Study: Owners Might Miss Signs of Equine Back Pain

Caretakers estimated between 4% and 22% of horses had back pain, whereas clinical examination showed that 37% and 85% were suffering from back pain.

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If your horse had a sore back, would you be able to tell? Recent research by a French behavior team suggests that you might not. In a recent study, caretakers estimated that less than 12% of horses at various equestrian centers had back pain. In reality, however, nearly 50% of these horses suffered from back pain.

“These results are worrisome,” said Clémence Lesimple, PhD, of the University of Rennes. “While it’s true that back problems can be difficult to detect outside of a clinical evaluation, they usually lead to behavioral signs—in particular, aggression—that should alert owners and caretakers of a problem.”

Lesimple and her fellow researchers investigated 17 equestrian centers in France with a total of 161 horses. The primary caretaker at each facility completed a questionnaire about the estimated back pain in each horse in the facility before each horse underwent either manual palpation by a certified professional or surface electromyography (sEMG) to provide a more objective view of the pain level.

Lesimple found that in individual riding schools, caretakers estimated between 4 and 22% of horses had back pain, whereas clinical examination showed that between 37% and 85% were suffering from back pain

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Passionate about horses and science from the time she was riding her first Shetland Pony in Texas, Christa Lesté-Lasserre writes about scientific research that contributes to a better understanding of all equids. After undergrad studies in science, journalism, and literature, she received a master’s degree in creative writing. Now based in France, she aims to present the most fascinating aspect of equine science: the story it creates. Follow Lesté-Lasserre on Twitter @christalestelas.

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