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.

The researchers also noted a distinct difference from one riding center to another, with only a few horses having back pain in certain schools and nearly all the horses having pain in other schools. The differences were the opposite, however, when it came to the evaluations: The lowest percentages of horses in pain came from sites where caretakers actually overestimated the number of horses in