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Is Your Horse Uncomfortable?

When we are exercising or working out, we can feel in ourselves when we start to fatigue, when something feels uncomfortable or when something starts to hurt, but can you recognize that in your horse? Aside from “acting out” or bucking their rider off, can you recognize when your horse is uncomfortable or trying to tell you that the work they are doing is too much for them?


Research has shown that the Ridden Horse Pain Ethogram (RHPE) is made up of 24 behaviours. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7341225/


If a horse shows only one or two of these traits while being ridden, a musculoskeletal problem cannot be assumed. However, if eight or more of the 24 behaviours are identified in a ridden horse, the likelihood that this horse is in pain during ridden exercise is high. The studies done showed that lame horses an average of nine of the above traits displayed when ridden versus an average of only two traits when they were not lame.


The benefit of this ethogram is that it can enable horse owners, coaches, trainers to identify an issue, even if they are unable to recognise lameness. This ethogram isn’t conclusive and more research needs to be done but if riders and owners can become more attune to what their horse is telling them and get them help sooner rather than later, we may be able to address issues before they become bigger problems and we can improve horse welfare and their quality of life.


Have empathy when working with your horse and you will maintain motivation and confidence in your horse.


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