Ashleigh Edmondston, of Ardgowan School, asks :-

Do horses get the stitch?

Simon Pearce, a veterinarian at Massey University, responded.

The stitch is a sharp painful sensation felt in the abdomen during exercise. It is associated with a lack of fitness, and also warm conditions, and may be related to diet.

While it is difficult to assess whether a horse is experiencing pain while exercising, it is reasonable to assume that we can influence their level of comfort by attention to a horse's level of fitness, an awareness of the weather conditions, and a good diet and adequate fresh water. These are basic skills required of all people that exercise horses.

Horses have developed with an increased ability to override pain when they get excited. This has developed from a requirement to be able to flee from potential enemies whatever their condition. However this ability is short-lived and so we must be extra careful to ensure that the horse is able to exercise (and get excited) in comfort, as they are not good at looking after themselves.

One condition that horses competing in endurance events sometimes suffer from is called 'Thumps' or synchronous diaphragmatic flutter. This condition causes a cramping of the muscular diaphragm, and is associated with an imbalance of electrolytes. It is influenced by hot conditions and the horse's diet. More generalised muscular cramping can also occur in horses and is known as 'tying up' and can be quite mild or very serious. These conditions are similar to the human 'stitch'.