Tuesdays with Tony
There’s a superwoman out there many of you may never have heard of. Her name is Dr. Sue Dyson. She’s from England, works at a place called the Animal Health Trust, and does some fantastic research on horses. My Docs definitely have a huge nerd crush on her! Why do I bring her up this week? Dr. Dyson recently published two very interesting research papers about horses, rider weight, saddles, behavior, and lameness.
Weight vs Height
I’m as sensitive as anyone about weight, but this is an important topic for riders. I only have to ensure the counter is sturdy enough to hold me for my daily nap. Dr. Dyson performed a small study looking at rider weight and height, and how it affected horse’s backs. They had riders of all different weights and heights, and body mass index (BMI). This means two riders who weighed the same amount might have very different body types. Turns out that’s pretty important.
Dr. Dyson measured the horse’s backs very precisely before and after riding. In what would be considered normal horses, with petite riders (she made sure weight wasn’t an issue at all with this group) the back normally widens immediately after riding. To be sure the saddle itself wasn’t the problem, Dr. Dyson had master saddlers on hand checking everything. Dr. Dyson doesn’t leave anything to chance! Once they were happy with the study design, they began testing the different riders.
The first issue they found was that taller, heavier riders need to be very, very sure their saddle fits well. They found this group tended to hit the back of the saddle harder than shorter, heavier riders. Hitting the back of the saddle caused pressure to be transferred through the tree in inappropriate ways. When the backs of this group of horses were measured, they found they got narrower! This was caused by muscle spasms. Next they found the horses ridden by riders greater than about 15% of the horse’s body weight caused temporary lameness. (A rider at 150 lbs with a 1,000 lbs horse would be at 15%) Dr. Dyson was very clear that this was a small study, and a whole lot more work needs to be done. Dr. Dyson also said lots of horse factors are important. Things such as how long the back is, how fit the horse is, and how well does the saddle fit are some of the factors she thinks are important. I have no doubt Dr. Dyson is continuing to work on this issue!
Is he lame or just bad?
It’s a question I hear all the time from my countertop. It can be incredibly difficult to decide if there’s pain somewhere, or if a horse is misbehaving. Horses make it even harder as prey animals. They have millions of years of genetic programming telling them to hide pain. Cats do this too, but it’s mostly because we have an image to protect, not because we’re worried someone is going to eat us. Dr. Dyson observed certain behaviors of horses during her lameness exams that resolved when the pain stopped. She put her research skills to work and came up with a study to look at behavior and lameness.
Dr. Dyson found that veterinarians were able to identify behaviors that signaled a lameness was present. However, she also found that many trainers and riders weren’t able to identify those behaviors. Dr. Dyson created a training program with pictures and descriptions of lameness-associated behaviors. After learning about the behaviors, these riders and trainers were pretty darn good at spotting them. Even more important, when the problem area was fixed, the behaviors went away. The hard part for many of these lamenesses was finding the problem area. But that’s a whole ‘nother blog. For now, know that your horse just might be hurting, and not being a jerk for the fun of it. That’s much more of a cat thing to do, anyway.
I realize the holiday you humans call Christmas is nearly upon us. Let Dr. Dyson’s first study be a reminder to go easy on the eggnog and cookies!
Until next week,
P.S. Are you driving to visit loved ones for Christmas? Make sure you leave your veterinarian’s phone number in your barn, just in case something happens while you’re gone. And a good podcast can make road trips fun! Subscribe to Straight from the Horse Doctor’s Mouth, and show up to Christmas dinner with some new horse knowledge!
Tuesdays with Tony is the official blog of Tony the Clinic Cat at Springhill Equine Veterinary Clinic in Newberry, Florida. If you liked this blog, please subscribe below, and share it with your friends on social media! For more information, please call us at (352) 472-1620, visit our website at SpringhillEquine.com, or follow us on Facebook!