A new 12-part online course in recognising pain behaviour in horses has been produced by equine lameness researcher Dr Sue Dyson, and online educational resource Equitopia.
The educational course “how to recognise the 24 behaviours indicating pain in the ridden horse” guides horse owners in learning how to listen to their horse and spot the early signs of pain in ridden horses.
The course distills six of Dyson’s studies, and illustrates why pain is so poorly understood, the signs to look for, how to use an “ethogram” to score pain, and what to do once you find pain. An ethogram is a catalogue of behaviours with very clear definitions. Most of the previous pain-related behavioural work related to horses has only looked at the facial expressions of non-ridden horses whereas Dyson’s ethogram looks at the whole horse.
Passionate about improving the understanding and management of lameness and poor performance, Dyson wanted the course to be accessible to anyone with an interest in horses, from vets, vet students and farriers, to conscientious horse owners, physiotherapists and chiropractors, with the ultimate aim of improving equine welfare.
“I was becoming increasingly concerned by the number of riders who were ignoring their horses’ problems for far too long,” she said.
“They would say things like ‘he’s always been a grumpy horse’, ‘he’s never been a willing horse’, ‘he’s never wanted to stand to be mounted’. For vets who have had little training in the recognition of low-grade lameness it can be a struggle to understand their clients’ complaints. These things get missed at pre-purchase examinations too. Early recognition is nearly always advantageous for a better prognosis and the course will really help to achieve this.”
Learners will gradually build their knowledge over the 12 parts so that they can confidently assess horses for pain at the end of the course. It is not just a matter of listening and watching – course participants will need to interact with people and horses from their local yard, study pictures and take quizzes to help reinforce information and enable it to become second nature knowledge.
“I am absolutely convinced that we have developed a really powerful tool for early recognition of pain,” Dyson said. “I think it is hugely important that this information is disseminated as widely as possible amongst the equestrian industry. A pain-free horse is a happier horse and we should all be obliged to train ourselves to listen to what our horses are trying to tell us.”
The course costs $125 from www.EquitopiaCenter.com. Membership of Equitopia is $US4.95 a month, giving access to monthly webinars, podcasts, summaries of research articles, members-only videos and 10% discount on all online courses.