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What is more important clinical or research evidence? By Sue Palmer


'Evidence based medicine' is a phrase these days. The concept began in the 90's, and was originally defined as the best available option combining evidence from clinical practice with evidence from research. It seems to have morphed into a debate between those who believe clinical expertise is more important, and those who believe research is more important.

How can we apply this to our practice with horses, either in behavioural work or in physio assessment and treatment? Like everything with horses, I believe the judgment should be made on an individual basis. 
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I remember studying veterinary physio at the Royal Veterinary College and having to study a section on horse behaviour. It was taught by, in my opinion, very research based scientists as opposed to clinical practitioners (ie by university lecturers as opposed to by those working with horses and their owners on a daily basis).

I had worked in and studied horse behaviour for nearly 10 years, and been an instructor / groom / horse problem solver for another 10 years before that. I found myself wondering whether these lecturers had ever actually tried applying the techniques they were teaching in the real world (ie with horses and their owners, rather than with horses and students in scientific trials). When it came to exam time I struggled to answer the behavioural questions because none of the multiple choice answers fitted my experiences!

I do believe that research is of huge value, and should underpin the majority of our practices. I say 'majority of' rather than 'all of' because the fact is that there will never be enough funding for equine / equestrian research, except maybe in conditions that affect racehorses. So it is impossible to base all of what we do on what the science recommends. But what science there is available to us should not be ignored.

Sue Palmer Chartered Veterinary Physiotherapist and Equine Behavioural Consultant Tel: 07976 413488 Web:
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