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The Art Of Monitoring


My constant advise to owners is to record record record! We are very fortunate to be living in a technologically advanced society where 9/10 people have a smart phone with a built in video recorder. Having this piece of equipment so easily available allows you to record your animal's behaviour at any point.


Recording regular videos of your animals, will provide you with a log book of behaviours and if you watch them back you will start to train your eyes to recognise normal from abnormal behaviour of your animal. From an equine perspective, when you are riding a horse there are a multitude of internal and external factors to consider and there are very few skilled riders who will also factor in behavioural changes when applying pressure. I strongly believe that ANY rider will dramatically improve their equine partnership once they understand their horse's behaviour. Being able to recognise how your horse's behaviours change under different circumstances and WHY that may be so, will allow you to recognise pain in your horse before a veterinarian or any professional- guaranteed.

For example, have you ever noticed that your horse is happy or feels comfortable to ride around the outside of the arena but when you ask for tighter circles or a change of rein you notice behavioural changes such as; ears back, reluctance to go forwards, or rushing around turns? Another example would be a difference in canter lead? Your horse might find the left rein easy to canter on, compared to the right rein where you find your horse constantly changing leads or reluctant to maintain the correct canter on the right rein. I often get told by owners that their horse feels like they are collapsing during the downward transition from canter to trot.


The most important role as an animal owner is that you are recognising the changes in behaviour. Ask yourself: Could the horse do this movement before?

If your answer is YES, then there is an underlying pain.


Training a new movement can always bring out new behaviours that you have not seen or felt from your horse before and as a result I would ask yourself:

Are you cues clear?

If your answer is YES and you have been struggling for a while, I would seriously consider that there is an underlying pain in your horse.


Recording all gaits and exercises you are performing on your horse is important because this allows you to assess any changes in your horse's behaviour. Most practitioners will assess the walk and trot only, however observing the canter on both reins is just as important as the trot because some horses find the canter more difficult compared to the trot.

Common pain related behavioural signs shown in canter include:

* Disunited behind

* Reluctance to go forwards

* Reluctance to maintain the canter

* Bucking

* Tail swishing vigorously

* Changing leads in front

* Holding the head in the air

* Bunny hoping behind

* No push/ power behind

* Stiffness through the thoracolumbar area

* Move on three tracks

* Loss of suspension in the canter - creating a 4 beat canter


The are numerous reasons for the biomechanical differences in trot compared to canter. In the trot, there is always a moment when two limbs are sharing the weight distribution for example the right forelimb and left hindlimb. Although it is important to note that some horses with an over-track from behind will result in the hindlimb touching the ground before the diagonal front limb. Compared to the canter which is a three beat gait initiated by the horse bearing weight on a single limb, therefore increasing the forces generated by that limb.


So what should you record?


Record everything! All gaits, all directions and all the movements ridden (jumping, dressage, reining, vaulting, everything) and in-hand that you ask your horse to perform. The most important point to take away from this post is to understand what is normal for your horse. Ask yourself:

IS MY HORSE HAPPY?

If you are still unsure, I would observe their behaviour in field or stable and compared this to when they are being worked. Or compare their behaviour in the field to when you are tacking them up.


Where to start?


Record your horse's behaviour and focus on the behaviour not the lameness. Break it down into categories for example, behaviours shown by the ears, eyes, mouth, and nostrils and then work your way down. When I break it down like this, you can appreciate why I highlight the importance of recording. Once you have observed several behaviours and have trained your eyes, you will start to reduce the amount of recording you need to do.


**REMEMBER**


Like, humans, horses are individual and therefore express pain in different behaviours and thresholds. Some horses can be stoic in their behaviours! By this I mean, your horse might have their ears forward despite being in chronic pain. Please remember that the behaviours shown may not reflect the degree of pain. For example, some horses might rear and refuse to go forward compared to another horse with the same condition who bucks and bolts when ridden.


My take home message to you is that please NEVER EVER ignore your horse's behaviour. Animal owners need to stop, observe and understand what their animal is trying to communicate to them.


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