 17 year old Iberian stallion that I have trained to the Grand Prix level in dressage. He was 10 years old and obese when I bought him and after putting him on a diet he did exhibit a floppy neck. His neck flops over when he is relaxed, but looks much less floppy when we are working.

We have trained together in a professional barn for the last 5 years and turn-out was never encouraged. My stallion loves to work, but his un-natural environment was starting to affect his disposition. I never felt right about his lack of turn-out and recently moved my stallion to a farm where he has all the turn-out he wants (dry-lot). He is happy and content and has lost more weight. I panicked when his neck became even more floppy ... but, as I read here ... this is a good thing!

I too have had others tell me not to breed my stallion because of his neck conformation. I think my stallion's amazing temperament and kindness and the fact that he is talented enough to compete at the GP level is a more important breeding indicator and trumps his adorable, floppy neck!

Thank you Deb!!!

P.S. years ago I bought your tapes on horse conformation and that has always been my bible when horse shopping or browsing!

Last edited on Sun Jul 15th, 2012 05:51 pm by DrDeb

DrDeb
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 Posted: Sun Jul 15th, 2012 06:26 pm
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GBush -- glad to know that we've been of some assistance. You must have realized quite some time ago that there is an enormous amount of ignorance bandied about barns. You need to educate yourself, certainly, and not listen to those who have not gone to any effort in that direction, or whose "education" consists of believing people who style themselves as teachers but who are just as ignorant, or even more ignorant, than the people they are instructing. In this particular case, involving the appearance of a horse's crest, you are hearing the voice of people who bought their horse and value him primarily upon a stereotyped idea of what an Andalusian horse "should" look like. Never mind that they got their mental picture of this ideal by looking at animals that are so obese as to be in danger of losing both their soundness and their health.

Now I have a question for you: why is it, do you think, that your horse's crest stops being floppy when you are working/playing together?

Now as to the previous query -- I see by the date that it is quite old, and unfortunately I never saw it at the time but have only just noticed it now. Nonetheless Susan McK's queries are important.

1: How does table salt and magnesium reduce water uptake in the crest (or by extension, in any body tissue): The answer is that the two substances have different effects. Table salt (NaCl, Sodium chloride) is an important and necessary nutrient. Horses need more salt than people do, and all the warnings we hear about ingesting excess amounts of salt and that creating or contributing to high blood pressure don't apply to horses. 4Tbsp. of NaCl per day is what Jenny Paterson in New Zealand is finding keeps her horses happy, sound, and healthy, and interestingly enough, my own horse who lives in California also proves to voluntarily eat that same amount on average every day. If horses are eating fresh, moist grass -- especially if it is in a phase of growth -- they can become victims of what is called 'grass tetany'. Cattle get this also, and from the same cause -- too much phosphorus (contained in the green grass) drives out or unbalances the sodium in the animal's body, leading to water retention or oedema as one symptom.

So sodium and phosphorus have to be eaten in balanced quantities, and this is also true of sodium and magnesium. The general recommendation for magnesium is 2:1 sodium:magnesium, but both Jenny and Pauline Moore in Australia are coming up with different suggestions for this, and their suggestions are backed by recent findings in both human and animal medicine. To wit, the 2:1 ratio is merely a rule of thumb, and depending upon the soil on which your animal lives, the type of salt block that you provide him, and the type of hay or forage he receives, he may need much more magnesium. This is why you ask about whether there is a "seasonal sensitivity"; it isn't a sensitivity, but the likelihood is high that your winter feed and your summer feed are different. They will absolutely be different if the horse is turned out in a field to forage on his own.

2. Magnesium has many effects in the body because it mediates the chemical reactions involved in both nerve transmission and muscle contraction. Specifically, it is magnesium that is the primary agent in guaranteeing that nerve cells stop firing -- so that they don't fire and fire and continue to fire until they exhaust themselves and die. Analogously, in muscle cells it is magnesium which primarily ensures that the muscle can relax or "turn off" after contracting. In both these functions, it is calcium that is balanced by magnesium, so that animals on high-calcium diets (i.e. alfalfa or lucerne) or that are genetically susceptible (i.e. they have HYPP or related metabolic disorders) are going to need higher amounts of magnesium.

By another mechanism, magnesium also affects the way that body cells uptake and utilize glucose, ie. sugar, so that a daily dose of magnesium has a protective effect against founder and is helpful also in horses that are insulin-resistant or that have Cushing's disease. Many people use magnesium oxide as a daily dose; Pauline, if you will read her threads here on magnesium and the one on digital cushion thickness, has had very good success with magnesium chloride. With this, she appears to have killed two birds with one stone, for her horses appear not to need anything special in the way of NaCl. Pauline suspects (though we do not know this as scientific proof) that some of the beneficial effect of NaCl may not be coming from the Na but rather from the Cl, which both MgCl and NaCl have in common.

