Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania cataloged 64 behaviors to help horse owners and veterinarians identify subtle pain and discomfort in horses. Download the EQUINE DISCOMFORT ETHOGRAM catalog.
Pain and discomfort behavior in horses tends to be especially subtle, and not
readily or widely appreciated even by equine professionals, including many long-time horse keepers,
trainers, and even by veterinarians, veterinary technicians, and care staff. Based on decades of
evaluating the behavior of normal and physically uncomfortable horses in a referral hospital, as well
as research context, we describe and illustrate a catalog of behaviors (ethogram) associated with
equine physical discomfort. Our objective is to promote an unambiguous universal understanding of
equine discomfort behaviors associated with various body systems and anatomic sources.
In recent years, there has been a growing interest in and need for a comprehensive
ethogram of discomfort behavior of horses, particularly for use in recognizing physical discomfort in
domestically managed horses. A clear understanding of the physical discomfort behavior of horses
among caretakers, trainers, and professional health care personnel is important to animal welfare and
caretaker safety. This is particularly relevant to pain management for hospitalized equine patients.
Various pain scale rubrics have been published, typically incorporating only a few classically cited
pain behaviors that, in many cases, are specific to a particular body system, anatomic location, or
disease condition. A consistent challenge in using these rubrics in practice, and especially in research,
is difficulty interpreting behaviors listed in various rubrics. The objective of this equine discomfort
ethogram is to describe a relatively comprehensive catalog of behaviors associated with discomfort of
various degrees and sources, with the goal of improving understanding and clarity of communication
regarding equine discomfort and pain. An inventory of discomfort-related behaviors observed
in horses has been compiled over 35 years of equine behavior research and clinical consulting to
medical and surgical services at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine’s
equine hospital. This research and clinical work included systematic evaluation of thousands of hours
of video-recordings, including many hundreds of normal, healthy horses, as well as hospitalized
patients with various complaints and/or known medical, neurologic, or orthopedic conditions.
Each of 73 ethogram entries is named, defined, and accompanied by a line drawing illustration.
Links to online video recorded examples are provided, illustrating each behavior in one or more
hospitalized equine patients. This ethogram, unambiguously describing equine discomfort behaviors,
should advance welfare of horses by improving recognition of physical discomfort, whether for pain
management of hospitalized horses or in routine husbandry.