Recent clients have got me thinking about recognising pain in our horses. I always feel that as the horse's owner/trainer/rider you often know your horse the best and can pick up on subtle signs that tings just aren't quite right sometimes before anything major presents itself.
However, pain can be expressed in a variety of ways. I have recently seen several horses with muscular tenderness and spasm in their backs that have shown it in different ways. One had started bucking when the girth was tightened, another was hanging onto the left rein and lacked inmpulsion, a third was now working better on what thier owner often thought of as their 'bad rein' than their 'good rein'.
As prey animal horses are very good at hiding pain and quite often the signs they are showing are subtle.
As horse owners we tend to be aware of the signs of pain shown when a horse has colic such as pawing at the ground, looking at the abdomen and sweating but what other signs do horses show?
As a physio one of the most common things I find with my clients and their horses is that there has been a change in the horse’s behaviour or personality. A reluctance to canter on one rein, bucking or rearing, moving away when being groomed or laying the ears back when saddled or rugged for example. The horse may or may not have lameness alongside these changes.
Horses like people have different tolerance levels of pain, we all know of a horse that only has to look at a stone to start limping!
So what other signs of pain can you look for?
- Tail swishing, ears back, teeth grinding and head tossing especially when ridden
- A change in jumping style such as rushing fences or refusing
- Dipping away when a saddle is put on or the rider mounts
- Reluctance to move forward
- Not lying down in the stable or lying down much more than usual
- Resting one leg more than the other
- An abnormal stance such as in the case of laminitis
If you do begin to notice any of these signs it is worth seeking the advice of a qualified professional such as your vet, physio or farrier to address any underlying problems.