When it comes to founder, the conversation usually goes directly to the feet – but it should really start with the neck.
That’s because cortisol, the founder hormone, deposited in the fat of the neck is what gives it that characteristic “cresty” appearance – a telltale sign that your horse is either prone to founder or has foundered in the past.
Now, take a look at the horse in the photo. Do you see the cresty neck?
This is Shorty, a retired cow horse who foundered a few years ago and now suffers from excessive cortisol storage. (Overindulgence this summer landed him back in dry lot.) Notice the arched and thickened appearance of his neck, and the way he stands with his feet in the water tank. More than just an “easy keeper,” Shorty will need to be monitored the rest of his life.
An Ounce of Prevention
To prevent your horse from suffering the same fate as Shorty, be vigilant. Keep in mind that the condition of the neck can vary in a short period of time, so get into the habit of checking it regularly for changes that could signal a problem.
Contrary to popular opinion, even a thin horse can store extra cortisol in its neck. So resist the urge to get complacent just because your horse is at a good weight. And, of course, a normal-looking neck should never be a license to feed your horse with reckless abandon.
This is one battle you don’t want to lose – by a neck.