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When Your Horse's Neck Hurts

Your horse's neck plays a critical role in his balance. Here are some tips for identifying injury or discomfort there.
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When you find your horse in distress and unwilling or unable to move, the list of possible causes seems terrifying and endless. Your first step, of course, is to call the veterinarian. But take comfort in the fact that many cases of immobility are traced back to a simple problem: neck pain.

Grey horse with his neck outstretched and ears pinned back.

Neck pain can make a horse unwilling to move, which can make identifying the problem difficult. 

Because a horse uses his neck to balance with each step, he may refuse to move if he bruises or strains the muscles there. Consider these distinctions between neck pain and other similar-looking problems:

• A horse with a serious limb injury will favor a sore leg, resting his weight on the toe or holding the leg in the air. A horse with laminitis will dramatically shift his weight back to ease the pain in his forefeet. A horse with neck pain, on the other hand, will usually bear equal weight on all four limbs.

 • A painful limb may also cause a horse to throw up his head as he moves in an effort to protect an area of his body. A horse with neck pain will usually hold his head still and low, even as he attempts to walk and turn.

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• If a horse has a neurological issue, he drags his toes or shows signs of incoordination. He may also have lax tail tone or facial asymmetries, with a drooping ear or eyelid. A horse with neck pain moves more or less normally when forced to but is simply reluctant to do so.

 • Tying up causes extreme cramping of the large muscles of a horse’s hindquarters. The area will feel very hard to the touch and you may even be able to observe the muscles clench on their own. An injured neck will not cause such cramping of the hindquarters. 

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