On Pain – and Indications and Signs of Discomfort and Distress.
I came across a short clip of a horse of a high-level international showjumper while being saddled which had been posted on facebook a few days ago. The horse did not look very happy and showed clear signs of discomfort during the process of tacking up. The behaviour could indicate pain caused by physical problems or be the result of the memory of past pain or else. It clearly did NOT show a content and happy horse. These signs were ignored and laughed at by the persons involved. And of course, it is not the first time I have witnessed something like this. If you spend some time in riding stables and the general horse world you will sooner or later encounter similar scenes. Where the horse expressing distress or discomfort is not listened to and ignored and the behaviour brushed off.
The comment section shows – luckily – that quite a lot of people have awareness and were speaking up on what they were witnessing. At the same time, the number of people justifying and defending the shown video and dismissing and disregarding the horse’s behaviour for what it does indicate is both saddening and shocking. Numerous times you came across statements such as: the horse is just ticklish, a ‘moody mare’ or has a strong character. There is still a lot of work to do to have people become aware that certain behaviour, that may be common, is actually not normal and that there may be an underlying issue, be it mentally or physically, that has to be addressed. In this present case, these were no subtle signs. This was clear, expressive behaviour saying: “There is something wrong. Have a look.”
It is our responsibility to listen and to be able to observe and to recognise and to respond to behaviour and symptoms of pain and discomfort and to act accordingly. Always.