• bluecatequestrian

A first step into the world of published research!

As part of my Veterinary Physiotherapy MSc I was required to undertake a research project. I had a few ideas on what I would like to study but nothing set in stone. What I did know, is that I wanted to undertake a study which had the potential to be published. Having not done any large scale research before I contacted Dr. Sue Dyson (who I had worked for in the past and have stayed good friends with) to see if she would be able to help.

Sue was just about to start planning a study, which she kindly said I could be involved with. The aim of the study was to use the Ridden Horse Pain Ethogram to assess the influence of rider skill on ridden horse behaviour. Whilst working at the Animal Health Trust, I had involvement with the original studies creating the Ridden Horse Ethogram, so I jumped at the chance to be involved.

The research was funded by World Horse Welfare.

It was one of the hardest things I have ever done, but also very rewarding. Months of planning, 4 full days of data collection and then many many hours of data analysis and writing up; but it was definitely worth it.

Data collection at Writtle University College.

Hour 100000 of data analysis!

Here is a brief overview of the study which I submitted for my MSc project. If you would like to read more I will provide a link at the bottom of this page to the published article.

The influence of rider skill on ridden horse behaviour, assessed using the Ridden Horse Pain Ethogram, and gait quality (abstract).


Recognition of low-grade musculoskeletal pain and/or lameness in horses is poor. In 2018 the Ridden Horse Pain Ethogram (RHpE) was created to help with identification of such problems but further validation of its use is required. The key objective of this study was to assess if a horse’s RHpE score is affected by rider skill, regardless of whether the horse performs differently (gait quality and the presence of lameness).


The study was comprised of 40 horses. All horses were assessed for the presence or absence of increased epaxial thoracolumbar muscle tension or pain and correct saddle fit. Each horse performed a purpose-designed 8.5-minutes dressage style test. Horses were viewed throughout the test by a qualified veterinarian who undertook live lameness grading. The horse performed the test twice, ridden by both a single professional rider and the horse’s normal rider, in randomised order. This enabled a comparison of each horse’s RHpE score when ridden by two riders, using a repeated measures study design. Video recordings of the tests were anonymised and reviewed in a random order one month after filming. Assessment was made on rider skill and gait quality by an independent expert. All tests were also retrospectively scored using the RHpE. Statistical analysis was undertaken with significance set at P<0.05.


Twenty-one of 40 horses (52.5%) presented with increased epaxial muscle tension/pain which may have affected performance; 18 (45%) had an ill-fitting saddle; 37 out of 40 horses (92.5%) showed either an overt lameness and/or an abnormal canter. A significant difference was seen in rider skill score (t (38) = 4.54, p = 0.00001) when comparing rider P and the N riders. Horses’ gait quality (t (38) = 3.4, p = 0.0005) also differed significantly when ridden by rider P compared to the N riders. However, no significant difference was seen between the RHpE scores of horses when ridden by rider P compared to the N riders (t (38) = -0.27, p = 0.4).


It was concluded that a more skilled rider is able to improve a horse’s gait quality and thus, superficially, make the horse perform better. However, a horse’s RHpE score does not significantly differ when ridden by two riders of different skill levels. The RHpE can now be advocated for use in circumstances such as, pre-purchase examinations, veterinary investigations and schooling livery, where the horse is often ridden by a rider who is of a different skill level to the horse’s normal rider.

Key Words

Musculoskeletal pain; thoracolumbar pain; lameness; abnormal canter; behaviour; riding school.

The full writeup and video abstract can be found by following this link:

I am hoping this is just the first piece of research I have published. Although incredibly hard work, I feel like I've caught the research bug and am aiming to do more in the future. I also can't end this post without thanking Sue once more for her unwavering support throughout. I couldn't have done it without her!

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