Monday, August 27, 2018

Donkeys feel the cold

Donkeys are not well suited to cold wet environments and need extra protection in the winter, new research has found. The findings have been incorporated into an updated Defra Code of Practice.

The research was undertaken by Dr Britta Osthaus, Senior Lecturer in Psychology at Canterbury Christ Church University and Dr Leanne Proops, Senior Lecturer at the University of Portsmouth, both specialists in animal behaviour and cognition, in collaboration with international animal welfare charity, The Donkey Sanctuary.

The study found that donkeys, and to a lesser extent mules, are less able than horses to adapt to colder, wetter climates and therefore require additional protection in the winter to meet their welfare needs..

Researchers collected hair  samples from 18 donkeys (4 females, 14 males), 16 horses (6 females, 10 males) and eight mules (5 females, 3 males), in March, June, September and December. They measured weight, length and width of hair, as indicators of the insulation properties of the hair coat.

They found no significant difference in donkey’s  hair coats across the seasons. All three measures of the insulation properties of the hair samples showed that donkeys do not grow a winter coat.

The donkeys’ hair coat was significantly lighter, shorter and thinner than that of horses and mules in winter. In contrast, the  horses’ coats changed significantly between seasons, growing much thicker in winter.

The findings have been published in the Equine Veterinary Journal.

Lead author, Dr Britta Osthaus, Senior Lecturer in Psychology at Christ Church, said: “Despite their fluffy looks, donkeys are not as insulated as ponies. Although they are much hardier in other aspects, they need more access to water and windproof shelter.”

“It’s fantastic to see that our research has influenced national guidelines to improve animal welfare.”

Dr Faith Burden, Director of Research and Operational Support at The Donkey Sanctuary, said: “For many years it has been the ‘common sense’ advice given by The Donkey Sanctuary to ensure that donkeys and mules are given the right protection from our cold winters.

“This study now provides us with scientific evidence to show why the welfare needs of donkeys and mules differ slightly to those of horses and ponies, and how we can act to give them better protection from the elements.”

For more details, see:

Hair coat properties of donkeys, mules and horses in a temperate climate
B. Osthaus  L. Proops  S. Long  N. Bell  K. Hayday  F. Burden
Equine Veterinary Journal (2017) Vol 50, Issue 3

Assessing pain in ridden horses with an ethogram

A new method for equine performance assessment has been tested on vets. Conducted by Dr. Sue Dyson, Head of Clinical Orthopaedics at the Centre for Equine Studies at the Animal Health Trust in Newmarket, the study assessed how accurately vets may be able to use an ethogram, developed by Dr. Dyson, to assess pain in ridden horses.

Earlier this year, the British Equine Veterinary Association newsletter carried a call for volunteer vets to participate in the study. Ten were chosen, representing a range of age and experience.

The study was conducted at World Horse Welfare’s centre in Norfolk on July 21. Twenty horse and rider combinations, together with a range of professional practitioners, volunteered their time to support the study, which has the potential to transform the welfare of ridden horses.

Initially the horses were assessed by Association of Chartered Physiotherapists in Animal Therapy (ACPAT) physiotherapist Jo Spear. The back was examined to check for any areas of muscle tightness or discomfort. Society of Master Saddlers (SMS) Saddle Fitter Liz Suddaby checked the fit, placement, balance and suitability of each horse’s saddle. The horses were then given a 15 minute ridden warm-up before executing an 8-minute purpose-designed dressage test.

Horses were scored for the presence of 24 behaviours that might reflect pain and lameness.

During the dressage test, the team of equine vets scored each horse for the presence of 24 behaviours that might reflect pain. The tests were filmed so that Dyson could make a comparison between her own real-time behaviour assessments and video analysis and so that the rider skill level could be scored retrospectively by Dr. Anne Bondi, BHSI.

The participating vets collectively commended the value of the ethogram. They said they would change their procedures for both pre-purchase examinations and investigations of either lameness or poor performance in the future.

Dr. Helen Whitbread of Deben Valley Equine Veterinary Clinic summarised: “This system is such a useful tool; most of the factors we were scoring were not a surprise, but by being able to quantify the pain in a way that a client can understand and relate to is priceless. Too often in the past our suggestions that a horse is demonstrating abnormal ridden behaviour because of pain has been brushed aside as ‘it has always done that’. Now I can say, for example: ‘Yes, it has scored >8 and is therefore likely to have been in musculoskeletal pain the whole time you have owned it’.”

