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Veterinarians from the Animal Health Trust in England did a cross-sectional study of gait abnormalities and pain-related behavior among sport and leisure saddle horses reported to be working comfortably by their owners.
They used the Ridden Horse Pain Ethogram (pain scores) to evaluate lameness, saddle fit and discomfort while horses were worked in hand and being ridden.
Almost one-third (28%) of the horses were lame when trotted in hand, a majority (62%) were found to be lame when ridden, with 60% showing lameness at the canter. The median pain score was 8/24 with a range from 0 to 15, and it was positively correlated with lameness. Riding school horses, those with tight saddle tree points, riders seated toward the back of the saddle, crank cavessons (compared with regular cavesson nosebands) all had higher pain scores. Surprisingly, 84% of saddles were found to fit improperly in a manner that could adversely affect performance.
In addition to validating the usefulness of pain scoring for ridden horses, this study is of value in highlighting the common occurrence of lameness among sport and leisure saddle horses previously believed to be comfortable by their owners, as well as the common problem of poor fitting saddles.
— Dyson S et al. EVE 2022;34:84-95