3. So, to return to the question of crest 'inflation': it is by two mechanisms, of course; one is water being moved out of crest cells or out of the bloodstream and concentrating in the spongy inter-spaces that permeate the fibro-fatty tissue that forms the crest. And the other is the crest cells themselves, which are indeed one place where horses store body fat. Control of diet so that the horse is not maintained in obese condition, but rather loses weight, will cause loss of substance in the crest in the same way that when a woman loses weight her bustline will probably shrink some, too; indeed it can rightly be said that in horses, it is the males that have the boobs; they have only one, and they wear it on the back of their neck.

4. Finally, as to your use of 'red' salt blocks: it very likely isn't that the horses don't "like" the red blocks. They will adjust their salt intake to their needs. The red blocks contain trace minerals, including magnesium, that your horses very probably need. What I would suggest you do is what I have also done with Oliver: get a fresh 'red' block and weigh it to make sure it's really 10 or 20 lbs. or whatever the sticker says. Then put the salt block out and mark down the date someplace you won't forget it or lose it (i.e. write it on the feedroom wall with a marker). Be sure the salt block is placed somewhere that rain can't wash it away. Leave the block out for a month or so, by which time it should be 2/3rds gone or more. Weigh all the remaining pieces to find out how much of the original block the horse ate. Divide by the number of days and convert to tablespoons.

This would be your first step in developing a supplementation regime. If the amount a given horse eats is less than 2 tbsp. per day, write back to us here and we'll go farther in investigating. You'll also need to tell us whatever else you are feeding, i.e. minerals or supplements of any type. And, you should meanwhile also buy or rent or borrow a good electronic water pH tester -- test your horse's drinking water at the point where he drinks it. The water needs to be at neutral or a little to the alkaline side of neutral -- not acid. If your water tests acid, please read the other suggested threads first and then write back with your further questions, because the water pH will affect literally everything else relating to how your horse makes use of his feed. -- Dr. Deb

 

gbush
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 Posted: Sun Jul 15th, 2012 06:55 pm
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Thank you for getting back to me...

I have often wondered why my stallion's crest is more erect when we are engaged in work. He does sweat excessively, I'm guessing that our intensive work/play periods are flushing needed salt out of his system causing edema in his crest? But, can the effects be so sudden as to go from a piaffe/passage where the neck is erect to extended walk were the crest quickly relaxes?

After reading your post I'm certainly rethinking his salt/electrolyte regime...

Gina

Last edited on Sun Jul 15th, 2012 07:00 pm by gbush

gbush
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 Posted: Sun Jul 15th, 2012 07:25 pm
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Here is a photo of my stallion relaxed at the walk ...

Attachment: IMG_0274.jpg (Downloaded 418 times)

gbush
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 Posted: Sun Jul 15th, 2012 07:26 pm
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And here he is again at the piaffe:

Attachment: photo_4145_20120620.jpg (Downloaded 420 times)

DrDeb
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 Posted: Mon Jul 16th, 2012 03:36 pm
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Gina, thank you for posting the photos; they are most instructive. And, I hope ultimately, they will be most instructive of all to YOU.

Based on what I see there -- and also on the fact that you seem really to not have thought about how the neck of the horse or its other axial bodyparts function in collection -- I would like to get you started on reading the basic material that all my students are asked to study.

Please click on the "home" button at the upper right hand corner of this page, or go to http://www.equinestudies.org. From there, click on "Knowledge Base" and then see the three papers listed on the righthand side of that page. They are:

Lessons from Woody

True Collection

The Ring of Muscles

I want you to download these (they are free documents in PDF format), and then either read them on screen or print them out and read them. More than read them; study them.

Then after you have done that, I am going to repeat the question to you again: what makes your horse's crest stand up more when he is highly collected vs. when he is not?

You can also assist yourself in this learning quest by reviewing my articles either in Eclectic Horseman magazine or else in Equus Magazine. Both series go back a couple of years so you will have to ask the editor for back issues, or the correct few back issues. The issues you want deal with the topic entitled "raising the base of the neck".

You can also go use the Google advanced search function. Go to Google, enter "advanced search", and when that page comes up you put "raising the base of the neck" or just "base of the neck" into the keywords blank, and also be sure to put our Forum address in the "limit search to" blank near the bottom of the page. Our Forum addres is http://esiforum.mywowbb.com. This will limit the search to just our forum.

I'll look forward to hearing back from you in a few days or weeks, once you've had a chance to do your homework on this important question. This will also give you time to get your horse's drinking water tested for pH. -- Dr. Deb


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