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Do owners recognise abnormal equine behaviour when tacking‐up and mounting? A comparison between responses to a questionnaire and real‐time observations

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Abstract

Causes of abnormal behaviour during tacking‐up or mounting are multifactorial, but may be associated with an ill‐fitting saddle, a rider sitting on the caudal third of the saddle, or lameness. To determine whether: (1) owners believed their horse showed abnormal behaviour when tacked‐up or mounted; (2) this agreed with observations by a veterinarian. Cross‐sectional study; convenience sample. Horses were undergoing prepurchase examinations, investigation of poor performance, or were recruited by invitation. Owners were asked if their horse showed abnormal behaviour when tacked‐up or mounted and subsequently whether they showed specific behaviours (yes/no) during bridling, saddling, girthing and mounting. Each horse was observed during tacking‐up and mounting by one veterinarian who recorded the occurrence of each behaviour. Agreement between the owners and the veterinarian was evaluated using intraclass correlation (ICC) coefficients with 95% confidence intervals (CI). Overall 34.2% (66/193) of owners reported that their horse showed behavioural abnormalities during tacking‐up or mounting. There was poor to good agreement between the owners and veterinarian for horses putting their head up to avoid bridling (ICC 0.53, CI 0.37, 0.64) and being reluctant to open their mouth for the bit (ICC 0.52, CI 0.36, 0.64). There was poor to fair agreement for evading noseband tightening (ICC 0.41, CI 0.21, 0.56), elevating the head (ICC 0.24, CI 0.00, 0.43) and teeth grinding (ICC 0.23, CI 0.00, 0.42). For attempts to bite, there was fair to excellent agreement during saddling (ICC 0.67, CI 0.56, 0.75) and good to excellent agreement during girthing (ICC 0.73, CI 0.64, 0.79). Results for some behaviours suggested potential systematic disagreement between the veterinarian and owners. Potential bias of volunteers recruited by invitation. Day‐to‐day variation of behaviours is unknown. The majority of owners were unaware that their horses showed behavioural abnormalities during tacking‐up or mounting.

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The objectives of this study were to compare horses’ gaits in hand and when ridden; to assess static and dynamic saddle fit for each horse and rider; to apply the Ridden Horse Pain Ethogram (RHpE) and relate the findings to gait abnormalities consistent with musculoskeletal pain, rider position and balance and saddle fit; and to document noseband use and its relationship with mouth opening during ridden exercise. Data were acquired prospectively from a convenience sample of horses believed by their owners to be working comfortably. All assessments were subjective. Gait in hand and when ridden were evaluated independently, by two assessors, and compared using McNemar’s test. Static tack fit and noseband type were recorded. Movement of the saddle during ridden exercise, rider position, balance and size relative to the saddle was documented. RHpE scores were based on assessment of video recordings. Multivariable Poisson regression analysis was used to determine factors which influenced the RHpE scores. Of 148 horses, 28.4% were lame in hand, whereas 62.2% were lame ridden (P<0.001). Sixty per cent of horses showed gait abnormalities in canter. The median RHpE score was 8/24 (interquartile range 5, 9; range 0, 15). There was a positive association between lameness and the RHpE score (P<0.001). Riding School horses had higher RHpE scores compared with General Purpose horses (P = 0.001). Saddles with tight tree points (P = 0.001) and riders seated at the back of the saddle rather than the middle (P = 0.001) were associated with higher RHpE scores. Horses wearing crank cavesson compared with cavesson nosebands had higher RHpE scores (P = 0.006). There was no difference in mouth opening, as defined by the RHpE, in horses with a noseband with the potential to restrict mouth opening, compared with a correctly fitted cavesson noseband, or no noseband. It was concluded that lameness or gait abnormalities in canter may be missed unless horses are assessed ridden.
