Asymmetrical Movement In Horses: Pain Or Biology?

by | 08.18.2019 | 5:46pm

Uneven movement in horses is common; while this asymmetrical movement raises suspicions of mild lameness, may owners consider their horses sound. Drs. Emma Persson-Sjodin, Elin Hernlund, Pia Haubro Andersen, Marie Rhodin, Thilo Pfau and Karin Holm Forsström wanted to discover if the asymmetry is indicative of pain or disease, or if it is simply a natural expression of variations between horses.

The scientists used 66 horses for their study; the horses were treated with the NSAID meloxicam or a placebo for four days, with a 14- to 16-day period in between to rid the system of the drug before beginning the next round of the study. Meloxicam is commonly used to treat pain in lame horses or for analgesic testing.

The horses in the study were in full training and considered sound by their owners; any horse that had been lame in the two months before the study began was not eligible to take part. All the horses were either privately owned or belonged to two riding centers.

The horses were tested for asymmetry using inertia sensors that detect any uneven movement in the head or pelvic region that may considered mild lameness. On average, the 66 horses had asymmetries greater than 6mm in the head and 3mm for the pelvis.

The horses were then tested in-hand for asymmetry on both hard and soft ground at the trot before their treatment began and on the fourth day of each treatment protocol. The meloxicam did not significantly affect the horse's asymmetry. The researchers said that these results raise additional questions: Are the asymmetries a result of biological variation or are the asymmetries not responding to the meloxicam?

The scientists do not feel that the horses in the study had pain from acute inflammatory origin, but they note that chronic pain or neuropathic pain could not be ruled out. They are calling for additional research to determine the cause of asymmetrical movement. If it is determined that many of the horses with asymmetrical movement are painful, it should be seen as a welfare issue. If no pathologies are found, the asymmetries can be considered biological variations.

The research team feels that the answer to the asymmetry question could help alleviate the failure of horses during pre-purchase exams and avoid unnecessary lameness evaluations.

Read the full study here.

Read more at HorseTalk.

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