JULY 2019 THE RIDER /33 ^Between The Ears^ cludes; By Ellie Ross

What does Pain Look Like? The most public informa-

tion a horse provides is its facial expression. Often we subcon- sciously process information about the characteristics of the horse such as sex, age, identity. The human perceptions of horse’s facial expression is not far off from what has been scien- tifically proven. This actually turns out to be a two way street as horses can and do read human facial expression quite well. However, it is important to look at all parts of the face before con- cluding the state of the horse. Want a horse to approach

you? Be sure your facial expres- sion is one that exhibits relax- ation.

expressions presented to horses in a study, resulted in appropriate

The human facial

physiological responses in horses such as differing heart rates. So while we now know that

the horse has the ability to read human faces, how well do hu- mans read the horse’s facial ex- pressions? Let’s talk about one of the

most overlooked yet important facial expression that a horse will exhibit. PAIN. You can predict behaviour far more effectively if you are able to recognize facial expressions, particularly those that represent an internal state such as pain. First we will look at behav-

iour responses. According to a study done by Lindegaard et al. (2010), a horse with no pain, readily accepts a treat. A horse with moderate pain will hesitate then look at the human offering and may or may not take the treat. A horse in severe pain, will

not accept the treat. If the pain is related to weight bearing, the horse with no pain bears weight normally. The horse in mild pain will have intermittent of the ground/ resting more than other front limb. Moderate pain will be seen as continuously taking foot off the ground and trying to re- place it. Severe pain is no weight bearing. Foot off the ground or toe just touching the ground. In general, the head position was also indicative of pain with a horse that had no pain naturally held its head high and was eating. In mild pain the head was level with the withers. Moderate and moderate to severe pain, the head was below the withers. Gross pain behaviour in- pawing,


flehmens and this occurred inter- mittently if pain was moderate and was continuous if pain was severe. Upon approaching a horse

in pain, the horse with no pain re- sponded looking at the human and had ears forward. A horse in varying degrees of pain would not look at the human and placed ears back upon approach. Most horses also exhibited contact seeking behaviour with the han- dlers.

The ears, eyes, lips and nos-

trils tell us a great deal of infor- mation. A horse in pain often goes unnoticed by its handlers and is said to look tired or fa- tigued, when in fact the horse is in severe pain. In pain studies conducted,

horses exhibited dilated nostrils. It was more square than the rounded appeared observed in respiration.

What people often perceive as a worried look in

horses is often a sign of pain due. The orbital tighten- ing above the eye lifts the brow and results in the ‘wor- ried look’. One must look at other factors to determine the difference. The most significant observation is the tightening of the eye so much that it reduces the eye visible size by half. Horses in severe pain, may also completely close their eyes. The tension above the eye will cause an increase in the visibility of the boney structures of the temporal crest. The appearance of the eyes have been described as a stare, withdrawn or in- tense look. The ears are often turned and the width of the

base is often appearing wider than normal. Ears could be tense and turned back or be low and asymmetrical. The low asymmetrical ears are often perceived incor- rectly as relaxed, but more commonly fatigue when in fact during a pain study, it was indeed pain related, however the pain itself can lead to fatigue. The nostrils of a horse in pain, have been de-

scribed as flared, dilated or strained in appearance. The muzzle, lips, chin and chewing muscles appears tense. Recognition of pain is a fundamental safeguard

of your horse’s welfare. Read your horse’s facial ex- pressions and be also aware that your horse can read yours!

Horse in Pain. Note the tension above the eyes, chewing muscles, tight lips,

dilated nostrils, stare and asymmetrical ears with a wider base.

Images are courtesy of the Association of Veterinary Anaesthetists and the American College of Veterinary Anesthesia and Analgesia

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