Behavior Test Reveals Owners Miss Signs of Lameness

A study led by Dr. Sue Dyson found signs of lameness in 73% of horses riders identified as sound. Also, nearly 50% of the horses’ saddles showed signs of poor fit.
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Behavior Test Reveals Owners Miss Signs of Lameness
In a new study, ridden horses showing at least one-third of the behaviors listed in a recently developed ethogram (behavior chart) had gait abnormalities and/or subtle lameness. | Photo: iStock
You might not realize your horse is lame. But if you’re paying attention to his behavior, you can get useful clues about subtle pain that could be affecting his welfare and performance, according to U.K. researchers.

In a new study, ridden horses showing at least one-third of the behaviors listed in a recently developed ethogram (behavior chart) had gait abnormalities and/or subtle lameness.

The ridden horse pain ethogram (RHpE) includes 24 behaviors that have been scientifically validated as associated with pain, said study author Sue Dyson, MA, Vet MB, PhD, DEO, Dipl. ECVSMR, FRCVS. The behaviors include pain-related facial expressions in ridden horses as well as full-body language. Examples include pinning the ears back for at least five seconds or opening the mouth and separating the teeth for at least 10 seconds. Designed specifically for riders and owners, it’s meant to give horse people a relatively simple way to recognize signs of pain in their horses under saddle.

“We have very strongly validated that the behaviors in our ethogram are pain-related,” Dyson said. “And we know that if you take away the pain, those behaviors go away. So it’s a very strong tool

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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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