- Horse Body Language: How To Read It And Understand It - The Horse Owner's Resource
- How to Evaluate Structural Correctness
- Back Problems in Horses: Understanding a Mysterious Part of Equine Anatomy
- How to Read Your Horse's Body Language
However, they have more trouble differentiating yellow and green from gray. Horses also have poor depth perception when only using one eye. Their perception is improved by about 5 times when using both eyes binocular vision. They can instantly change their focus from near to far objects. This is why horses cock their head in different ways to see close vs.
Horses have an acute ability to detect movement. This is why a horse is much flightier on windy days; things that are normally stationary are now moving and perceived as a potential threat. Horses are able to see fairly well at night; however, the contrast sensitivity is less than that of a cat. They can see almost panoramically, with a small spot directly in front and directly behind as their blind area see Figure 1. Never approach a horse without talking to them in these areas; if frightened they will use one of their defense mechanisms, e.
A horse can see two things at once, one from each eye.
Horse Body Language: How To Read It And Understand It - The Horse Owner's Resource
That allows each side of its brain to work separately. Like humans, horses have a dominant side right-handed or left-handed ; however, unlike humans, horses need to be taught things twice: on the right side and on the left side. They use their hearing for three primary functions: to detect sounds, to determine the location of the sound, and to provide sensory information that allows the horse to recognize the identity of these sources. This allows the horse to orient itself toward the sounds to be able to determine what is making the noise.
Their entire body is as sensitive as our fingertips. They can feel a fly on one single hair and any movement of the rider. Communication Horses have a variety of methods of vocal and non-vocal communication. Vocal noises include a squeal or scream which usually denotes a threat by a stallion or mare. Nickers are low-pitched and quiet.
A stallion will nicker when courting a mare; a mare and foal nicker to each other; and domestic horses nicker for food. Neighs or whinnies are the most familiar: high pitched, drawn out sounds that can carry over distances. Horses whinny to let others know where they are and to try to locate a herd mate. Snorting is a more passive, shorter lower pitched version of blowing and is usually just a result of objects entering the nasal passage. I n contrast to signals of aggression within a herd, there are also signs of friendship.
Mares and foals nudge and nuzzle each other during nursing or for comfort, and mutual grooming, when two horses nibble at each other, is often seen. A herd of wild horses consists of one or two stallions, a group of mares, and their foals.
How to Evaluate Structural Correctness
She maintains her dominant role even though she may be physically weaker than the others. The older mare has had more experiences, more close encounters, and survived more threats then any other horse in the herd. The requirement of the lead horse is not strength or size; if this were so, then humans could never dominate a horse. Dominance is established not only through aggression but also through attitudes that let the other horses know she expects to be obeyed.
When the colts are old enough to be on their own they will form a bachelor herd. The fillies will either remain in their natural herd or more commonly disperse into other herds or form a new herd with a bachelor stallion. As soon as a stallion becomes too old to maintain his status as herd owner he is replaced by a younger stallion from a bachelor herd. The average time for a stallion to remain leader is about 2 years, but some can last more than 10 years.
Horses are most vulnerable when they are eating or drinking. So, when a horse is being submissive, it will simulate eating by lowering its head, chewing, and licking its lips similar to snapping mentioned above. Dominance occurs when a horse forces the other to move against its will. One horse will move its body in the direction of or in contact with the other forcing it to move. Fighting usually occurs when the dominant horse is challenged by the other horse not moving, or responding aggressively.
Vices are negative activities that occur due to various causes, including stress, boredom, fear, excess energy, and nervousness. Horses naturally graze for 12 to 16 hours a day. When kept in stalls we prevent them from engaging in many natural activities such as grazing, walking, or playing with other horses. Not enough natural stimuli will cause a horse to invent its own stimuli. Once these habits start they are difficult to eliminate. Cribbing occurs when the horse bites onto a fixed surface e. This causes a release of endorphins which relieves the unpleasant situation.
Cribbing becomes addictive; even when removed from the unpleasant situation the horse may still crib. Some horses even prefer cribbing to eating! Cribbing can lead to weight loss, poor performance, gastric colic, and excessive tooth wear. Weaving occurs when the horse stands by the stall door and rhythmically shifts its weight back and forth on its front legs while swinging its head.
This is also caused by boredom or excess energy, and can lead to weight loss, poor performance and weakened tendons. Stall kicking , stall walking , pawing , or digging , and biting over the stall door are also vices that are caused by boredom from being kept in a stall. Estimation of anxiety level in mice is thus mostly based on the trunk and tail angles  , while ear and tail postures are used in sheep to evaluate the emotional value of given situations .
When used, global posture assessments are often based on very coarse postural elements, e. One main problem however to make postures reliable tools for such an assessment is the difficulty to develop repeatable, objective and comparable measures. Postures are generally characterized on the basis of a few elements e. The use of anatomical landmarks has made objective and reproducible measures possible but most such studies require highly standardized and artificial situations  ,  , .
If postures are to be a useful tool for welfare assessment, their measure needs to be possible in the home environment of the animal and should lead to few reliable but clearly visible markers. The results showed that, amongst more global postural differences, the outdoor population showed rounder backs and necks. In humans, anxiety is known to tense up muscles .
