An Ethogram for Ridden Horse Facial Expressions of Pain

Researchers said the ethogram allowed an assessor to differentiate between clinically lame and sound horses.
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An Ethogram for Ridden Horse Facial Expressions of Pain
The facial markers showing the greatest significant difference between lame and sound horses included ears back, tipping the head, eyes partially or fully closed, an open mouth with exposed teeth, and being severely above the bit, among others. | Photo Credit: Courtesy Sue Dyson
Editor’s note: As of December 2020, these videos are no longer available on YouTube for viewing.

New research by scientists at the Animal Health Trust (AHT) Centre for Equine Studies, in Newmarket, U.K., is aimed at producing a practical tool to help owners, riders, trainers, and veterinarians recognize signs of pain from a ridden horse’s facial expressions.

As first reported in March 2017, owners and trainers don’t widely undersTand facial expressions of pain in ridden horses. This means a horse’s health and welfare can be threatened, because veterinary assistance is not sought early enough, if at all.

Researcher Sue Dyson, MA, Vet MB, PhD, DEO, FRCVS, head of Clinical Orthopaedics at the AHT, has released two videos relating to that study. In the first video Dyson explained the common problems mistaken for pain, why the study is so important, and what it could mean for horses, owners, and vets in the future. It ignited a huge debate online about understanding equine behavior and body language. The video also prompted comments from owners who now feel guilty for not taking note of these facial expressions sooner to help their horse, and from other professionals agreeing that these expressions can be recognized, but are amazed at how often they are not

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