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Autumn / Winter Respiratory Health

The days are getting shorter, and the weather colder and wetter. For many of us that means it’s time to bring our horses in for winter, and with it the challenges of keeping stabled horses healthy. Not least among those is the challenge of maintaining clear, healthy airways over winter. So should we be thinking about our horse’s respiratory health as they come into their stables? Most definitely, yes.

Dry hay will often have a high dust burden, while both hay and haylage can contain endotoxins, mould and fungal spores. Straw bedding is known to be dusty, but it’s not the only culprit. All organic bedding can contain dust, and while the dust free option of rubber matting decreases the risk of dust, it increases the risk of irritation from ammonia, which can damage mucous membranes. Little wonder that the stabled horse is exposed to greater levels of dust and respiratory stress than its pasture kept cousin. However stabling horses is a practical reality for very many, so how can we maximize respiratory health over winter?

Choose a dust extracted bedding and low dust forage from quality haylage or soaked hay. Stables must be well ventilated, but without droughts, to ensure good airflow. Particular attention to ventilation should be paid to ventilation in American barn style stabling, where several horses share airspace – this can be an issue if your horse is on a low dust regime, but the neighbour is bedded on straw and eating dry hay!

With the competitive season continuing all year round, providing valuable nutritional support to the lungs is ideal if your horse is prone to allergies and respiratory sensitivity. With subclinical respiratory stress increasingly being recognised as a limiter to athletic performance, whatever you have planned for your horse, from indoor competitions to thrill of a day’s hunting, make sure you manage your horse to maintain clear lung health.

What are the signs of respiratory stress?
The typical signs seen include.
• Laboured breathing
• Nasal discharge
• Coughing

How can we manage this?

• Use a dust free regime for stabled horses, and even for those wintering out, ensure forage offered is good quality and free of dust and spores.

• For stabled horses provide a period of daily turnout, ideally during and following mucking out, as this is when dust levels are at their highest in the box.

• Provide feed and water from the floor to encourage natural drainage.

• Don’t forget your own respiratory health. Consider wearing a dust mask when mucking out, as respiratory stress is recognized in those working in stables.

• Targeted nutritional support

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