In the present study, we tried to evaluate the interest of postural measures to assess welfare in horses, an interesting animal model that shares with humans potential physical and psychological stress at work e. As vertebral problems have a very high prevalence in horses and can be caused by a wide range of lesions e.
The use of radiographic imaging is limited by the thickness of the surrounding soft tissues  , ultrasonic and scintigraphic approaches have their use but remain difficult to apply in field conditions, on large samples of horses  , . Growing literature suggests significant differences in muscular activity between LBP and healthy people and sEMG measures seem to convey these differences see  for a review. Several studies highlighted that sEMG measures at rest enables the detection of various muscular dysfunctions or hyperactivity  and LBP patients had higher sEMG levels than healthy controls during different posture patterns  , .
The present study is therefore separated into two parts: 1 validating the use of sEMG as an alternative to manual evaluation of potential vertebral disorders throughout the axial skeleton, 2 relying neck postures to sEMG measures as reflecting back problems cervical but also all over the spine. The aim here was to validate further postures as tools for welfare measurement, not to disentangle the factors responsible for potential problems.
Animal husbandry and care were under the management of a private owner study 1 or the riding school staff study 2. We studied two samples of horses kept under different conditions to investigate the reliability of sEMG measures in reflecting back disorders in study 1 and the relation between sEMG measures and neck postures in study 2.
Back Problems in Horses: Understanding a Mysterious Part of Equine Anatomy
The evaluations were performed on horses, distributed into two groups Fig. They lived in 3 groups in the same site Group 1. All horses were in the same riding school and had at least one free day per week Group 2. Examination was based on bony and soft tissue manual palpation for localised regions of vertebral stiffness based on spinal mobilisation and palpable areas of muscle hypertonicity  ,  and have been shown to be efficient to detect back pain  , .
The horse was slightly restrained by an unfamiliar experimenter MH who was also blind to the other data did not participate to sEMG recordings. Data included the proportion of vertebrae affected, and horses were classified into 3 categories: totally exempt, slightly affected 1 vertebral site affected and severely affected more than one vertebral site affected out of the 7 cervical, 18 thoracic, 6 lumbar, 5 sacral and 15 coccygeal vertebral sites present in horses.
Data reliability was assessed by a second evaluation performed respectively by a veterinarian specialized in osteopathy in Group 1 and a second chiropractor in Group 2 whose techniques of detection if not in usual care were similar in the present study. All the chiropractic evaluations were performed for free by H. Menguy himself, manager and only employee of the chiropractic practice. Moreover the manual palpations were carried on Sundays, outside working time of the practice.
The experimenter had 2 joysticks with 5 electrodes on each, designed to record muscle activities at the level of the vertebrae before and at the vertebrae after the joystick location. Muscular activities recorded were sent to a receptor related to a computer Fig. Thus we obtained muscular activity all along the neck, at the level of the shoulder, at the basis of the withers, at the level of the thoracolumbar joint and at the level of the lumbosacral joint, which are reported in the literature as very likely to be affected by musculoskeletal lesions e.
The curve of sEMG values and number of sites tested Fig. Manual palpation only allowed categorical classification of horses 0, 1 or more affected vertebrae as it was impossible for the practitioners to have precise comparative evaluations no numerical values. Therefore results of sEMG values were replaced in the same categories: totally exempt Fig. The 2 joysticks are on both sides of the spine, and data are recorded via the receptor linked to the computer. Horses were kept motionless, slightly restrained with a rope, by a second experimenter.
Seven of the 9 group 1 horses and all group 2 horses were also involved in posture measurements. Horses were observed while interacting with an experimenter: walking and standing motionless near the experimenter the same 2. All data were recorded by the same experimenters E. S taking pictures, C. Data recording took place between Leisure horses were photographed 10 times when standing motionless near the experimenter, and 20 times when walking. Horses in riding schools were less available involved in riding lessons and could be photographed on average 2.
The landmarks were placed in a sagittal plane in relation to skeletal or muscular cues enabling consistent reproduction of positioning on the neck and head of the horses. Landmarks were placed on: the cervico-thoracic junction Marker 1, M1 ; the trapezium cervical ligament at the level of C3 Marker 2, M2 ; the dorsal aspect of the wing of the atlas Marker 3, M3 ; the temporomandibular joint Marker 4, M4 and on the rostral aspect of the facial crest Marker 5, M5.
In order to quantitatively evaluate neck height and roundness, different angles were measured, using usual trigonometrical rules home-made worksheet, EDM Fig. The narrower the head-jaw angle was, the more the angle was negative. The angles measurements required the horses to be exactly perpendicular to the camera. Photographs were taken in series of burst-shots. The experimenter CL studied all the photographs for each horse and kept the 2 where the horse had the most and the two where the horse had the less elevated neck. To assess the repeatability of the measures, the angles were measured twice for each photograph.
