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Facial expressions research to help horses in pain
horse and rider
Studies suggest that owners, riders and trainers have a poor ability to recognise signs of pain when horses are ridden.

Researchers develop ethogram to help trainers recognise pain sooner

Horses may soon be saved from needless pain and suffering, thanks to new research led by the Animal Health Trust (AHT).

Studies suggest that owners, riders and trainers have a poor ability to recognise signs of pain when horses are ridden. As such, problems are labelled as rider-related, training-related, behavioural, or deemed ‘normal’ for that horse.

In a new study, equine orthopaedics specialist Dr Sue Dyson is developing an “ethogram” – a catalogue of behaviours – for professionals and owners to help them identify signs of pain.

In the first stage of testing, Sue and her team asked various people to apply the ethogram to photographs of horses’ head while they were ridden. For example, could the assessors see the whites of their eyes, could they notice different ear positions and could they notice a tightness in the muzzle? They found that the assessors were reasonably reliable in identifying these different facial expressions.

In the second stage of testing, Sue assessed whether the ethogram could be used to distinguish between sound and lame horses. During this stage, she applied a pain score of 0-3 to each feature of the ethogram (ears, eyes, muzzle etc.) and then totalled to find out an overall pain score for each horse.

"Results showed there was a scientifically significant difference in pain scored given by the assessors for clinically lame and sound horses," said a spokesperson for the AHT.
“This is a huge step in providing the application of Sue’s ethogram, which could potentially save horses from needless suffering and chronic injuries as owners and trainers are able to recognise pain sooner and get those horses the veterinary care they need.”

Looking ahead, Sue and her team aim to develop a whole horse ethogram and its application to non-lame and lame horses, to differentiate between manifestations of conflict behaviour.

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Endangered turtle born at London Zoo

News Story 1
 An endangered spiny hill turtle has become the first of its kind to hatch at ZSL London Zoo - just in time for World Turtle Day (23 May).

Zookeepers filmed the moment the turtle came out of its shell on a time lapse camera, after keeping a watchful eye on the egg during its 136 day incubation period.

The turtle weighed a tiny 33g at birth and measured just 61mm, although it will eventually grow to around 27cm in size. 

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Melissa Donald elected president of BVA Scottish Branch

RCVS Council member Melissa Donald has been elected for a two-year term as president of BVA’s Scottish Branch. She said she was “honoured” to be elected and hopes to provide a strong voice for veterinary surgeons, particularly at a national level. One of her first tasks will be to give evidence to the Scottish government on tail shortening of dogs, before parliament votes on whether to change the current legislation.

Melissa graduated from Glasgow veterinary school and worked as a production animal vet at Iowa State University, USA, for three years, before returning to Ayrshire to work in mixed practice. She then spent 25 years developing a small animal practice with her husband and has been involved with the BVA for many years. Recently, she took the decision to step back from clinical practice and currently runs a smallholding in the Ayrshire Hills.