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Scoring system finds lameness in horses considered sound by their owners

Low grade lameness in ridden horses is more common than recognized by owners. A previous UK study of 506 sports horses in full work and presumed to be non‐lame found that 47% were lame or had other pain‐related gait abnormalities [1].

A Ridden Horse Pain Ethogram (RHpE), comprising 24 behaviors with specific definitions, has been developed to facilitate identification of musculoskeletal pain, which demonstrated that the presence of ≥8/24 behaviors is likely to reflect musculoskeletal pain [2].

These authors have recently tested the RHpE by applying it to 60 sports horses and riding school horses in regular work and assumed by their owners to be working comfortably [3]. All horses performed a purpose‐designed dressage‐type test of 8.5 min duration in walk, trot and canter, with their normal rider.

The presence of increased back muscle tension or pain, poor saddle fit, gait abnormalities and rider skill were assessed by independent experts. The RHpE was applied retrospectively, by a trained analyst, to video recordings which had been acquired in a standardized fashion. Seventy‐three percent of horses were lame (≤ grade 2/8) on one or more limbs and 47% had gait abnormalities in canter.

The RHpE scores ranged from 3 to 16/24 (median 9). There was a significant association between the RHpE score and lameness (p = 0.008) with a RHpE score ≥8 being a good indicator of the presence of musculoskeletal pain. There was a high proportion (47%) of ill‐fitting saddles however, saddle fit did not influence the ethogram score. Horses with riders of lesser skill had worse scores on the ethogram (p<0.001).

The authors conclude that education of riders about behaviors which may reflect pain in ridden horses could allow the earlier identification of lame horses, whose welfare may be improved by accurate diagnosis and treatment.

1. Greve, L.; Dyson, S.J. The interrelationship of lameness, saddle slip and back shape in the general sports horse population. Equine Vet. J. 2014, 46, 687–694, Click HERE.

2. Dyson, S.; Berger, J.; Ellis, A.D.; 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. 2018, 23, 47–57, Click HERE.

3. Dyson, S and Pollard, D. Application of a ridden horse pain ethogram and its relationship with gait in a convenience sample of 60 riding horses. Animals 2020, 10, 1044; Click HERE

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