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Can we determine, by looking at behaviours, whether the horse has musculoskeletal pain?

“Can we determine, by looking at facial expressions and other behaviours, whether the horse has musculoskeletal pain?”

The answer is yes and new research (2022) represents a huge move in the right direction for evolving improvement in animal welfare. It may also contribute to our growing understanding of the equine social licence which is gaining much discussion within our professions.

Over a period of three years, and the involvement of 400 horses, Dr Sue Dyson and colleagues have developed The Ridden Horse Pain Ethogram (RHpE). This tool is available to be downloaded for free alongside guidelines of how to apply the RHpE in the field, see link below. For years we have collectively labelled so many horses as naughty or disobedient – many have been punished for their behaviour. But how much of this was simply our animals trying to communicate in the only way that they know – that they are in pain?

The research found that identification of greater than 8 of the 24 specific behaviours was likely to reflect the presence of musculoskeletal pain. Using the RHpE does require training and practice but is freely available for all to use. It can be a powerful tool to allow further investigation by your vet-led team to identify the source/s of pain and inform appropriate treatments and therapies.


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