A new study from England suggests that a horse who isn’t paying attention to his surroundings may not be grumpy or depressed but instead may be in pain.
Researchers from the University of Bristol tested the reactions of 20 horses to novel objects---a pool “noodle” and a swimming flipper ----and to sounds just prior to and after a surgical procedure. For comparison, the researchers documented the responses to the same stimuli of 16 control horses who did not undergo surgery.
The data showed that horses who underwent surgery spent significantly less time interacting with novel objects immediately after the procedure than they had beforehand. No difference in interaction times was seen in the control horses when they encountered the unusual items a second time.
Similarly, the study horses were less likely to react to an unusual noise---from a hair dryer---after surgery, while the reactions of the control horses did not change from one exposure to the noise to the next.
The researchers conclude that postsurgical discomfort has an effect on response and startle times, and “tasks demanding attention may be useful as a biomarker of pain.”
Reference: “The effect of postsurgical pain on attentional processing in horses,” Veterinary Anaesthesia and Analgesia, May 2017
This article first appeared in the December 2017 issue of EQUUS (Volume #483)