“…observing the horses from a distance is critical to detecting the presence of pain,” said Sonder.
“Horses often do not blatantly display pain—especially before their owners or regular handlers—they’ll square right up no matter what,” she said. “So this will objectively tell us about their chronic pain.”
Claudia Sonder, DVM, of the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine
This is a major breakthrough for the Compassionate Equestrian Movement where horse people can now be more educated and aware of what their horse looks like in various degrees of pain based on facial recognition…..
Dr. Allen Schoen, DVM
Has anybody ever commented on “the look on your face?” Perhaps you convey “happy,” “sad,” or “I’m really hurting,” by the expression you are exhibiting to others. Have you found yourself misinterpreted at times due to someone reading your facial movement incorrectly? Maybe you’ve even caught yourself in a surprising moment when glancing in a mirror or window, wondering why you appear tired, grumpy, or sullen.
You know how the saying goes, “A picture is worth a thousand words?” Well, what about our horses?
Horsemen who have been around the block, so to speak, always teach their apprentices and clients to look for “that eye.” A sound, kind, easy-going, trainable horse always seems to have a particularly soft, sweet and large eye with few wrinkles or other indicators of stress. Top eventing trainers seek “the look of eagles,” whereby the horse appears much as an eager sporting hound—alert, coiled for action, and focused on the upcoming task or obstacle.
A horse that is not in pain has a much easier time tuning in to a human’s requests for connection. There has been much written in recent years about creating a good relationship with your horse. Unfortunately, for all the hours spent on the ground in doing so, many horses still suffer once the rider gets on their back. Why doesn’t the translation go as smoothly from ground to saddle as it should? In its most reductionist answer, the factor is that the rider cannot see the horse’s expression from his back.
The researchers at University of California, Davis, are providing the equestrian community with valuable new research that extends beyond the current “pain grimace scale” that helps veterinarians, and other handlers, determine whether or not a horse is in pain.
Also interesting, is the comment from the article indicating domestic horses have adapted to taking a stoic approach when asked to interact with humans, even while in pain. Obviously, there is an intelligence and sense of reasoning in play that requires deeper investigation.
For now, these dedicated scientists at UC Davis are providing us with fascinating insights as they carefully apply facial recognition and motion-tracking technology to advance the understanding of our beloved horses.
Beyond the veterinary field, it would be my wish that all trainers incorporate the knowledge gained from this research into their own programs, no matter what discipline, and pass that knowledge on to their students. It is just one more way that technology can be used for good and compassion, once again confirming something that masters of equitation have known for hundreds of years; there’s a certain “look” in the eye that helps you read a horse like a book. And now we will have even more information on which to base critical decisions in regard to the horse’s wellbeing. If only we were to pay attention…and humble ourselves to the fact that we may need to change our approach to working with horses.
CLICK on this link to read the entire article:
Collaboration at UC Davis creates a system to assess the connection between horses’ facial expressions and their condition
The Compassionate Equestrian blog is written by TCE coauthor Susan Gordon unless otherwise noted. Dr. Schoen’s personal blog and website may be found at http://www.drschoen.com
About the blogger:
Susan Gordon is 57 years old and lives on Salt Spring Island, B.C., Canada. She turned professional as a rider in 1983, upon the invitation of Maclay champion (1973), the late Michael Patrick. Susan trained eventing, hunter, jumper and dressage horses, apprenticing with other top trainers in her chosen disciplines. She created “Athletic Rider Training; The ART of Horsemanship,” teaching freelance from 2002 until retiring in 2010. Her program brings elements of meditation practice, music, dance, art, and an interest in non-invasive, holistic therapies—in particular Low Level Laser Therapy and tapping— to her work with students and their horses. She has since completed courses in Sustainability (University of British Columbia and University of Guelph), and documentary filmmaking (Pull Focus Film School, Vancouver). She is a Trained National Canadian Coaching Program Endurance Coach, a nationally ranked competitive masters and age-group runner with Athletics Canada in the 400m track to ½ Marathon Road Race distances. The Compassionate Equestrian is her first book. Her second book also released in June 2015: Iridescent Silence of the Pacific Shores (Gordon/D. Wahlsten 2015), a book of abstract water photography with a strong environmental statement, and DVD featuring original Orca calls and music composed by Ron Gordon, Ph.D. Photo prints and paintings are available for viewing and purchase at Susan Gordon website