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The use of horses in competitive sports receives increasing criticism from the public, mainly due to the potential for injury. However, it is unclear if orthopaedic and other health issues are more common in competition horses when compared to leisure horses. The aim of this study was to assess husbandry, use, and orthodpeadic health in Swiss riding horses, and to compare these aspects between horses owned by self-identified competitive (CR) and leisure riders (LR) in Switzerland. 237 owners completed an online survey providing information on their athletic ambitions, their horse’s husbandry, health, training, and tack. Two experienced veterinarians assessed gait irregularities, muscular development, and back pain in the horses, and evaluated saddle fit. Compared to horses owned by competitive riders (CH), a higher proportion of horses kept by leisure riders (LH) were kept unshod, under more natural conditions, and turned out with other horses. LH were exercised less frequently and LR trained less frequently with instructors. CR reported more frequent saddle checks and the use of more training aids during riding. No differences between the two groups could be found in orthopaedic health, muscular development, or back pain, but LH had higher BCSs and a slightly higher proportion of saddles with at least one fit problem. Our data revealed no increased prevalence of the assessed health problems in competition horses compared to leisure horses in Switzerland. However, suboptimal saddle fit and muscular development, back pain, and gait irregularity are frequent in both groups and deserve more attention.
Article
Girth aversion or girthiness is a nonspecific clinical sign anecdotally associated with multiple conditions in the horse (behavioral problems, gastric ulcers, back pain); however, studies have not been conducted to definitively correlate this clinical sign to specific pathologies. This retrospective study aims to describe the clinical signs and final diagnoses of 37 horses evaluated at the University of California, Davis with a presenting complaint of girthiness. Medical records of all horses presented to the veterinary hospital between 2004 and 2016 for girthiness were reviewed. Twelve horses were diagnosed with gastric ulceration, 10 with various orthopedic problems, 3 with ill-fitting saddles, 1 with reproductive tract neoplasia, and 10 with various diseases including liver abscessation, vena cava aneurism, sternum pain, and urinary tract infection. Identifying the exact cause of girthiness remains a challenge; however, gastric ulcers was a common finding; therefore, a clinical examination should be oriented to further investigate this condition because 92% of gastroscoped horses in this study were diagnosed with gastric ulcers.
Article
Identification of low‐grade lameness is challenging. A whole horse ridden ethogram has been developed, describing 24 behavioural markers. Previous work indicated that the presence of ≥8 behavioural markers was likely to reflect musculoskeletal pain. The objectives of this repeated measures study were to compare the results of application of the ridden‐horse ethogram by trained and untrained assessors to horses before and after musculoskeletal pain had been substantially improved using diagnostic analgesia, and to assess the repeatability of the ethogram application among untrained assessors, and to compare their performance with a trained assessor. All horses underwent a comprehensive lameness investigation. Anonymised video recordings of 21 lame horses, ridden by professional riders in trot and canter before and after diagnostic analgesia had abolished lameness, were reviewed in a random order by a trained assessor and 10 untrained assessors. For each horse the duration of the recordings before and after diagnostic analgesia was time matched. The most frequent lameness grade was 2/8 (range 1–4). For the trained assessor, the number of behaviours exhibited by lame horses before diagnostic analgesia ranged from 3–12/24 (median 10; mean 8.9). After lameness and overall performance had been substantially improved using diagnostic analgesia, the number of behaviours ranged from 0–6/24 (median 3; mean 3.0). The decrease in behaviour scores for all assessors after diagnostic analgesia was highly significant (Z = 20,147, P<0.0001). Agreement between the trained assessor and untrained assessors was moderate before diagnostic analgesia and non‐existent after analgesia (Fleiss Kappa 0.49, 0 respectively), when individual behaviours were assessed. The main limitation was that horses were anonymised, but it was impossible to blind their identity, so bias is possible. It was concluded that despite limitations in the agreement between untrained observers and the trained assessor, the ethogram is a potentially valuable tool for determining the presence of musculoskeletal pain and may be useful for longitudinal monitoring of improvement in lameness.
