The next stage of the AHT’s Dr Sue Dyson’s facial expressions and horse pain research has taken place. The behaviour ethogram1 has been put to the test on a panel of vets as a new method for assessing equine performance. How accurately the vets used the ethogram to assess pain in ridden horses during the study day will now be assessed.
The study was conducted at World Horse Welfare’s centre in Norfolk on 21July. Twenty horse and rider combinations, together with a range of professional practitioners, volunteered their time to support the study, which has the potential to transform the welfare of ridden horses.
This research is a crucial step in the verification of the use of a behaviour ethogram to help vets detect low-grade musculoskeletal pain in ridden horses. We hope this study will change the way vets assess horse behaviour and recognise pain, leading to improved diagnosis of musculoskeletal conditions in horses all over the world.
Dr Sue Dyson said: “The behavioural differences between the lame and non-lame horses in the study were very apparent. I am currently cross-referencing analysis of the volunteers’ results with me as the Gold Standard. Early indications show that by giving vets a clear understanding of pain associated behaviour markers they will be better able to recognise pain-related behaviour in ridden horses, which may reflect lameness, and to communicate potential performance problems more effectively with their clients.”
An overview of this study will be presented at the Saddle Research Trust Conference in December.
What happened on the study day?
Initially the horses were assessed by Association of Chartered Physiotherapists in Animal Therapy (ACPAT) physiotherapist, Jo Spear. The back was examined to check for any areas of muscle tightness or discomfort. Society of Master Saddlers (SMS) Saddle Fitter, Liz Suddaby, checked the fit, placement, balance and suitability of each horse’s saddle. The horses were then given a 15 minute ridden warm-up before executing an 8-minute purpose-designed dressage test.
During the dressage test a team of 10 equine vets, selected from 40 volunteers, scored each horse for the presence of 24 behaviours that may reflect pain. The tests were filmed so that Dr. Dyson could make a comparison between her own real-time behaviour assessments and video analysis and so that the rider skill level could be scored retrospectively by Dr Anne Bondi BHSI.
The ten equine vets, four men and six women, who varied in their years of experience, collectively said that it was one of the best days of continual professional development that they had ever had and that they would change their procedures for both pre-purchase examinations and investigations of either lameness or poor performance in the future.
Helen Whitbread of Deben Valley Equine Veterinary Clinic summarised: “This system is such a useful tool; most of the factors we were scoring were not a surprise, but by being able to quantify the pain in a way that a client can understand and relate to is priceless. Too often in the past our suggestions that a horse is demonstrating abnormal ridden behaviour because of pain has been brushed aside as ‘it has always done that’. Now I can say, for example: ‘Yes, it has scored >8 and is therefore likely to have been in musculoskeletal pain the whole time you have owned it’.”
1. Dyson, S, Berger, J, Ellis, A, Mullard, J. Development of an ethogram for a pain scoring system in ridden horses and its application to determine the presence of musculoskeletal pain. J Vet Behav: Clin Appl Res doi:10.1016/j.jveb.2017.10.008