The Horse Physio - Delivering care with expertise since 1992

January 12, 2022
Sue Palmer

12.1.2022 Application of the Ridden Horse Pain Ethogram to Elite Dressage Horses Competing in World Cup Grand Prix Competitions

I’m really excited to be researching and writing my next book this year, on recognising pain in the ridden horse. Sign up to my newsletter at www.thehorsephysio.co.uk for updates on the release.

Today’s science article makes use of the Ridden Horse Pain Ethogram (RHpE) to assess dressage horses competing at elite Grand Prix level. The researchers Dr Dyson and Dr Pollard found that overall, the horses appeared to be comfortable in their work. The RHpE is a list of 24 ridden behaviours, and a horse who shows 8 or more of these behaviours in his ridden work is likely to have musculoskeletal pain. The average score for these high level dressage horses was 3. The most common behaviours shown, from the list of 24, were:

  • Mouth open with separation of the teeth for 10 or more seconds (67%)
  • An intense stare for 5 or more seconds (30%)
  • Tail swishing (29%)

The authors felt that further investigation into the behaviours shown in a double bridle compared to a snaffle bridle are merited.

Application of the Ridden Horse Pain Ethogram to Elite Dressage Horses Competing in World Cup Grand Prix Competitions.

Abstract

There is considerable debate about the social license to compete with horses and controversy about training methods for dressage horses. The objectives were to: 1. apply the Ridden Horse Pain Ethogram (RHpE) to dressage horses competing at elite Grand Prix level; 2. compare RHpE and judges' scores; and 3. document deviations in gaits from Fédération Equestre Internationale (FEI) guidelines. Video recordings of 147 competitors from nine World Cup competitions were assessed. Spearman's rank correlation coefficient tested the correlation between RHpE and judges' scores. The median RHpE score was 3 (IQR 1, 4; range 0, 7). There was a moderate negative correlation (Spearman rho -0.40, p < 0.001) between the RHpE scores and the judges' scores. Mouth open with separation of the teeth for ≥10 s (68%), head behind vertical ≥10° ≥10 s (67%), an intense stare for ≥5 s (30%) and repeated tail swishing (29%) were the most frequent RHpE behaviours. Deviations from FEI guidelines were most frequent in passage, piaffe, canter flying-changes, canter pirouettes and "halt-immobility-rein back five steps-collected trot". In conclusion, most horses appeared to work comfortably for the majority of the test. Further investigation of the influence of a double bridle compared with a snaffle bridle on head position and mouth opening is merited.

Dyson S, Pollard D. Application of the Ridden Horse Pain Ethogram to Elite Dressage Horses Competing in World Cup Grand Prix Competitions. Animals (Basel). 2021 Apr 21;11(5):1187. doi: 10.3390/ani11051187. PMID: 33919208; PMCID: PMC8143096.

You can access the full article here.

crossmenu