Ethogram of the Ridden Horse Part 3: Common Methods of Behavioural Interpretation

The training of horses relies on their tractability and the ability to extinguish or overshadow their innate inter- and intra-species behaviours, such as flight and sexual behaviours (McDonnell, 2003).  In the process, desired innate and learned behaviours are shaped and modified to suit human desires for sport, show, performance, and leisure, training horses to perform tasks that are in opposition to their innate preferences (McGreevy & McLean, 2007). Two notable examples include jumping obstacles they would otherwise avoid and the tolerance of a human (some may say ‘predator’) on their back (Goodwin, McGreevy, Waran & McLean, 2009; McGreevy & McLean, 2007; McGreevy, Oddie, Burton & McLean, 2009; Starling et al., 2016).

Horses have not evolved to be ridden, nor have humans evolved to ride them, which may explain the high numbers of casualties from equestrian pursuits (Goodwin, 2009; McGreevy & McLean, 2007; McGreevy, Oddie, Burton & McLean, 2009; Starling et al., 2016). Statistically, equestrians experience more injuries per hour than do motorcyclists, with the majority of injuries involving the head, spine (Papachristos, Edwards, Dowrick & Gosling, 2014), and chest (Davidson, Blostein, Schrotenboer, Sloffer & VandenBerg, 2015). In 2009 there were an estimated 78,499 reported equestrian-related injuries in the United States. While the majority of those injured (67,196) were treated without hospitalization, 11,250 equestrians did require hospitalization, with an undisclosed portion of those seriously injured dying (Davidson et al., 2015).

The training and riding of horses involves isolating them from conspecifics and controlling their physical movement (Starling et al., 2016), working in direct opposition to their inherent need for friends, forage, and locomotion. Advances in recognizing signs of conflict, distress, fear, and pain in the ridden horse can make equestrian activities safer for everyone involved, primarily the horse and rider. Conflict behaviours occur when the horse is exhibiting signs of physical and/or mental discomfort. This typically happens where there are two or more competing triggers for separate behaviours that cannot be expressed, i.e. when a horse is being ridden away from a group of horses it is ‘motivated’ to stay with the herd and simultaneously ‘motivated’ to respond to the rider’s signal (Hall & Heleski, 2017).

However, it is thought that signs of irritation and frustration in the horse may indicate more than just competing motivations (Hall & Heleski, 2017). They may also be indicative of pain avoidance and escape behaviours, both of which are considered conflict behaviours in response to musculoskeletal pain caused by the presence of a rider or problems with equipment, physical issues that may not be noticeable when the horse is lunged or exercised in hand (Dyson, 2017a; Dyson, 2017b; Mullard et al, 2017).

Qualitative Behavioural Assessment

Qualitative behavioural assessment (QBA) is a useful tool to evaluate a horse’s attitudinal and emotional response to a specific event, enabling an assessment of the horse’s mental state during competition, or how the presence of humans influence how a horse behaves. These assessments take into account the animal’s movement and posture and describe them in terms of demeanor; ‘relaxed’, ‘content’, anxious’. The horse’s body language is interpreted as a direct reflection of its mental state. However, in applying this method of data collection, individual observers are permitted to incorporate what is known as Free Choice Profiling, which allows them to develop and apply their own descriptors to score the behavioural expressions of the animals (Fleming et al., 2013). This aspect of QBA works in direct opposition of the need to develop and use robust and valid objective measures to methodologically collect data and foster reporting that will advance equitation science for the benefit of both horse and human (Pierard et al. 2015).

Physiological Measures

Physiological measures of heart rate, cortisol levels, and tension or pressure from equipment and rider cues have traditionally been used to assess welfare in the ridden horse. However, there is increasing debate around the validity of heart rate and cortisol measures and whether it is possible to adequately discriminate between the effects of physical exercise versus emotional experience (excitement/arousal/fear/anxiety) of the horse in relation to the findings from physiological data (Hall et al., 2014; Hall & Heleski, 2017; Waran & Randle, 2017).