Article
The scientific study of animal emotion has recently become an important focus for animal behaviour and welfare researchers. For horses used by humans for work, recreation or sport, the question of the significance of their life experiences in terms of their emotional response, is an important one if we are to provide for their welfare needs. Horses have received relatively less scientific attention than many livestock species when it comes to investigating emotional state or affective experience, although their behavioural responses during sporting or recreational performance are often described anecdotally using terminology indicating an underlying presumption of equine emotions. Indeed, the international governing body for equestrian sport, the Fédération Equestre Internationale (FEI), include the concept of ‘the Happy Equine Athlete’ into their rules, as a key objective during training and competition. This review presents available evidence to date of the physiological, behavioural and cognitive components of equine emotion and evaluates the extent to which the question concerning ‘how horses feel’ can be answered. The characterization of equine emotion in terms of level of arousal and valence, based on physiological, behavioural and cognitive indicators, offers a way forward to determine the impact of different situations and experiences on horses during their working lives. There is a need to develop robust validated methods for accessing equine emotions, to underpin a universally agreed method for/approach to providing an accurate assessment of equine welfare that can be utilized in a variety of contexts. This will provide a means of monitoring and improving the horse’s experience, ensuring that the horse enjoys a good life, rather than one that is just worth living.
Article
There is evidence that more than 47% of the sports horse population in normal work may be lame, but the lameness is not recognized by owners or trainers. An alternative means of detecting pain may be recognition of behavioral changes in ridden horses. It has been demonstrated that there are differences in facial expressions in nonlame and lame horses. The purpose of this study was to develop a whole horse ethogram for ridden horses and to determine whether it could be applied repeatedly by 1 observer (repeatability study, 9 horses) and if, by application of a related pain behavior score, lame horses (n = 24) and nonlame horses (n = 13) could be differentiated. It was hypothesized that there would be some overlap in pain behavior scores among nonlame and lame horses; and that overall, nonlame horses would have a lower pain behavior score than lame horses. The ethogram was developed with 117 behavioral markers, and the horses were graded twice in random order by a trained specialist using video footage. Overall, there was a good correlation between the 2 assessments (P < 0.001; R² = 0.91). Behavioral markers that were not consistent across the 2 assessments were omitted, reducing the ethogram to 70 markers. The modified ethogram was applied to video recordings of the nonlame horses and lame horses (ethogram evaluation). There was a strong correlation between 20 behavioral markers and the presence of lameness. The ethogram was subsequently simplified to 24 behavioral markers, by the amalgamation of similar behaviors which scored similarly and by omission of markers which showed unreliable results in relation to lameness. Following this, the maximum individual occurrence score for lame horses was 14 (out of 24 possible markers), with a median and mean score of 9 (±2 standard deviation) compared with a maximum score of 6 for nonlame horses, with a median and mean score of 2 (±1.4). For lame horses, the following behaviors occurred significantly more (P < 0.05, chi-square): ears back, mouth opening, tongue out, change in eye posture and expression, going above the bit, head tossing, tilting the head, unwillingness to go, crookedness, hurrying, changing gait spontaneously, poor quality canter, resisting, and stumbling and toe dragging. Recognition of these features as potential indicators of musculoskeletal pain may enable earlier recognition of lameness and avoidance of punishment-based training. Further research is necessary to verify this new ethogram for assessment of pain in ridden horses.
Article
Poor performance in horses is often attributed to rider or training problems or behavioural abnormalities. Riders often fail to recognise lameness. We need to determine if there are differences in facial expression in lame and non-lame horses when ridden, which may facilitate the identification of horses experiencing pain. A previously developed facial expression for ridden horses ethogram (FEReq) was applied blindly by a trained analyst to photographs (n=519) of the head and neck of lame (n=76) and non-lame (n=25) horses acquired during ridden schooling-type work at both trot and canter. These included images of seven lame horses acquired before (n=30 photographs) and after diagnostic analgesia had abolished lameness (n=22 photographs). A pain score (0-3; 0=normal, 1-3=abnormal) was applied to each feature in the ethogram, based on published descriptions of pain in horses. Pain scores were higher for lame horses than non-lame horses (p<0.001). Total pain score (p<0.05), total head position score (p<0.01), and total ear score (p<0.01) were reduced in lame horses after abolition of lameness. Severely ‘above the bit’, twisting the head, asymmetrical position of the bit, ear position (both ears backwards, one ear backwards and one to the side, one ear backwards and one ear forwards) and eye features (exposure of the sclera, the eye partially or completely closed, muscle tension caudal to the eye, an intense stare) were the best indicators of pain. Application of the FEReq ethogram and pain score could differentiate between lame and non-lame horses. Assessment of facial expression could potentially improve recognition of pain-related gait abnormalities in ridden horses.
