Horses are masters of disguise where pain is concerned, as prey animals their psychological makeup tells them to hide pain for as long as possible and most will work until breaking point, but this is where thermal imaging can help. By building up a picture of your horse's circulation and thermal pattern in any area of his body in a simple, non-invasive, stress-free way, it enables the identification of problem areas, known as 'hotspots' and 'coldspots.' thermal imaging has been studied, researched and progressed over the last 30 years and is scentifically proven to bring huge benefits to the equine world.

How thermal imaging works

Thermal imaging looks at circulation and blood flow. The whole process involves an infrared camera which detects circulation changes in your horse's body, with readings taken from a range of sites to allow for comparison. When trauma or injury occurs, a chain of chemical reactions take place which increase blood flow to the area. Circulation and blood flow dictate the thermal pattern and the infrared camera can then detect inflammation, which occurs as a 'hotspot.' Abnormally cool areas can also be detected and indicate issues such as poor circulation, arthritis, nerve damage, oedema or atrophy (muscle wastage).

What is it used for?

Thermography is proving to be an invaluable tool in the detection of issues such as:

Ligament and tendon damage

Back pain/kissing spines/saddle fit issues

Bone injuries/splints/stress fractures and arthritis

Sacroiliac pain/injury

Laminitis and Navicular syndrome

Hoof abscesses or hoof imbalance

Dental issues

Muscle strain and atrophy

Nerve damage

As well as the detection of injury and illness, thermal imaging can also be used as a fantastic and effective monitoring tool. When working to an intense training and competition schedule or bringing your horse back into work after time off, thermography can also help detect any niggles early. Ask your thermographer for a baseline full-body scan to work out what's healthy and normal for your horse, then as your workload increases, have your horse scanned at intervals to check out what's going on and how he's coping with the pressure. Monitoring a known injury site will also provide you with the information needed to see what lies beneath and to ensure that nothing worsens.

Research conducted in America has proved this by showing that thermal imaging can detect changes in structures - such as the flexor tendons - up to three weeks before your horse shows any clinical signs of lameness. If injuries can be detected early enough, appropriate management changes can be put into place to save him from further damage - think of it as having the beauty of foresight!

What can I expect?

Book an appointment with a reputable thermographer and it will go like this: a detailed history of your horse will be taken by your thermographer and a preparation sheet sent to you before your appointment. Preparing your horse is hugely important to ensure the scans are accurate so follow these simple steps before your session:

1. Remove bandages and rugs an hour or more before your session. These will all act as heat conductors, resulting in an elevated temperature and false readings.

2. Find the perfect sheltered area such as a stable or barn for your horse to be scanned. Scanning your horse outside can have an effect on the images produced as sunlight or a breeze can warm up or cool down an area and affect the camera readings.

3. Make sure your horse is clean, dry and tidy before your thermographer arrives. Horses who are too hairy, damp or dirty aren't ideal as hair and dirt will act as an insulator and produce a cool image when scanned, potentially missing any inflamed areas.

4. Take stock of his diet - substances such as calmers can affect your horse's circulation and blood flow, so be sure to check what's what with your thermographer well before your appointment.

Once your horse is prepped, your thermographer will do a quick check for any external niggles that might affect the results, such as hair swirls, scabs, splints, branding etc, before pinning his mane up and out of the way and bandaging his tail so it doesn't obstruct the pictures.

During your appointment you or an experienced friend will need to hold your horse still for the pictures. When asking him to back up or move forward, try to have as little skin to skin contact with him as possible and use your leadrope to guide him, as your hand will warm areas of his body and these can give false readings on the camera. Remember not to pat and stroke him during the process either, as tempting as it might be, as this will also alter the readings.

A normal appointment will last between 20 minutes and an hour, and your thermographer will generally take up to 40 photos in that time depending on how much of his body they're scanning. At the end of your session, a full report will be compiled and along with all the information and images, is then sent to you, highlighting any areas of concern. Your images will show different coloured areas on your horse's body - white and red areas indicate heat while blue and purple areas indicate coolness, but this will all be explained.

Your thermographer will generally work alongside your veterinary surgeon, which means you have the added option of having veterinary comments and recommendations to go alongside the scans. This will also allow your vet to move forward quickly and easily with other diagnostics or treatment if and when needed, although you'll need to pay for their time.

To find a reputable thermographer. Amy advises you ask to see their qualifications and insurance details before an appointment.

Thermal imaging benefits in a nutshell

* It's quick

* It's non-invasive and stress-free

* It doesn't require sedation

* Your thermographer can come to you

* It won't emit harmful radiation

* At around £85 for a full body scan, ifs affordable

* It's great for detecting a variety of problems and for monitoring existing ones

* It's highly sensitive, picking up even slight temperature changes

* It's a great addition to more traditional diagnostic methods