In a study involving 12 equestrian professionals and 10 horses, Hall et al. (2014) investigated the correlation between observed behaviours and physiological measures of salivary cortisol and eye temperature. They found there was little correlation between the behaviour assessments and the physiological evidence, illustrating that further evaluation of both methods is needed to ensure their accuracy as tools to effectively assess stress and behaviour of ridden horses.

It has also been suggested that the techniques and equipment used to sample physiological data are invasive and may directly affect the results (Waran and Randle; 2017). Figure 1 serves to illustrate the complexities involved in accurately monitoring various pressure or tension points, and the number of gadgets required.

Figure 1

Furthermore, heart rate monitors, electromyography, infrared thermography, pressure algometry, accelerometers, gyroscopes (Randle et al., 2017), thermal cameras (Hall et al., 2014), pressure and tension gauges, et cetera used by equitation scientists are both costly, and not readily available to the average equestrian.

Equine Social Behaviour

A model widely espoused by practitioners of natural horsemanship, there is considerable debate about the degree of relevance equine social behaviour has in relation to the ethogram of the ridden horse. On the one hand, Hall & Heleski (2017) and McGreevy et al. (2009) suggest that the equine social ethogram may be beneficial to the interpretation of ridden horse behaviour. Yet they simultaneously question the validity of horse-horse interactions and communication as a model for horse-human interactions.

While a comprehensive equine ethogram aids in the understanding of horse-horse interactions and there is an inherent human desire to look for the existence of analogues in human-horse interactions, such analogues should be applied with caution. The impact and relevance of analogues of the equine ethogram in common equestrian and management techniques should be used and interpreted carefully to avoid connotations of anthropomorphism and ascribing the horse with a level of intention or motivation that exceeds its cognitive abilities (McGreevy & McLean, 2007; McGreevy et al., 2009). Furthermore, while there may be evidence of human-horse, horse-human interactions that are analogous to social interactions between horses, these do not translate when the horse is ridden. Difficulties in equitation are experienced by both horse and rider due to the inability to integrate the equine sociogram into riding techniques (Goodwin et al., 2009).

Rideability

Rideability assesses both the comfort level of the rider and the degree of ease with which a horse can be ridden. The responses of the horse to signals from the rider are evaluated, which often directly correlate to the experience of the rider, since the horse should be under their control or direction at all times. Assessing behaviour in the ridden horse is complex, as the actions of the rider and resulting effect on the horse’s behaviour must be assessed simultaneously. This method is primarily subjective and dependent on who is observing the behaviour – judge, rider, impartial observer – and how they interpret the observations. Scoring may include tail-swishing, position and movement of the rider’s hands, shying, and gait changes. The only truly objective measure is that of rein tension. Overall, the behaviours consistent with a high score of ‘rideability’ are unclear (Hall & Heleski, 2017).

A common theme with all of the above methods is a focus on detecting conflict behaviours associated with competing motivations, tension and stress, with limited mention of assessing whether the horse is experiencing pain associated with the presence of equipment and/or weight of a rider. In recent years, there has been an increased focus on the need for and development of a comprehensive ethogram of the ridden horse that is applicable across a range of scenarios and disciplines, a method that can be used by anyone to evaluate conflict, stress and irritation, and detect pain in horses across a wide range of equestrian pursuits (Hall & Heleski, 2017; Hall et al., 2013; Mullard et al., 2017).

Part 1: Introduction

Part 2: The Facial Expression Ethogram

References

Davidson, S.B., Blostein, P.A., Schrotenboer, A., Sloffer, C.A. & S.L. VandenBerg. (2015). Ten Years of Equine-Related Injuries: Severity and Implications for Emergency Physicians. The Journal of Emergency Medicine 49(5) (2015) 605-612.

Dyson, S. (2017a). Facial Expressions Research – is your horse trying to tell you he’s in pain? Apr 28, 2017. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JKzwPrIShTY

Dyson, S. (2017b). Facial Expressions Study – Developing and Applying the Ethogram. Jun 1, 2017. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=1&v=CsyAggivCDA 

Fleming, P.A., Paisley, C.L., Barnes, A.L. & F. Wemelsfelder. (2013). Application of Qualitative Behavioural Assessment to horses during an endurance ride. Applied Animal Behaviour Science 144 (2013) 80-88.

