A BETTER WAY TO READ THE SIGNS OF LAMENESS
Equus|Autumn 2020
Equine lameness can be difficult to detect, but a study from England confirms the reliability of a relatively new tool for identifying subtle signs of musculoskeletal pain in horses.
Christine Barakat and Mick McCluskey, BVSc, MACVSc

Developed at the Animal Health Trust in Newmarket in 2018, the Ridden Horse Pain Ethogram (RHpE) is a compilation of 24 behaviors, such as “head tilting,” “tail swishing” and “spontaneous changes of gait,” that have been proven to correlate with musculoskeletal pain (see “A System for Identifying Lameness,” opposite). If a horse exhibits eight or more of the behaviors, chances are good he is lame.

Undiagnosed lameness has a far-reaching impact on the lives of horses and their riders, says Sue Dyson, VetMB, PhD. “One of the reasons I was incentivized to develop a RHpE was I had become so dispirited by seeing so many horses who clearly had pain-related problems that had been ignored for far too long,” she explains. “The horse, the rider, the training technique were being blamed over and over again. Coercive training techniques were being used. Longer whips, spurs, tighter nosebands, ‘stronger’ bits were being employed. Moreover, veterinarians did not understand what they were looking at either ---if an enlightened owner sought advice, and there was no obvious lameness seen in hand, they were told that the horse had behavioral problems.”

In early research, most of the behaviors on the RHpE were found to be 10 times more likely to be seen in lame horses, and they were eliminated by measures that relieved pain---such as nerve blocks---which verified their association with discomfort.

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