The Horse Physio - Delivering care with expertise since 1992

30.5.2022: The Ridden Horse Pain Ethogram – Research and Development

It’s Not Easy!

Figuring out when a ridden horse is uncomfortable is not easy. It’s not like we can put the horse in a laboratory and perform a series of tests on him. We have to do what’s known as field-based studies, where we take measurements in the ‘real world’. There are limitations to this, because generally we cannot be as accurate or specific in our assessment. Nevertheless, if we take these limitations into account, using the horse’s behaviour as a measure of pain or discomfort could be useful.

Dyson, S., Ellis, A., Mullard, J., Berger, J. (2018c) Response to Gleerup: understanding signals that indicate pain in ridden horses. J. Vet. Behav.: Clin. Appl. Res. 23, 87-90

You can access this article here.


Determining the reasons for pain in ridden horses is challenging, because of the many variable factors, including primary musculoskeletal pain, tack-induced pain, or rider-induced pain. Field-based studies clearly have limitations. Assuming that those limitations are acknowledged, behavioral observations that are repeatable among horses, and that show differences between non-lame and lame horses that are reduced when lameness is abolished by diagnostic analgesia, may be useful indicators of pain.

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 30, 2022
Sue Palmer