Does pain related behaviour become a habit when the pain has gone?
In our Horse and Hound recommended book ‘Understanding Horse Performance: Brain, Pain or Training?’, there is this sentence by guest contributor, scientist and author David Marlin: “Domesticated horses clearly exhibit many behaviours during their management that suggest that they are experiencing pain, or that they have previously experienced pain associated with a particular situation and are anticipating the onset of pain.” He also says “…what one person or horse experiences as not being painful may be moderately painful or even severely painful or unbearable to another. The emotional component of pain also indicates that the response to a painful stimulus can be influenced by previous experience. If a horse has experienced repeated pain in response to say being mounted, his perception of pain may be significantly greater than that of a horse who has not previously experienced pain during mounting.”
Often a simple piece of training will remove any residual behaviour after the pain has gone, but remember that the horse can only communicate his pain or discomfort through his behaviour. So if your saddle was too tight and you get the saddler out, and get a new saddle but your horse is still putting his ears back what conclusion should you draw?
The chances are he is still in pain, so make sure you get an ACPAT chartered physio out to look at your horse. If you have had his back treated and you are confident that he is not in pain but he is still putting his ears back, then you could try some simple training techniques to change his response.
To learn more about the relationship between brain, pain and training take a look at our book and DVD “Understanding Horse Performance, Brain, Pain or Training” by Sue Palmer