Goodwin, D., McGreevy, P., Waran, N., & A. McLean. (2009). How equitation science can elucidate and refine horsemanship techniques. The Veterinary Journal 181 (2009) 5-11.

Hall, C. & C. Heleski. (2017). The role of the ethogram in equitation science. Applied Animal Behaviour Science 190 (2017) 102-110.

Hall, C., Huws, N. White, C. Taylor, E. Owen, H. & P. McGreevy. (2013). Assessment of ridden horse behavior. Journal of Veterinary Behavior 8 (2013) 62-73.

Hall, C., Kay, R. & K. Yarnell. (2014). Assessing ridden horse behaviour: Professional judgement and physiological measures. Journal of Veterinary Behavior 9 (2014) 22-29.

McDonnell, S. (2003). A Practical Field Guide to Horse Behavior: The Equid Ethogram. Lexington, KY: The Blood-Horse, Inc.

McGreevy, P.D. & A.N. McLean. (2007). Roles of learning theory and ethology in equitation. Journal of Veterinary Behavior 2 (2007) 108-118.

McGreevy, P., Oddie, C., Burton, F. & A. McLean. (2009). The horse-human dyad: Can we align horse training and handling activities with the equid social ethogram? The Veterinary Journal 181 (2009) 12-18.

Mullard, J., Berger, J.M., Ellis, A.D. & S. Dyson. (2017). Development of an ethogram to describe facial expressions in ridden horses (FEReq). Journal of Veterinary Behaviour 18 (2017) 7-12.

Papachristo, A., Edwards, E., Dowrick, A. and C. Gosling. (2014). A description of the severity of equestrian-related injuries (ERIs) using clinical parameters and patient-reported outcomes. International Journal of the Care of the Injured 45 (2014) 1484-1487.

Pierard, M., Hall, C., König von Borstel, U., Averis, A., Hawson, L., McLean, A., Nevison, C., Visser, K., & P. McGreevy. (2015). Evolving protocols for research in equitation science. Journal of Veterinary Behaviour 10 (2015) 255-256.

Randle, H., Steenbergen, M., Robert, K. & A. Hemmings. (2017). The use of the technology in equitation science: A panacea or abductive science. Applied Animal Behaviour Science 190 (2017) 57-73.

Starling, M., McLean, A., & P. McGreevy. (2016). The Contribution of Equitation Science to Minimising Horse-Related Risks to Humans. Animals 2016, 6, 15; doi:10.3390/ani6030015

Waran, N. & H. Randle. (2017). What we can measure, we can manage: The importance of using robust welfare indicators in Equitation Science. in Applied Animal Behaviour Science 190 (2017) 74-81.

 

Ethogram of the Ridden Horse Part 2: The Facial Expression Ethogram

“If a measure is to be useful as a welfare indicator it must be valid (meaningful in relation to animal welfare), reliable (produce consistent results when used by different observers/scorers) and feasible (practical for contemporaneous assessment in the field)” (Waran and Randle, 2017, p.75).

The recently developed facial expression ethogram of ridden horses can aid in the early detection of lameness and low-grade musculoskeletal problems across the board, from the backyard pony to the elite performance horse (Dyson, 2017a; Dyson, 2017b; Mullard et al., 2017). One of the goals of the project is to bring people’s awareness to the possibility that changes in facial expressions may very well be a manifestation of pain. If owners are aware of this, the hope is that they will seek advice from a veterinarian before the underlying problem turns into an advanced issue that is more difficult to resolve (Dyson, 2017a). The observational methods can be readily taught and made available to all equestrians – owners, riders, trainers, veterinarians – who may not know how to recognize signs of pain in the facial expressions of their horses (Dyson, 2017; Dyson et al., 2018).

The low/no technology nature of these observational methods removes barriers associated with the collection and analysis of physiological measures, enabling adoption by the broader equestrian community. The early detection of pain in a horse provides an opportunity for early diagnosis and treatment, and can prevent a problem from escalating to a point where the horse is experiencing reduced welfare or an unsafe situation arises for the rider or handler (Mullard et al., 2017; Waran & Randle, 2017).

