The Horse

JAN 2019

The Horse:Your Guide To Equine Health Care provides monthly equine health care information to horse owners, breeders, veterinarians, barn/farm managers, trainer/riding instructors, and others involved in the hands-on care of the horse.

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TheHorse.com | The Horse January 2019 17 especially from that of a sick horse or a horse in pain, says McDonnell. "This is where the grimace scale can get a bit confusing," McDonnell says. "It's good to look at all the body language as a whole and not just focus on the facial features alone, as these can be similar for pain, illness, and chronic psychological or physical stress." 3 "I'm depressed." Depressed horses tend to exhibit a specific kind of body language that's easy to recognize once you know it, says Clé- mence Lesimple, PhD, of the EthoS Labo- ratory of Human and Animal Ethology at the University of Rennes, in France. "They take on a sort of 'fixed' posture, standing still for several minutes in a characteristic pose with their weight shifted to the front, the neck horizontal and low but stretched out, and especially their eyes open and ears unmoving," she says. "They often stand facing the wall, and they seem to show complete indif- ference to their environment, like they've just cut themselves off." This scenario occurs mainly in stabled horses that have entered a state of learned helplessness, says Lesimple, meaning they've "given up," so to speak, after long periods of chronic stress. 4 "I don't like this." Horses don't always agree with our choices, and they often don't hesitate to express their discontent. If our riding style or grooming method makes them uncomfortable, their body language can be quite clear: "I don't like that!" "Many ridden horses will swish their tails in reaction to an undesirable leg cue," says Janne Winther Christensen, PhD, of the Aarhus University Depart- ment of Animal Science, in Tjele, Den- mark. "It's the same movement they'll do if they're annoyed by a flying insect. It's their way of saying, 'This bothers me.' " Horses might also shake their heads or react to undesirable bit pressure by gaping their mouths or yanking on the bit, sometimes pulling the rein out of the riders' hands, she adds. "That's a case in which the body lan- guage then gets reinforced and becomes a learned behavior because it gets the result they want: a release of pressure," she says. Horses being groomed also tend to use clear body language to express what they don't like, says Léa Lansade, PhD, of the French Horse and Riding Institute and the National Institute for Agricultural Research's behavior science department, in Tours. "They'll purse their lips, raise their necks, and open their eyes wide in response to a particular brushing style, for example," she says. "They're say- ing they don't like this. And that's really important to understand, considering the fact that grooming is supposed to be a pleasant moment for the horse. Tragically, many people think it is, even when their horse is telling them it isn't." 5 "It's about to get ugly." Humans could prevent many equine-related accidents by paying atten- tion to their horses' body language, says Jan Ladewig, DVM, PhD, professor in Animal Welfare and Ethology in Copen- hagen University's Department of Large Animal Sciences, in Denmark. "Imagine you're leading your horse down a path he doesn't want to take," he says. "If you no- tice him turning his head the wrong way, you can correct the problem right away, avoiding the danger of him dragging you off or kicking you. But if you wait till he's turned his shoulder, it's already too late." Horses tend to clearly express what they don't like when being groomed. ISTOCK.COM Don't Call Me Marish Mares in estrus use a particular body language toward select stallions, showing their interest by following them around, urinating in front of them, and "winking" the vulva. But far too often mares get a reputation of being "marish" because of unpleasant behavior with humans, says Sue M. McDonnell, PhD, certified applied animal behaviorist and founding head of the equine behavior program at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine's New Bolton Center, in Kennett Square. "Our behavior lab gets a lot of cases of 'problem mares,' where the issues are attributed to her hormones, but that's almost never the actual problem," she says. "Most of the time, she's got some sort of underlying pain that's just getting overlooked because people as- sume it's because of her cycles. And that becomes a serious welfare issue." Mares can have adhesions or lipomas (fatty tumors) pulling on the reproductive organs, which can become even more painful during certain phases of the reproductive cycle, McDonnell says. She's seen mares with anal tears, anovaginal fistula (an abnormal opening connecting the vagina to the rectum), and genetic sex disorders, to name a few. "The bottom line is, don't ignore your mare's body language just because she's a mare," McDonnell says. "Chances are she's got a real issue that needs your attention, and she's giving you all the right signs that should never just be chalked up to her hormones." —Christa Lesté-Lasserre, MA

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