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There are times when it can be really hard to determine if a horse is experiencing pain and all too often bad behaviour on their part is attributed to them having an unruly or nasty"" character. If the truth be known, this unwanted behaviour whether it's flattening of the ears as you approach them, a swishing of the tail if you pass too close to their hind quarters or a buck when you are on their backs, could be due to the fact they are in pain.
People who know horses well recognise equine body language quite easily and this includes any facial expressions like grimaces or the way a horse presents itself body-wise to them. However, for the uninitiated, horses and ponies can be pretty hard to read and understand. This often means pain is misinterpreted as a horse being downright naughty when in fact, they need to be seen by a vet, dentist or blacksmith and then be given the right kind of pain relief medication to cope with the discomfort they're feeling.
There are obvious signs that a horse might be feeling pain which includes them being lame and therefore unsound. The cause could be diagnosed by a vet or a blacksmith and which may well confirms the horse is suffering from a corn, an abscess or maybe there's a foreign object lodged in the sole of their foot which is not only extremely painful but could lead to a serious infection if not treated in a timely fashion. However, horses are often lame and nobody can get to the bottom of why this is so – not even vets.
Sometimes horses may have a strange gait or short step which comes and goes and which their owners accept as just being the way their mounts are put together. As such they do nothing about it and instead decide to put up with a little bad behaviour which could be in the form of a buck, dropping a shoulder or just refusing to go forward.
This type of behaviour could well be due to the fact they are being naughty or it could be because they are in pain. The pain could be in their backs or any other area of their bodies. It could also be due to an ill-fitting saddle and badly fitted bit or tight shoes that have been left on for too long, all of which can cause the horse or pony a lot of pain.
There are 4 signs to look out for which could indicate whether or not your horse is feeling any pain which are as follows:
Studies have been carried out to develop a ""grimace scale"" in order to help people identify when horses are experiencing pain. The results of the research were published in an online journal called PLoS One and it involved a number of horses that were separated into three groups namely A, B and C.
The images of each horse were compared before and after they had received their surgery as a way of identifying and distinguishing the differences in their facial expressions. These images were examined by a trained blind observer who was highly qualified in identifying facial expressions and minute changes that occurred in other species of animals (MCL).
The studies came up with the Horse Grimace Scale (HGS) based on the comparisons arrived at and consists of 6 facial action units (FAUs) which are as follows:
This new ""grimace scale"" is seen as an extremely useful tool that should help horse owners and other people who regularly deal and handle equines understand and appreciate when they are in pain and to what extent this pain is interfering with a normal and comfortable life. This in turn should help people address the problem when a horse is in pain and therefore contact a vet, blacksmith or equine dentist earlier rather than later which means the horse would not have to put up with any discomfort for longer than necessary.