Identifying Pain Behaviours in Ridden Horses

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By Mark Andrews 

“Bad” horse behaviour, frequently labelled as resistant, lazy, or even explosive, can be an indicator of pain according to equine orthopaedics expert Dr. Sue Dyson. 

Through studies spanning three years and over 400 horses, Dr. Dyson and colleagues developed The Ridden Horse Pain Ethogram (RHpE), a tool to reliably identify signs of pain before the condition progresses to obvious lameness. 

A short documentary featuring Dr. Dyson challenges the way we look at reactive horses and promotes the notion that a head nod is not the first sign of lameness. The 24 Behaviors of the Ridden Horse in Pain follows Dr. Dyson and Dr. Jim Myers of Gold Coast Equine as they examine and diagnose show jumper Lauren McMahon’s beloved mare Galina, who was not obviously lame yet seemed increasingly unhappy under saddle. 

Lauren had “tried everything” to figure out what was wrong including ulcer treatments, multiple joint injections, and specialized shoeing, but Galina only became more resistant under saddle. 

Galina’s story is not uncommon for horses that do not present with an obvious head-bobbing lameness. Oftentimes these are horses that get labelled as resistant, lazy, and for horses that buck or rear from pain, explosive. Trainers often tell riders to “push them through it.” 

The film shows horse lovers how to spot the early signs of pain while taking viewers on an emotional ride through the eyes of a young girl who loves her horse and will stop at nothing to try to figure out how to make her comfortable.  

The full documentary is now available to watch freely HERE. Check out the trailer below...

Related: Finding Solutions for Equine Behavioural Issues

Published with the kind permission of Mark Andrews, Equine Science Update. 

Photo: Shutterstock/Oleksandr Zastrozhnov