Pain: cause of problems of behavior in horses | Pet care.

There are many factors that can influence the development of behavioral problems, and can be, these factors, both internal and external to the animal. This makes each case is unique, so diagnosis must be careful to ensure that the treatment program is appropriate for each animal.
The presence of pain is a very common factor in the development of disorders of behavior in the horse. But the particular behavioral response will vary according to the nature of the painful stimulus, the situation in which each stimulus is present, and if the behavior occurs in response to the same stimulus, or to an event which predicts the painful stimulus.
Within equine clinical ethology, the most common problems are those that derive from the responses of avoidance and defensive aggression, which may be due to reactions of fear, pain, or a combination of both. The problems associated with pain may be due to the medical condition that presents the horse at the time of manipulation, or as a response learned in painful previous situations, making the horse to react that way to avoid this. In the majority of cases of aggression related to pain and fear, the owners or caregivers didn't recognize the signs of pain. There is also a high incidence of cases of equine behavior where the pain is the causal agent.

The pain and the fear

Initially the fear and pain can cause similar responses from performance in the horse. In both cases, the aversive stimuli cause physiological and Behavioral responses that aim to avoid such incentives. However, the processes are different according to motivation, although in many circumstances they occur simultaneously.
The direct response to a painful stimulus can cause a behavior different from the produced as response conditioned to a situation that curse with pain. For example, aggression is common to people close in response to a painful stimulus such as an intramuscular injection, but this reaction is less likely as a response to the arrival of veterinarians at the Center. The type of latter behavior is a response of fear due to the anticipation of pain, stating a policy of avoidance, withdrawal or flight stimulus.
Therefore, in the diagnosis of behavior problems that are related to pain in horses, it is important to determine if the response is directly due to a painful stimulus, or if there is a conditioned response of fear, or even if both are present, in order to solve the problem.

Pain in horses

The equine clinic, the veterinarian is able to recognize pain in horses almost automatically; but it is more difficult to identify and often misinterpreted by the owners and caretakers of the equestrian centres. Also, they are difficult interpretation learned responses to avoid painful situations.
Animals that have chronic pain and exhaustion, as in periods of cramps, usually have a drooping lip, but the masseter muscle (the muscle of the mandible) in voltage. In acute pain, they keep the head elevated, and move the ears toward the source of the pain. When the source of pain is at the level of the skin, muscles or bones, the horses emit a scream; and if the pain is visceral, a grunt. Facial expression includes, in general, a fixed gaze, as loss, wrinkled eyelids, ears back and in a fixed position. Most of the horses widen the nostrils.
A fear response is different, the more watchful eyes, ears are mobile, the muscles of the cheeks relaxed and tense lower lip. When a fear response is present, it overrides expression of pain, so it is possible to be presenting underlying pain.
When pain in the musculoskeletal system, frequently there is tension in the muscle masses associated in order to protect the damaged tissue from further injury. There is often also postures that will help minimize the incidence of pain, such as the characteristic posture of the horses with laminitis that stretch forward the front extremities and support all his weight on the hind legs, to relieve the pressure of the hulls of the forelimbs.

Problems of behaviour in horses

In the treatment of the problems of behaviour in horses, as in any other medical disorder, it is essential to determine an accurate diagnosis so that the treatment is appropriate. A proper diagnosis in behavior problems, includes a comprehensive clinical examination to identify and eliminate possible medical causes, a detailed history to identify motivation and a careful observation of the individuals involved. It is then possible to establish a proper behavior modification program, which is unique for each horse , considering the circumstances and environmental factors that influence in each case.
Identify a particular behavior motivation requires a deep knowledge of the equine ethology, as well as the principles of learning and interpretation of clinical findings in the light of this knowledge.
The horse is a social species of prey that has been developed for survival in the Prairies perfectly adapted to emit behavior responses that do you escape aversive stimuli perceived as a danger. The flight is a behavior that could be described as a reaction of Defense on the horse and occurs more easily by some stimuli than with others.
Programs of behavior modification to correct the behaviors of defensive aggression will depend on the correct identification of predictive and discriminative stimuli of the behavior, which will be identified from the clinical history. In general, it is suitable to develop a program of behavior modification that changes both the meaning of the stimulus for the horse as the consequences to avoid. In addition, the horse must be rewarded when it does not realize the conduct of avoidance. Also you can try using eye movement desensitization and counterconditioning to aversive stimuli strikes perform a behavior incompatible with the response of fear, reward with a treat (sugar or fruit) when it responds well.

The pain as one of the causes of changes of behavior in horses

Behavior in the horse changes may occur due to the presence of acute pain , chronic, subclinical, or as a response conditional due to some prior experience of pain.
The Veterinary examination is essential before a behavior modification therapy to identify and treat those diseases and prior injuries that may be causing pain to the horse. Likewise, should analyse the discriminative and predictive stimuli of conditioned responses and observe the behaviour to identify the reward received by the animal in the execution of such conduct.
The most common causes of pain involved in the responses of avoidance or defensive aggression in the horse are those involving muscle injuries, especially in the back, and lesions in the mouth, such as irregular in the molars and premolars wear. Also, they are common causes of evasion and presence of responses of aggression, pain in the hulls, other musculoskeletal injuries, eye disorders and veterinary procedures or hardware.
The pain can also be associated in the rejection of the Colt. Pain in the udder, for example in the case of mastitis (breast inflammatory process usually caused by an infection), may be a direct stimulation of the attack to del potro.
Pain can also affect reproductive behavior, by inhibiting sexual behaviour in the stallions who have pain in the hind limbs, joints or back, or an avoidance conditioned by prior experience of pain in that context, for example if you have received a kick from a horse trying to cover.
Answers conditioned in relation to transport and the pain experienced during a trip, by trauma to the download or muscular injuries by the effort to keep balance during the movement may appear.


Epidemiological evidence suggests that the incidence of problems of behaviour in horses that are associated with painful facts is significantly higher than in other species. This is because on the one hand, to the highest standards to level sports horses and on the other hand, the sensory adaptations and behavior of the horse as a prey species.
It is essential, therefore, that the presence of pain should be considered in the diagnosis of equine behaviourproblems. The identification and treatment of the underlying sources of pain by a veterinary surgeon and a physiotherapist must be prior to initiating the behavior modification therapy.
The recognition of the high incidence of chronic pain and fear response conditioned to painful stimuli in domestic horses who have behavior problems is important to improve the diagnostic accuracy of different behavior disorders. It also highlights the importance of educating all who work with horses on the incidence of pain and the effect of this on equine behavior, in order to achieve a significant improvement in the welfare of horses.
Published for educational purposes

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