Article
Many horses presumed to be sound by their riders are not. Facial expression ethograms have previously been used to describe pain-related behavior in horses, but there is a need for a ridden horse facial ethogram to facilitate identification of pain in ridden horses. The objectives of this study were to develop and test an ethogram to describe facial expressions in ridden horses and to determine whether individuals could interpret and correctly apply the ethogram, with consistency among assessors. An ethogram was developed by reference to previous publications and photographs of 150 lame and non-lame ridden horses. A training manual was created. Thirteen assessors (veterinarians of variable experience, n=4; equine technicians, n=3; equine studies graduates, n=2; amateur horse owners, n=2; equine veterinary nurse, n=1; a British Horse Society Instructor, n=1) underwent a training session and, with reference to the training manual, evaluated still lateral photographs of 27 Training heads. Features were graded as Yes, No or ‘Cannot see’ (when it was not possible to determine the presence or absence of a feature). The ethogram was adapted and, after further training, the assessors blindly evaluated 30 Test heads from non-lame and lame horses. Intra-class correlation (ICC) and free-margin Kappa tests were used to assess consensus among assessors. For the Training heads, single ICC matrix among observers resulted in an overall ICC of 0.50 (95% Confidence Intervals [CI], 0.40-0.62). Four assessors consistently scored differently from the others, with ranges of ICC of 0.20-0.50 (mean 0.41). There was no difference in assessors’ scoring related to their professional backgrounds. For the Test heads, mean inter-rater agreement among assessors was 87%. Two assessors still scored consistently differently (0.28-0.50 ICC agreement; mean 0.40) from the remaining 11 assessors (0.44-0.69 ICC agreement; mean 0.56). The mean percentage of overall agreement was 80% and the mean free-marginal Kappa value was 0.72, standard deviation (SD) ± 0.22. The large SD was the result of inconsistency in assessments of the eyes and muzzle. It was concluded that the developed ethogram could reliably be utilised to describe facial expressions of ridden horses by people from different professional backgrounds. Future work needs to determine if non-lame and lame horses can be differentiated based on application of the ethogram.
Article
Horses displaying aversion to fastening of the girth may be expressing pain from myofascial trigger points (MTrPs). The location of MTrPs in the pectoral region of horses has not been previously described. The objectives of this study were: 1) to locate and map MTrPs in the transverse and ascending pectoral muscles; 2) to score the severity of the MTrPs by behavioural reaction to palpation and; 3) to look for associations between these findings and girth-aversion behaviour. Thirty-eight horses were recruited in a cross-sectional clinical study. Taut bands were identified on palpation of horses undergoing physiotherapy assessment and then scored for behavioural reaction to palpation as normal (0), mild (1), moderate (2) or severe (3) and mapped. Owner-reported history of girth-aversion behaviour was compared with the severity score using Chi-squared analysis.
Article
Objective: Intraclass correlation coefficient (ICC) is a widely used reliability index in test-retest, intrarater, and interrater reliability analyses. This article introduces the basic concept of ICC in the content of reliability analysis. Discussion for researchers: There are 10 forms of ICCs. Because each form involves distinct assumptions in their calculation and will lead to different interpretations, researchers should explicitly specify the ICC form they used in their calculation. A thorough review of the research design is needed in selecting the appropriate form of ICC to evaluate reliability. The best practice of reporting ICC should include software information, "model," "type," and "definition" selections. Discussion for readers: When coming across an article that includes ICC, readers should first check whether information about the ICC form has been reported and if an appropriate ICC form was used. Based on the 95% confident interval of the ICC estimate, values less than 0.5, between 0.5 and 0.75, between 0.75 and 0.9, and greater than 0.90 are indicative of poor, moderate, good, and excellent reliability, respectively. Conclusion: This article provides a practical guideline for clinical researchers to choose the correct form of ICC and suggests the best practice of reporting ICC parameters in scientific publications. This article also gives readers an appreciation for what to look for when coming across ICC while reading an article.
