Latest research – Investigation into equine behaviour

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An investigation into the relationship between equine behaviour when tacked up and mounted and epaxial muscle hypertonicity or pain, girth region hypersensitivity, saddle-fit, rider position and balance, and lameness

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An investigation into the relationship between equine behaviour when tacked‐up and mounted and epaxial muscle hypertonicity or pain, girth region hypersensitivity, saddle‐fit, rider position and balance, and lameness
S. Dyson A. Bondi J. Routh D. Pollard
BACKGROUND
Reasons for abnormal behaviour during tacking‐up and mounting are poorly documented.
OBJECTIVES
To relate behavioural abnormalities during tacking‐up or mounting to epaxial muscle hypertonicity or pain, girth region hypersensitivity, ill‐fitting tack, rider position and balance, or equine musculoskeletal pain.
STUDY DESIGN
Prospective observational study; convenience sample of 193 horses.
METHODS
The behaviour of horses in a stable or tied up was observed for ≥8 min before systematic palpation of the thoracolumbosacral and girth regions. Owners were asked to tack up and mount using their normal regime. A purpose‐designed protocol for assessment of behaviour during tacking‐up and mounting was applied. Lameness was evaluated in‐hand and during ridden exercise. Static and dynamic saddle‐fit were assessed. A static saddle‐fit score was the sum of any saddle‐fit abnormality. Rider position in the saddle, balance and size relative to the saddle were evaluated during ridden exercise. Multivariable negative binomial regression modelling was used to assess the relationship between the sum of tacking‐up and mounting behaviours and horse, rider and tack‐fit variables.
RESULTS
Riding school horses constituted only 12% of the sample population, but had higher rates of abnormal behaviours during both tacking‐up (P<0.0001) and mounting (P = 0.007) compared with general purpose horses. The rate of abnormal behaviour during tacking‐up for horses with moderate or severe lameness was 1.4 times higher (P = 0.02) than for nonlame horses. Horses with lameness in‐hand or ridden had 1.5 times higher rates of abnormal behaviour during mounting than nonlame horses. Tight tree points (P = 0.03) and epaxial muscle pain (P<0.001) were associated with higher behaviour scores during tacking‐up. Higher static saddle‐fit scores were associated with higher behaviour scores during mounting.
MAIN LIMITATIONS
Oral examination was not performed.
CONCLUSIONS
The display of many behaviours during tacking‐up or mounting is likely to reflect lameness or tack‐associated discomfort. Owners must be better educated to recognise these behaviours.

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About Author

Dr David Marlin is a physiologist and biochemist who has worked in academia, research and professional sport. He has worked in the equestrian and veterinary world and in human sport, healthcare, medicine and exercise science. In 1989 David obtained his PhD from the UK’s leading sports university, Loughborough University following a four-year study on the responses of Thoroughbred racehorses to exercise and training, undertaken at the renowned Animal Health Trust in Newmarket. You can read David's full biography in the Our Website section.