Motivations to develop the ethogram

It has been well documented that horses exhibit changes in their facial expressions when experiencing pain or discomfort associated with colic (Dyson, 2017a). Changes in behaviour and facial expressions have also been observed when horses are ridden, which is likely a manifestation of pain related to low-grade lameness or a musculoskeletal problem. However, owners and riders are generally not very good at detecting low-grade lameness and are slow to notice physical problems that are compromising their horse’s performance and have a tendency to label horses as ‘naughty’. Alternatively, trainers place blame on the riders. Either way, the possibility that the horse may be experiencing physical discomfort is completely overlooked (Dyson, 2017a, Mullard et al., 2017). “In a survey of 506 sports horses in normal work and presumed to be sound, 47% were overtly lame either in hand and/or ridden or had other pain-related gait abnormalities (Dyson et al., 2018, p.47).

Developing the Ethogram

In the first part of their endeavor to create an ethogram of the ridden horse, Sue Dyson (2017b) and her colleague studied numerous photographs of both lame and sound horses to develop the markers of facial expressions for the ethogram. In order to show it would be useful, they set out to demonstrate that a number of different individuals could apply the ethogram in a consistent way. They assembled a team of 14 people made up of vets, horse owners, instructors, and gave them a training manual with descriptions of every single marker in the facial expressions ethogram of the ridden horse accompanied by a lecture to introduce the concept and procedure. Participants were given a series of photos of 30 horse’s heads and asked to apply the ethogram to each of the individual photographs.

Upon observing some anomalies in the interpretation of the ethogram, it was revisited and changes were made before proceeding with a test on a larger group of different horses. Results were statistically analyzed to determine consistency in the application of the newly developed ethogram, indicating a high degree of consistency in the interpretation of the photographs, proving that it can be applied accurately by a range of people from different professional and nonprofessional equestrian backgrounds (Dyson, 2017b).

Applying the Ethogram

The second part of the study was designed to see if by using photographs of the heads of the horses, both lame and sound, whether or not the two groups could be differentiated based on facial features alone. A pain score was developed for each marker of the ethogram. For example, when looking at ear position if both ears are forward, a score of  0 would be given (normal), whereas if both ears are back, that would be a score of 3 (most likely an indicator of pain). Scoring was done for each facial feature to develop a pain score for each anatomical area which could then be tallied to produce a total pain score for each head. Statistical analysis was applied and results indicated that there was a highly significant difference in the pain score in lame versus sound horses. To support the findings, a small portion of the lame horses were administered nerve blocks. These horses were photographed both before and after the nerve blocks had been administered to observe whether or not the pain scores changed and to determine whether it was in fact pain from lameness that was causing the change in facial expression (Dyson, 2017b).

The next part of the study, which is currently in development, involves assessments of whole horses by video. Dyson and her colleagues are looking at all aspects of behaviour (facial, body, and gait) in both sound and lame horses, and timing actions, such as how long the ears are in a specific position, tail movement, head movement, and reluctance to move forward in response to a  rider’s cues. The significant markers are being identified and modified for accuracy. When complete, the ethogram will serve as a valuable tool to evaluate pain scores and differences in pain scores between lame and sound horses (Dyson, 2017b; Dyson et al., 2018).

A complete ethogram of the ridden horse vs. other methods of behavioural interpretation

Traditionally, evaluations of the training event, equipment used, rider actions and resulting performance and mental state of the horse have been observed to develop a record of behavioural observations in the ridden horse as an indication of welfare. Specific behaviours associated with pain, discomfort, anxiety, fear, and distress have been assessed by trainers and judges. However, there has been a high degree of subjectivity and inconsistency, as illustrated in Part 3: Common Methods of Behavioural Interpretation. A consistent approach across disciplines has the potential to significantly improve the welfare of the ridden horse.

Working toward the visual assessment of pain, fear, and stress across the spectrum of equestrian events, it is perhaps more prudent to focus on methods that could be learned and applied by the everyday equestrian; methods that are not dependent on technology and instead focus on teaching people how to observe and interpret facial expressions, posture, gait changes, and tail positions of the horse that are indicative of pain when under saddle. If the goal is to have a more robust application of the ethogram, technology such as that frequently used in the collection of physiological data may be a barrier.

