Our knowledge of equine anatomy may be based on outdated findings and needs to be revised. According to the anatomy books that, to date, have served as study reference to veterinarians and practitioners around the world, the nuchal ligament lamellae attaches from C2 to C6 or C2 to C7. However, in the researchers’ extensive experience, the attachments to the last two vertebrae in the neck (C6 and C7) are completely absent, with some specimens also presenting with weak and feeble attachments to C5.

Why is this important? Like the cables and struts that suspend San Francisco’s Golden Gate bridge, the lamellae support the vertebrae at the base of the neck and it is highly likely this is affecting performance and may be compromising other structures.

Why are the old anatomy books showing a complete lamellae when today the large majority of horses studied don’t have it? Are the books wrong or has the nuchal ligament changed in recent times? And, if so, when and why did this happen?

Australian researchers Sharon May-Davis and Dr Janeen Kleine presented the findings of a paper published in the Journal of Equine Veterinary Science and explained the possible affect on horse’s health and performance at the 2015 Bowker Lectures in Merrijig, Victoria.

May-Davis began this fascinating and engaging presentation by defining the nuchal ligament, a two part ligament. The top part is known as the funicular cord, a very tough rope-like ligament that runs along the top of the neck, connecting the horse’s poll to the withers, where it joins to the supraspinous ligament that runs along the top of the spine, all the way to the tail. The second part of the nuchal ligament is known as the lamellae, a triangular sheet-like ligament that splices into the funicular cord, and spreads down to attach to and support the cervical vertebrae.

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In great demand as a lecturer, both in Australia and abroad, Sharon May-Davis is a respected research scientist and equine therapist particularly passionate about researching gross anatomy and how it impacts on equine performance. The study’s co-author, Dr Janeen Kleine, is a paediatric and obstetric osteopath that mostly works with human patients, but has become increasingly interested in equine anatomy and applying her knowledge to the equine.

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Related articles include:

Tarcoola’s Legacy: Sharon May-Davis’ promise to improve horses’ lives

The Ripple of Her Legacy: A Story of Sox Who Suffered From C6/C7 Malformation