As data were not normally distributed, we used non-parametric statistical tests for the analyses. Spearman correlation tests were used to assess whether chiropractic, sEMG and angle data were related to age, to detect the relations between chiropractic and sEMG evaluations, as well as the relations between sEMG measures and angle measurements of neck postures. In fact, the same 7 horses that were found exempt by the chiropractic evaluation were also found to be under the sEMG threshold of muscle activity, while 9 out of the 10 horses evaluated as severely affected by the chiropractor appeared so too in sEMG evaluation.
The proportion of horses evaluated as strongly affected by manual palpation left and sEMG evaluation right according to the study group Group 1 and Group 2 is represented. Note the same important difference for both evaluations. Thus, horses with more elevated neck postures had also more vertical heads. Overall, these differences in neck postures seemed to reliably reflect differences between populations in terms of muscular activity Fig.
Note that Group 1 horses have rounder necks and lower muscular activities compared to Group 2 horses. The purposes of this study were to 1 assess sEMG as a useful method for the detection of back disorders, and 2 to assess correlations between sEMG and chronic neck postures outside working time so as to propose neck posture as a potential visible indicator of back disorders. Thus, comparisons of horses living in two extreme types of domestic life including different types of work revealed that in one riding school , horses were more prone to have concave necks and back disorders than in the other leisure horses.
In humans, patients with back pain or lesions present higher EMG and a more important muscular fatigue than healthy people e. Also, if the muscular activity right near to the lesions was not modified, LBP patients showed nevertheless increased EMG measures Hoyt et al. In our study, sEMG measures were increased both at the location of back dysfunctions, and also all along the spine, showing strong correlations between overall and local back dysfunctions and muscular activity. Caneiro et al. On the other hand, postural control may be conditioned by many different factors, such as age see  for a review , habitat structure geckos:  , emotions humans:  ; anxiety: mice,  ,  or physical problems humans: .
Thus, aging of the sensorimotor systems involved in posture control was shown to lead to a diminution of brainstem centres controlling postures and was believed to be the main cause of deterioration in balance abilities in humans see  for a review. In riding schools, they are fed in buckets fixed on the walls in elevated positions, and mostly have high doors. Thus they have to keep their head and neck high to see their environment. The postural modifications imposed by the environmental conditions may lead to chronic postural disturbances, explaining the differences between horses kept under semi-natural conditions and riding school horses.
Anxiety in mice leads to flatter postures, whereas calmness leads to rounder postures  and distressed adolescents showed more uneven shoulder height than non distressed ones . In humans, the suppression of emotions required in some kinds of jobs may lead to health and especially musculoskeletal disorders  ,  , .
Overall, imposed working postures may lead to various muscular e. Children at school:  ; computer workers:  ; employee of fiscal office:  or musculoskeletal Dentists:  ; see  for a review dysfunctions. Thus, postures can be considered in humans as an indirect measure of back disorders. In horses, the use of inappropriate punishment and of contradictory orders for example may lead to increased emotionality, or even to pathological behaviours  ,  , .
The repetition of inappropriate hands and or reins actions could lead to chronic postures. Thus, a recent study highlighted a strong link between riding techniques, postures at work and chronic vertebral disorders . In riding schools where beginners have high hands and short reins, horses tend to have higher and more concave neck postures at work while also exhibiting more chronic vertebral disorders .
In this study, group 1 horses were used mostly for leisure activity, ridden with low hands, long and slacken reins which differs from most riding lessons practices . In our study, measures were taken on extensor muscles of the neck and the back of the horses, muscles that are linked together and are responsible of skeleton integrity . Thus, muscular dysfunction modification of the basal tonus could reveal or predict more severe lesions. Several factors, such as age, body fat, skin resistance or fear can modulate sEMG results.
In this study, horses all presented the same corporal state optimal , measure were conducted outside any disturbances and no fear reactions were observed see also Fig. Moreover, neither age, nor breed had any effect on the muscular activity recorded, suggesting that if any of these parameters had any effect, it should have been minimal. This study led to the identification of key postural elements, allowing indirectly the detection of potential back disorders.
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Bohn et P. LeCollinet for the second vertebral evaluations; J. Caudal for his help with the electromyogram device. All subjects on photographs have given written informed consent, as outlined in the PLoS consent form, to publication of their photograph. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.
National Center for Biotechnology Information , U.
PLoS One. Published online Sep 7. Georges Chapouthier, Editor. Author information Article notes Copyright and License information Disclaimer. Received May 4; Accepted Aug 3. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are properly credited.
This article has been cited by other articles in PMC. Horses The evaluations were performed on horses, distributed into two groups Fig.
How to Read Your Horse's Body Language
Open in a separate window. Figure 1. Example of 3 Group 1 horses on the top of the figure and 3 Group 2 at the bottom of the figure horses when standing. Figure 2. Figure 3. Representation of a horse skeleton with the locations of electrodes for sEMG measurements. The electrodes were placed at the level of the white spots of the figure.
Figure 4. Distribution of sEMG measures across the number of tested sites concerned and threshold value. Figure 5. Examples of sEMG signals: representations of values along the spine. Neck Posture Measurements Seven of the 9 group 1 horses and all group 2 horses were also involved in posture measurements.