Part 1: Introduction

Part 3: Common Methods of Behavioural Interpretation

References

Dyson, S. (2017a). Facial Expressions Research – is your horse trying to tell you he’s in pain? Apr 28, 2017. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JKzwPrIShTY

Dyson, S. (2017b). Facial Expressions Study – Developing and Applying the Ethogram. Jun 1, 2017. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=1&v=CsyAggivCDA

Dyson, S., Berger, J.M., Ellis, A.D., & J. Mullard. (2017). Can the presence of musculoskeletal pain be determined from the facial expressions of ridden horses (FEReq)? Journal of Veterinary Behaviour 19 (2017) 78-89.

Dyson, S. Berger, J., Ellis, A.D. and J. Mullard. (2018). Development of an ethogram for a pain scoring system in ridden horses and its application to determine the presence of musculoskeletal pain” Journal of Veterinary Behaviour: Clinical Applications and Research 23 (2018) 47-57.

Mullard, J., Berger, J.M., Ellis, A.D. & S. Dyson. (2017). Development of an ethogram to describe facial expressions in ridden horses (FEReq). Journal of Veterinary Behaviour 18 (2017) 7-12.

Waran, N. & H. Randle. (2017). What we can measure, we can manage: The importance of using robust welfare indicators in Equitation Science. in Applied Animal Behaviour Science 190 (2017) 74-81.

Image

Karina Bech Gleerup. Retrieved from https://science-equine.com/128-behavior/social-behavior/3369-chronic-back-pain-and-aggression-in-horses

Ethogram of the Ridden Horse Part 1: Introduction

Equitation science and applied ethology, that is, the scientific study of horse behaviour in the human domain (McGreevy & McLean, 2007), can greatly reduce risks related to human-horse interactions while simultaneously enhancing equine welfare with an effective, evidence-based approach to training and riding based on the natural and adaptive behaviours of horses, their specific behavioural needs and preferences, communication, cognitive abilities, and motivation (Goodwin, McGreevy, Waran & Mclean, 2009; Hall et. al, 2013; McGreevy & McLean, 2007; Starling, McLean & McGreevy, 2016).

An important achievement in equitation science is the anticipated development of the complete ethogram of the ridden horse, which will detect and score the presence and degree of pain experienced by a horse under saddle. Significant progress has been made on the first part of this, the facial expression ethogram, which focuses on ear position, eyes, nose, mouth, and head position, with the full body ethogram expected to be complete in 2018 (Dyson, 2017a; Dyson, 2017b; Dyson, Berger, Ellis & Mullard, 2017; Dyson, Berger, Ellis & Mullard, 2018;  Mullard, Berger, Ellis & Dyson, 2017).

Part 2, The Facial Expression Ethogram, focusses on current work in the development of a facial expression ethogram of ridden horses. Part 3, Common Methods of Behavioural Interpretation, presents an overview of the methods traditionally used to detect pain, stress, or fear in a horse under saddle, and their shortcomings to illustrate why the ethogram of the ridden horse is such an important development.

What is an Ethogram?

An ethogram is a species-specific catalogue of all of the observed behaviours of an animal and the social, environmental, and other external factors that influence them (Hall & Heleski, 2017; McDonnell, 2003). In the case of domestic horses, these external factors include management, training, and riding by humans.

Two key publications on the equine ethogram are Sue McDonnell’s A Practical Field Guide to Horse Behavior: The Equid Ethogram (2003) and G.H. Waring’s Horse Behaviour (2003). Waring’s book includes a comprehensive list of 143 distinct horse behaviours and references to the early ethologists who developed the equine ethogram (Hall & Heleski, 2017; Waring, 2003). Combined, McDonnell and Waring examine 8 main categories of behaviours and a series of sub-categories, as listed in Table 1. The books contain illustrations of the most common specific behaviours observed in horses and referred to in scientific literature (McDonnell, 2003; Waring, 2003). However, an ethogram of the ridden horse has not been available until now.

