The Horse Physio - Delivering care with expertise since 1992

25.5.2022: The Ridden Horse Pain Ethogram – Research and Development

Pain Has Many Manifestations

There are lots of ways that a horse can try to tell you he’s in pain, and lameness is just one of them. Also, pain affects many different areas, and there are many things that can affect pain. As a population, we are not great at recognising pain or lameness in our horses, and we need to make better use of the available knowledge and technology. The age, weight and type of work your horse is doing can all be risk factors for lameness, as can the surface of the arena you work him in. There is a relationship between the function of the leg and the function of the back. The horse and rider are affected by the saddle, the bridle and the bit. If your saddle slips to one side, that may well be due to hind limb lameness. There is much more that we can learn about how to lessen the risk of injury in the ridden horse.

Dyson, Sue. (2017). Equine performance and equitation science: Clinical issues. Applied Animal Behaviour Science. 190. 10.1016/j.applanim.2017.03.001

You can access this article here.


The quality of equine performance can be influenced by pain, whether or not that results in overt lameness. Recognition of low-grade lameness is challenging, but with careful observation there are many clues which veterinarians, riders and trainers should recognise. Riders and trainers are frequently unable or unwilling to recognise lameness or other behavioural changes that are a manifestation of pain. Work discipline, body size and conformation may be risk factors for lameness. Work surfaces may also have a role. There is an integral relationship between limb and thoracolumbosacral function. There is also an interaction between the rider and thoracolumbosacral function and health. The saddle is an interface between the rider and the horse and saddle-fit for both horse and rider is crucial for optimal thoracolumbar health and function. The tendency of a saddle to persistently slip to one side is most commonly secondary to hind limb lameness. The rider communicates with the horse via the reins and the bit. The design of the bit, its position and size influence oral comfort. Training aids such as draw reins or a Pessoa Training Aid, appropriately used may improve hind limb propulsion. However, there are still wide gaps in our knowledge about strategies to minimise the risks of injuries to the ridden horse, and a need for further research making use of technological advances in the fields of equine biomechanics with the results applied in equitation science.

Dr Sue Dyson and I are in the process of writing a book for horse owners and riders on how to understand and use the Ridden Horse Pain Ethogram with your own horse. The book will be published by J A Allen, and available sometime In 2023. Sign up to my newsletter at for updates.

In the meantime, you will find my blog on how to use the RHpE with your own horse here. You can learn more about the Ridden Horse Pain Ethogram through listening to Dr Sue Dyson explaining here it on the Equine Veterinary Education, where you can also listen to her discussing many of the other studies that she has been involved in. You can also take an online course with Equitopia.

© Sue Palmer, The Horse Physio 2021

Treating your horse with care, connection, curiosity and compassion

May 25, 2022
Sue Palmer