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An Insight into the Ridden Horse Performance Checklist

It was at the 2020 Horses Inside Out Conference that I first became aware of Dr. Sue Dyson’s RHPE (Ridden Horse Pain Ethogram). You can read more about this in one of my previous blogs.

Since then Sue has been campaigning to get this information spread far and wide in the equine community and for it to become a go to assessment technique for musculoskeletal discomfort in horses & ponies for vets, therapists, owners, riders & trainers alike.

4 years on, I feel Sue is beginning to realise her goal as more & more people in the industry are aware of the research, and some are already using it in practice. But many I speak with are aware but not entirely sure how to use it in the real world.

Dr. Sue has teamed up with Veterinary Physiotherapist Sue Palmer and together they have written the book ‘Harmonious Horsemanship’, and also together they presented a fabulous webinar hosted by Horses Inside Out, both of which help the reader/viewer to understand the concept and, just as importantly, how to put it into practice in order to help horses perform in comfort.

Today I would like to share with you some of the key points I took home from this webinar in order to hopefully inspire you to take a look yourself, and keep spreading the word for the good of the horse.

Dr Sue Dyson adn  Sue Palmer discuss the 24 checklist of assessing the horse for pain or discomfort

Dr. Sue Dyson began the webinar by asking:

What is harmonious horsemanship?

What is Harmonious Horsemanship?

What do we see in the real world? And Why?

Sue then discussed the topical subject of Social Licence and other difficult topics of common but unethical practices in the modern equine industry both in performance & leisure horses.

Research has shown that there is a lack of recognition of pain related gait abnormalities in 50% of horses with musculoskeletal issues. These are going unrecognised by riders & coaches. What is more, throughout the industry, normalisation of behaviours has occurred, behaviours such as tail swisihing, opening of the mouth etc.

For those of you that are not familiar with Sue’s research, the RHPE (Ridden Horse Pain Ethogram) also now known as the RHPC (Ridden Horse Performance Checklist) is a list of 24 behaviours where a score of 8+ indicates musculoskeletal pain is present. It is the total score that is important. Find out more about the list of behaviours in my previous blog.

One of the 24 signs that the ridden horse maybe in discomfortinclude an intense stare for 5 or more seconds

Sue then talked us through how we can use this list of behaviours to assess a horse ourselves. And included some useful advice that some of us may not be aware of.

Here are some of the ones that resonated with me:

10 metre circles in rising trot are quire demanding and can accentuate lameness & behaviours. The horse must be assessed on 2 true circles back to back, one in each direction. A 12 meter circle is too large.

Evaluate in trot & canter, some horses can be comfortable in trot, but not in canter.

Timing is crucial, have a stop watch when assessing.

Sue Dyson recommends riding something similar to a dressage test at your horse’s current level as a great way to assess a horse on a regular basis with something consistent.

Her optimum assessment length is 8.5 minutes.

Sue Dyson recommends that owners assess their own horses once per month.

Sue also believes that a training problem will not cause 8 or more of the behaviours, and if 8 or more are present there must be musculoskeletal pain.

And that rider position and comfort has a direct correlation to horse soundness. If a rider is complaining of knee or back pain, and saddle fit is correct, it is likely that the horse is lame. Rideablity of the horse is also a big clue as to how the horse is feeling.

There are of course some potential causes that could skew the ethogram/check list results and these should always be ruled out first. These include oral lesions, bit size & type and also the type of surface the horse is working on.

Regular monitoring of the ridden horse using teh 24 checklist to help identify early problems

An important question to ask is that if a horse is not making progress in their training, could there be an underlying cause that could be identified using the RHPE?

During the webinar, Sue Dyson speaks with Sue Palmer about how she uses the RHPE in the field as a Veterinary Physiotherapist. As a therapist myself this was a really useful part for me.

Sue Palmer talked about how throughout the rehab process with a horse she will assess it using the RHPE and use the information to adjust the horse’s rehab programme accordingly, whether that means continuing as they are or backing off if their score has increased.

It’s important to note that the research has shown that horses with a score of 0-4 behaviours are comfortable. And this is also something Sue Dyson believes we can use to demonstrate that there are horses in work that are comfortable, especially in these days where there are critics that believe horses should not be ridden.

As the webinar progressed Sue Dyson shared with us more of her research at real life events. It is definitely worth a watch to see this research and what it means in the real competitive world. It certainly demonstrates that low RHPE scores correlate with high placings in sports horses. This has to be a good thing!

Some of my take home messages from this excellent talk were that early recognition & education of owners is key.

Musculoskeletal pain can affect behaviour, balance & responsiveness to cues. Bilateral lameness can be hard to identify so if a horse is scoring 8+ on the RHPE it is highly likely there is an underlying musculoskeletal issue.

The RHPE could be used for so much more also, for example vets could use it to assess response to nerve blocks, or during pre purchase exams. It could even be used to assess potential purchases via video before you actually decide whether to get in the car and go and see them.

Sue Dysons’ take home messages were:

  • Professionals need to listen to their riders

  • Optimal performance requires physical & mental well being - Horse management is important

Social licence - what we can do to help.

I would highly recommend taking the time to watch this webinar, as well as watching the award winning documentary ‘24 behaviours of the ridden horse in pain’, purchasing the book ‘Harmonious Horsemanship’ and watching Horses Inside Out seminar with Sue Dyson: Recognising Pain-Related Poor Performance

sing Pain Related Poor Performance - seminar at Horses Inside Out with Dr Sue Dysonm

Let’s make it our mission to share this knowledge with others in the horse world and make a better place for horses where we can work harmoniously together.


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Unknown member
a day ago

It's great to be back on your site following a protracted absence. It's been a while since I last worked on this project.

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