Article
Historically lameness has been evaluated in hand or on the lunge, but some lamenesses may only be apparent ridden. The objectives were to compare the response to flexion tests, movement in hand, on the lunge and ridden in sports horses in regular work, assumed to be sound by the owners. It was hypothesised that lameness may be apparent in ridden horses that was not detectable in hand or on the lunge. Fifty-seven sport horses in regular work and assumed to be sound were assessed prospectively in hand, on the lunge on both soft and firm surfaces and ridden. Flexion tests of all four limbs were performed. Lameness was graded (0-8) under each circumstance in which the horse was examined and after each flexion test.
Article
Since the 1970s, texts on research methods in animal behavior advocate that researchers minimize potential observer bias in their studies. One way to minimize possible bias is to record or score behavioral data blind to treatment, group, or individual. Another way to reduce bias is for researchers to analyze subsets or entire sets of data independently of one another and to obtain high inter‐observer reliability of behavioral coding. We reviewed several hundred published articles from 1970, 1980, 1990, 2000, and 2010 in five leading animal behavior journals and found that these two methods for minimizing or eliminating bias were rarely reported (80% of articles reviewed). The lack of reporting attempts to minimize bias in animal behavior studies suggests that, at best, many researchers view blind analyses of data or inter‐rater reliability as unimportant components of research or, if carried out, unnecessary to report in a manuscript. At worst, the lack of reporting attempts to minimize bias suggests that some published behavioral research may be unreliable. We are aware of constraints imposed by fieldwork and data collecting issues that make blind data comparisons or inter‐rater reliability assessments sometimes difficult or unfeasible. However, given that research ethicists often emphasize the fundamental importance of trust and transparency in science, we urge authors, reviewers, and editors of manuscripts to ensure that at least one of these two methods of reducing and reporting observer bias occurs.
Article
Two quite different reasons for employing open as opposed to closed attitude questions can be distinguished. One is to discover the responses that individuals give spontaneously; the other is to avoid the bias that may result from suggesting responses to individuals. The first goal can be satisfied through careful pretesting, whereas the second requires that open questions be used in the final questionnaire. We examine both goals by means of experiments within large-scale sample surveys. A widely used closed question on Work Values is first compared with a parallel open question, and then the responses to the latter are used to reformulate the closed alternatives in new comparisons. More limited experiments on two other items also are discussed. In all cases there are large and reliable differences between question forms in univariate distributions, and in most cases important differences in bivariate relations also occur. An attempt is made to explain and reconcile both kinds of differences. The evidence suggests that if closed alternatives initially are constructed on the basis of sufficient open responses, then remaining open/closed differences may be due mainly to interviewing and coding problems with open questions, rather than to bias from closed questions.
Article
Reports 3 errors in the original article by K. O. McGraw and S. P. Wong (Psychological Methods, 1996, 1[1], 30–46). On page 39, the intraclass correlation coefficient (ICC) and r values given in Table 6 should be changed to r = .714 for each data set, ICC(C,1) = .714 for each data set, and ICC(A,1) = .720, .620, and .485 for the data in Columns 1, 2, and 3 of the table, respectively. In Table 7 (p. 41), which is used to determine confidence intervals on population values of the ICC, the procedures for obtaining the confidence intervals on ICC(A,k) need to be amended slightly. Corrected formulas are given. On pages 44–46, references to Equations A3, A,4, and so forth in the Appendix should be to Sections A3, A4, and so forth. (The following abstract of this article originally appeared in record 1996-03170-003.). Although intraclass correlation coefficients (ICCs) are commonly used in behavioral measurement, psychometrics, and behavioral genetics, procedures available for forming inferences about ICC are not widely known. Following a review of the distinction between various forms of the ICC, this article presents procedures available for calculating confidence intervals and conducting tests on ICCs developed using data from one-way and two-way random and mixed-effect analysis of variance models. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved)
Article
EDITOR—In a paper in the American Journal of Public Health Aickin stated that “there is substantial debate… concerning when (if ever) adjustment for multiple testing is warranted.”1 I am glad that he has joined the debate in the BMJ over Bonferroni adjustments but find his arguments unconvincing.2 Yes, “researchers who adjust P values almost always present them for their individual hypotheses,” as he says. This is why they should not worry about unrelated tests and renounce a statistical technique that focuses …