Table 1. The Equine Ethogram: Main Behaviours & SubcategoriesTable 1*italics indicate behaviours specific to Waring’s text.  (Source: McDonnell, 2003; Waring, 2003)

Components of the ethogram applied to equitation have primarily been used to record, evaluate, and assess the welfare of the ridden horse with a focus on stress behaviours relative to specific topics of research. For example, in 13 studies of horse behaviour presented by Hall & Heleski (2017), only 6 authors referred to an ethogram, citing a total of 11 ethograms between them, indicating a high degree of subjectivity in the study of equine behaviour and conflict between horse and rider. Studies to date have also been limited by low numbers of participants and in some cases, overlapping participants, with the range of behaviours included dependent on the aim of the study (Hall & Heleski, 2003; Pierard et al., 2015). Table 2 presents an overview of such studies since 2006, none of which distinctly indicate the detection of pain in the ridden horse as a focal point of the research.

Table 2. Studies in Equitation Science Involving Ridden Horse since 2006Table 2(Source: Hall & Heleski, 2017; Pierard et al., 2015)

Part 2: The Facial Expression Ethogram

Part 3: Common Methods of Behavioural Interpretation

References

Dyson, S. (2017a). Facial Expressions Research – is your horse trying to tell you he’s in pain? Apr 28, 2017. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JKzwPrIShTY

Dyson, S. (2017b). Facial Expressions Study – Developing and Applying the Ethogram. June 1, 2017. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=1&v=CsyAggivCDA

Dyson, S., Berger, J.M., Ellis, A.D., & J. Mullard. (2017). Can the presence of musculoskeletal pain be determined from the facial expressions of ridden horses (FEReq)? Journal of Veterinary Behaviour 19 (2017) 78-89.

Dyson, S. Berger, J., Ellis, A.D. and J. Mullard. (2018). Development of an ethogram for a pain scoring system in ridden horses and its application to determine the presence of musculoskeletal pain” Journal of Veterinary Behaviour: Clinical Applications and Research 23 (2018) 47-57.

Goodwin, D., McGreevy, P., Waran, N., & A. McLean. (2009). How equitation science can elucidate and refine horsemanship techniques. The Veterinary Journal 181 (2009) 5-11.

Hall, C. & C. Heleski. (2017). The role of the ethogram in equitation science. Applied Animal Behaviour Science 190 (2017) 102-110.

Hall, C., Huws, N. White, C. Taylor, E. Owen, H. & P. McGreevy. (2013). Assessment of ridden horse behavior. Journal of Veterinary Behavior 8 (2013) 62-73.

Hall, C., Kay, R. & K. Yarnell. (2014). Assessing ridden horse behaviour: Professional judgement and physiological measures. Journal of Veterinary Behavior 9 (2014) 22-29.

McDonnell, S. (2003). A Practical Field Guide to Horse Behavior: The Equid Ethogram. Lexington, KY: The Blood-Horse, Inc.

McGreevy, P.D. & A.N. McLean. (2007). Roles of learning theory and ethology in equitation. Journal of Veterinary Behavior 2 (2007) 108-118.

Mullard, J., Berger, J.M., Ellis, A.D. & S. Dyson. (2017). Development of an ethogram to describe facial expressions in ridden horses (FEReq). Journal of Veterinary Behaviour 18 (2017) 7-12.

Pierard, M., Hall, C., König von Borstel, U., Averis, A., Hawson, L., McLean, A., Nevison, C., Visser, K., & P. McGreevy. (2015). Evolving protocols for research in equitation science. Journal of Veterinary Behaviour 10 (2015) 255-256.

Starling, M., McLean, A., & P. McGreevy. (2016). The Contribution of Equitation Science to Minimising Horse-Related Risks to Humans. Animals 2016, 6, 15; doi:10.3390/ani6030015

Image

Jurga, F. (2017). Sue Dyson: Double video explanation of equine ethogram for recognizing lameness and pain. The Hoof Blog June 01, 2017. Retrieved from  https://hoofcare.blogspot.ca/2017/06/sue-dyson-equine-ethogram-facial-expression-lameness-video.html