Dyson continued: "The behavioural differences between the lame and non-lame horses in the study were very apparent. “

 “Early indications show that by giving vets a clear understanding of pain-associated behaviour markers they will be better able to recognise pain-related behaviour in ridden horses, which might reflect lameness, and to communicate potential performance problems more effectively with their clients.”

For more details, see:
Dyson, S, Berger, J, Ellis, A, Mullard, J. Development of an ethogram for a pain scoring system in ridden horses and its application to determine the presence of musculoskeletal pain. 
J Vet Behav: Clin Appl Res 

An overview of this study will be presented at the Saddle Research Trust Conference in December.
To find out more about the Saddle Research Trust Conference on Saturday, December 8, 2018, and to buy tickets, visit or call 07948 303281.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Advances in heart treatment

Many horses are used in competitive sports and need to maintain peak performance.

Irregularities of heart rhythm may impact on peak performance. Conditions such as atrial fibrillation, with uncoordinated muscle contractions, result in reduced cardiovascular efficiency.

Traditionally,  treatment for atrial fibrillation was based on medication with quinidine sulphate. Although often effective, it may be associated with a high risk of side effects.

A promising new treatment for atrial fibrillation, transvenous electric cardioversion, is now available at the University of Veterinary Medicine  in Vienna. Targeted electric shocks are used to return the heart to its normal rhythm.

The new therapy, which is among  the routine treatment options in humans, is now offered by the Department for Equine Internal Medicine to their animal patients.

Jessica Cavalleri, head of the Department of Equine Internal Medicine explains that electric shocks are administered directly to the heart to reorient the muscle’s electrical activity.

Special catheters, which can measure blood pressure,  are used to introduce the electrodes to the heart. Pressure differences between the pulmonary artery, right atrium and right ventricle help confirm the electrodes are correctly placed.

An ultrasound scan is also used to visualize the catheter in the heart.

Before the horse is finally placed under general anaesthesia, the position of the electrodes is once again checked by means of an X-ray image.

The many control measures are an important safeguard, adds Dr. Hannah Junge, veterinarian of the clinical department.

The horse is then given a first shock under general  anaesthesia. Further pulses are given, as necessary. With each shock the current is gradually increased. Values of up to 360 Joules may be required.

The exact timing is important so that no dangerous cardiac arrhythmias are triggered.

Once the heart rhythm reverts to normal, the horse is kept under anaesthesia for a short period of time and then allowed to wake up.

The animal then remains in the clinic for three more days for monitoring. After a rest period of four weeks, a further inspection is carried out. Training can then usually resume.

In contrast to drug treatment, Cavalleri reports that the success rate is slightly higher and the risk of side effects is lower.

For more details, see (in German):

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Equine Behaviour Forum Scientific Seminar 2018.

The Equine Behaviour Forum (EBF) holds a scientific seminar each year where  invited speakers present reports on their research into equine behaviour. This year the seminar will be held at Myerscough College, Lancashire on Saturday 29th September from 10.30 am – 4.30 pm.

Rachel Bedingfield from Connection Training will be continuing our exploration of emotion with a talk amplifying the work of Jaak Panksepp and other neuroscientists along with equine ethology and expression of emotions. She will go on to show the relevance of this to helping your horse to feel calm, happy and playful whilst learning.

Dr Andrew Hemmings, Principal Lecturer in Animal Science, head of Academic Centre- Equine Management and Science Royal Agricultural University Cirencester, will talk about a strategic approach to training and management using behavioural indicators of brain activity.

EBFmember Justine Harrison will be talking about her experiences as an Equine Behaviourist. Justine is a certified member of the International Association of Animal Behaviour Consultants (IAABC) and an Accredited Animal Behaviourist with the Animal Behaviour and Training Council.

Everyone is welcome including non-members, at a cost of £15 per person (members) and £35 (non-members). Students £5.00.

Contact: Judith Turner, Tel: (01423) 770144, email:

Or look at the EBF facebook page [11April]: