Bad Behavior and Possible Neck Pain in Mares 

At the 2023 AAEP Convention, Dr. Amy Johnson discussed neck pain as an alternate cause of poor behavior in mares.
Mare displaying behavioral abnormality, possibly due to neck pain, not necessarily hormonal pain
Consider neck pain as a potential cause of behavioral abnormalities in mares. | Getty Images

At the Kester News Hour during the 2023 AAEP Convention, Amy Johnson, DVM, DACVIM-LAIM, of the University of Pennsylvania’s New Bolton Center, discussed a study on hormone profiles submitted for 2,914 mares with owner-reported behavioral abnormalities to the diagnostic lab at the University of California, Davis.  

Johnson said 86% of the mares did not have hormone problems indicative of a potential granulosa cell tumor. Based on this result, she suggested if a mare is bucking, bolting, kicking, rearing, spooking, biting, and/or vocalizing, don’t just blame it on hormones.  

Another potential cause of behavioral problems is neck pain from conditions such as osteoarthropathy, foraminal stenosis, or cervical nerve root compression (radiculopathy). Johnson described a study in which researchers used ultrasound guidance to inject 1.5 ml iodinated contrast/latex into the cervical nerve roots of five anesthetized mares. This technique was found to be accurate (resulting in direct contact) 75% of the time. The study authors stressed that inadvertent injection of arteries, spinal cord, or vertebral canal can be life-threatening. In summary, ultrasound guidance is not always a guarantee of success.  


  • Huggins, L.; Norris, J.; Conley, A. et al. Abnormal mare behavior is rarely associated with changes in hormonal markers of granulosa cell tumors: A retrospective study. Equine Vet J 2023. htps:// 
  • Fouquet, G.; Abbas, G.; Johnson, JP. et al. Ultrasound-guided injection technique of the equine cervical nerve roots. Front Vet Sci 2022 Oct 26:9:992208. htps://doi:10.3389/fvets.2022.992208 
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