Sounding out lameness: Subtle signs revealed in new video series

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Experts in equine biomechanics have gotten together for a new video series to debunk common myths surrounding lameness in horses.

As orthopaedic specialist Dr Sue Dyson says, riders, trainers, and coaches will often assume it is a training or behaviour issue when a horse does not want to do something.

“Pain is the last thing people think of as the underlying cause.

Dr Sue Dyson performing a stifle flexion test.
Dr Sue Dyson performing a stifle flexion test.

“Blaming the horse for the problem is a common scenario,” says Dyson, Head of Clinical Orthopaedics at the Centre for Equine Studies at the Animal Health Trust in Newmarket, UK.

“Unfortunately it’s not just owners who tend to think like this. It’s their trainer, their coach, and their friends. Everybody thinks it must have to do with the horse’s behavior or a training issue.”

A new four-part video series, ‘Recognizing Subtle Lameness,’ produced by California-based education center Equitopia and Padma Video, is prepared to debunk the myths and misperceptions surrounding performance and behavioural issues, and shift the blame where it belongs: on pain.

Joining Dyson in the series opener is an international league of acclaimed horsemen, including Equine Veterinary Behavioral Medicine lecturer Jeannine Berger; Saddle Research Trust founder Ann Bondi; Concordia Connection founder Milly Shand; veterinarian Karin Liebbrandt; and eventing coach, author and bridle designer William Micklem. They  explain what pain looks like before a head bob begins.

Part I’s 25-minutes of “aha moments” include Dyson citing the result from a study of 506 sport horses that reveals 47% of the horses suffered from lameness or gait abnormality, and Shand challenging the coaching mantra, “work them through it,” by asking exactly what is it: “Is it pain? If it’s pain and we’re just working him until he either gets better or hurts more, then surely we need to become better educated to see ‘it’ before we make it worse.”

In the first video of the series, viewers are shown the familiar indicators of lameness before revealing pain’s less obvious expressions, not only via movement but through less common resources, such as reading a horse’s facial expressions.

Signs of pain in the horse may not be obvious.
Signs of pain in the horse may not be obvious.

The result is an online education that creates better trainers, riders and owners, and happier, sounder horses.

“If we wait until a lameness gets really ‘big,’ then we know a horse has already been compensating for a long time,” says Liebbrandt, “and rehabilitation will be very long and very expensive.”

In comparison to the high price of pain, the Recognizing Subtle Signs of Lameness instructional series will be free online, in accord with the Equitopia mission to “Develop a set of guiding principles, rooted in research and evidence, that empower owners and trainers to meet their goals without compromising the health and welfare of their equine partners.”

“If we wait until a lameness gets really ‘big,’ then we know a horse has already been compensating for a long time.”
“If we wait until a lameness gets really ‘big,’ then we know a horse has already been compensating for a long time.”

For $4.95 a month, Equitopia users can receive a monthly newsletter, more educational videos (plus behind-the-scenes-footage), advice from Equitopia experts, discounts on live events and online courses, and receive a live consult/lesson with one of its internationally renowned team. 

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