Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Spot the Pain

Photocredit: Ella Luusuaniemi

When spending time with a flight animal it is not always easy to spot when a horse is in pain. As a horse owner one of the hardest things is trying to read the horse and know when problems that arise are just bad schooling and when they are inflicted by pain.

"Hiding pain is one of the top survival skills of the horse. An important part of horse ownership is learning to recognize the signs a horse may be in discomfort rather than dismissing certain subtle cues as just bad behavior." - Equine Guelph

It is very common that horses suffer from various kinds and degrees of pain such as stomach ulcers, hoof soreness, back pain, neck pain and dental pain.

According to one survey (see source Eläinkoulutusblogi, Jaana Pohjola, Sairas harrastus)

90 % of all horses suffer from stomach ulcers (67 horses studied)
100% of studied Western horses suffer from back pain (24 horses studied)
92% of all neutered race horses suffered from back pain
80% of all riding horses suffer from neck and soft tissue damages  (443 horses studied)

This French study also shows that a bad temper clearly correlates to pain:
Partners with Bad Temper: Reject or Cure? A Study of Chronic Pain and Aggression in Horses

To really know what a horse feels and how much pain it feels is very hard to tell. There are however some recent studies that have been depicting what pain looks like in the horses face and the Facial Grimaces Score used originally to identify pain in rodents and rabbits has been incorporated into a "grimace scale" for equines as well. It uses ear position and tightening of the muscles around the eyes and mouth to come up with a score.  (see article here)

Since horses do everything to hide the pain we really need to listen to our horses. By spending time with them, touching them daily and getting to know what relaxed muscles and minds feel like we are already a long way there.

"Everyone wants to be greeted by a bright-eyed, soft and relaxed face. The horse is telling you something hurts when they avoid looking at you, appear despondent, clench their jaw, flatten ears back and /or squint their eyes." - Equine Guelph

Recommended reading: 
Stable Management, Equine Guelph: Progress in Pain Recognition 
Research article: Development of the Horse Grimace Scale (HGS) as a Pain Assessment Tool in Horse Undergoing Routine Castration
Eläinkoulutusblogi, Jaana Pohjola, Sairas harrastus
Muut hevosen kipuun liittyvät blogin kirjoitukset

Also take a look at Dr Karina Bech Gleerups video about the Equine "Pain Face" Explained.

Also go to Horses and People and download your own Equine Pain Face poster.

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