Pain is All - Observations from over the Stable door.
'In my equine world pain is all. Pain affects not only the horse's training and athletic performance but also everyday life, from standing in the stable to playing in the field. When something changes in your horse, be it physical, emotional or behavioural always suspect pain. When and if, found, pay close attention to it so you may do something about it. Too often I hear. 'It's a training issue', 'it's a matter of respect', or 'he's just in a bad mood' or 'it's just a mare thing' when ninety-nine times out of a hundred the horse is in pain somewhere and is just trying to let you know.'
These words are from an article written by the founder of Equine Touch Jock Ruddock back in the Summer of 2009 coincidently this was when I first discovered Equine Touch simply in order to help my own horse. These are words that have stayed with me throughout my time both as an Equine Touch student and continue to resonate today as I go about my day to day visits as an Equine Touch practitioner. A copy of the full article I give to every one of my new clients who quite often have contacted me due to the fact that there is something not quite right with their horse and they want to rule out pain.
The Equine Touch mission statement is 'Educating Humans and Helping Horses' I have met some very interesting horses over the years, some sadly are no longer with us and the majority of those horses and owners I have helped in some way through Equine Touch.
We are taught as Equine Touch students from the beginning to watch, observe and listen to the horse in order that we can work with them - note 'with them' not 'on them'. Having recently started to delve into the subject of Equine Body Language and Communication the emphasis is so much on observation, observation without judgement, emotion or interpretation.
Observing the horse when being ridden is something that everyone does, showjumping, dressage, gymkhana, polo or just schooling can be a spectator sport but it can also be a challenge for anyone interested in the welfare of the horse. The notorious Dr Sue Dyson and her work on the Pain Ethogram in the Ridden Horse which is a catalogue of behaviours that can be used to spot potential pain in ridden horses, has been so influential, in getting the awareness out into the horse industry. Dr Dyson's findings have shown that there is evidence that more than 47% of the sports horse population in normal work may be lame, that is almost half the horses that are out there competing but the lameness is not recognized by owners or trainers! Whilst an alternative means of detecting pain may be recognition of behavioural changes in ridden horses. It has been demonstrated that there are differences in facial expressions in non-lame and lame horses.
Observing our horses as part of the herd from a distance is something I find fascinating and Lucy Rees has some wonderful talks on horses in the wild and the interaction between them which can broaden our education on why our domesticated horses have so many problems that we as owners have in some way contributed to. https://www.epona.tv/real-ethology-with-lucy-rees
I do find it very sad and frustrating that often when observing some owners (not my clients I hasten to add) with their horses on some yards that I visit they are totally oblivious to what the horse is trying to tell them, often they have their headphones on or are chatting away on the phone, in a rush to get on with the next important thing in their life. You see the horse or pony gets dragged out of the stable where he has been standing snoozing for the last few hours, told off for putting his ears back, smacked for kicking out when the rug gets pulled off or thrown on and then shouted at to stand still or berated if it doesn't move instantly when the owner comes out of the stable with the wheelbarrow. This is what causes the horse to lose trust in the owner as more often than not the horse is trying its best to communicate discomfort and pain and then when the horse reaches its absolute threshold and causes injury to the owner they say 'it came out of nowhere', the horse is accused of being the one in the wrong when quite often it is something that has been building and building for a long time. We all need to listen to the horse.
On approaching a client's horse for the first time I will be observing how they are interacting with the environment around them, are they tied up on the yard happily eating hay or are they dancing around on the end of the rope, calling to their field mates? Are they resting a leg or have they got one hind leg retracted back? A horse standing at the stable door that pins its ears back when you approach is clearly in some sort of discomfort as is one that is standing at the back of the stable not interacting with the goings-on unless of course, they are having an afternoon nap out of the heat of the sun. The phrase I often use is 'Is this normal?' Although I think you will agree that a horse displaying signs of discomfort should not be normal.
Drawing an owners attention to the fact that their horse would appear to be always resting their right hind during a session or that they choose to stand pointing their left fore at an odd angle, often emits the response that they haven't noticed it before or that they have only recently started doing it. This is one of the reasons why we do not insist that the horse 'stands up' or stands square during the session as often due to discomfort or compensation the horse is physically unable to stand with its weight distribution equally balanced on all four feet. I am not wanting to force the horse into standing square but often we may need to gently encourage it by re-educating the muscle memory and showing the horse that once we have eased the tension on the fascia, muscles, ligaments and tendons standing square is indeed possible. Often owners exclaim that this has been the first time they have ever seen their horse stand square in the fourteen years that they have owned them.... such is the magic of Equine Touch and the Equine Body Balance.
Over the years it has been lovely to see how my clients have been 'educated' by Equine Touch - getting the phone call or text message that their horse is not quite moving right or appears to be choosing to rest his left hind more than the right, or is swishing his tail when being asked to go into canter means that they are observing what their horse is doing and listening to what they are saying.
Re-balancing the horse's body with the aid of Equine Touch may not give the answer as to what was the cause of the discomfort as Equine Touch is not diagnostic in its nature (only vets can diagnose) but it certainly provides the solution in helping to eliminate the pain spiral. It can also assist us in looking at the compensatory patterns that the horse may be holding onto. Easing tension and hypertonic muscles, tendons and ligaments is the first step in helping to reduce the chances of injury further down the line.
However just to reiterate Equine Touch is not designed or intended in any way, in whole or in part to be a substitute for orthodox allopathic veterinary practice. If in doubt contact your vet.