By Kate Hore, RNutr (animal) senior nutritionist at NAF
No judge wants to hear laboured breathing or the occasional cough from any horse and it will likely result in you moving down the line. So if respiratory stress is something you occasionally hear it’s worth considering what we can do to support healthy lung function throughout the show season.
Summer is here, and with that better weather, longer days and more shows to enjoy. But it’s not all good news for some of our equines. Just as we may be prone to summer associated health issues, some horses are susceptible to allergies and intolerances through the nicer weather. One common issue to impact on breathing is summer pasture associated obstructive pulmonary disease (SPAOPD), more commonly recognised as a pollen allergy.
SPAOPD is particularly prevalent in early summer, when pollen proliferates, and is quite similar to the human condition of hay fever. Here at NAF we’ve certainly noticed a rise in cases in recent years, and that may be associated with the increase in crops such as rapeseed, which appear to be a key trigger. Respiratory signs dominate, particularly nasal discharge and coughing. It’s worth remembering that horses have a very low cough response compared to humans, meaning a cough from your horse should never be dismissed as just clearing his throat, as it almost certainly indicates a respiratory challenge.
Good management should help. Consider stabling during the day in a clean, airy stable, as pollen is at its height during the day. For their turnout the pasture should, ideally, avoid neighbouring wooded areas or fields of strong crops, such as rape, to minimise exposure to pollen. When feeding, try to always ensure that you feed from the floor. This is the natural position for the horse to eat from, and will encourage a great natural topline for the show ring; but specific for respiratory health feeding from the floor is recommended to encourage natural drainage. If your horse is more dust sensitive than pollen, then it’s recommended to soak hay prior to feeding. Take care not to oversoak, as this causes issue with losing nutrients, losing forage quality and creating some fairly unpleasant left over water. A quick soak of 10 minutes is fine, and make sure you replace with clean water each time.
To nutritionally care for the seasonally challenged equine, look for highly antioxidant supplements which can support the horse’s own immune system in flushing out the toxins and the inflammatory markers associated with any sensitive reaction. Ensure the product is targeted towards the specific issue, as it should then include nutrients and herbal support to maintain clear airways, such as eucalyptus, clove and echinacea. Ideally nutritional support should be introduced prior to onset, to ensure health is maintained throughout the height of summer, however it may be introduced at any point through the season when signs dictate.
While looking at their diet don’t forget to assess body condition, and ensure diet and work levels are adjusted to keep them looking fit and lean for the show ring. Excess condition not only hides their good points from the judges, but also puts excess stress on the lungs, which will be heard as laboured breathing.
By taking some simple management steps, and nutritionally supporting health from the inside out, we can hopefully help all of our horses and ponies to enjoy the long summer shows as much as we do.