24 Telltale Signs A Horse Is In Pain

Detecting lameness in horses can be difficult, especially if a horse is a bit ornery to begin with. However, horses that are lame exhibit certain symptoms, and it is helpful if owners and riders know what these pain behaviors are. There 24 identifying markers that are exhibited more by lame horses than sound ones. These include:

  • Changing eye posture
  • Changing expression
  • Pinning the ears
  • Gaping of the mouth
  • Hanging of tongue
  • Unwilling to go forward
  • Traveling crookedly
  • Changing gait spontaneously
  • Head tossing
  • Tilting the head
  • Poor cantering
  • Stumbling
  • Resisting
  • Evading the bit
  • Toe dragging

Sue Dyson and her colleagues reported in the Journal of Veterinary Behavior that recognition of these behaviors may enable riders and handlers to detect lameness earlier so as to avoid punishment-based training.

The team did stress that further research is necessary to verify these behaviors and their tie-in with lameness. Researchers said that more than 47 percent of sport horses in work may be lame, but that it may not be noticed by owners and trainers.

The study used 117 behavioral markers. The study used 24 lame horses (on a scale of 1 to 8) and 13 sound horses, based on what Dyson determined was sound and lame; Dyson is an experienced clinician with a focus on lameness. The lame horses in the study were graded between 1 and 4 on the lameness scale.

It was expected that the study would find some overlap in pain behavior scores in sound horses and lame horses, but that the number of behaviors exhibited by sound horses would be fewer.

For the study, a veterinarian watched 5-minute videos of each horse twice and scored them as to if the pain behaviors were seen with a simple “yes” or “no.”. A good correlation was found and behaviors that were not consistent were omitted, reducing the pain behaviors to 70. Further work whittled the number of pain behaviors down to 24.

In the study, there was a particularly strong correlation between 13 of the behavioral markers and lameness. The most markers a lame horse showed was 14; the most markers a sound horse showed was 6.

The abstract of the study can be read here.

Read more at HorseTalk.


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