We’re at the time of year when we start to see more and more coughing and wheezing horses. There are of course viruses around, just like with us, that will cause horses and ponies to be unwell and to cough but frequently the situation is caused or worsened by dust. In fact some horses won’t cough too much when they are reacting to dust but their respiratory rate and, most importantly, effort will go up. This can mean that they aren’t performing too their best and them struggling when they do fast work.
Unlike people horses and ponies develop sensitivity to dust in early middle age, most of them between eight and twelve years old. Naturally horses wouldn’t spend anytime indoors, would be moving around nearly constantly and would spend considerable periods with their heads down. Stabling horses provides an environment that reduces all these things. Add to this more DUST and some degree of sensitivity is almost inevitable.
So what can you do about it?
Well ensure that their feed is as dust free as possible. Short feed should be fresh and you should never use feed from a mouldy bag or the bottom of a bin. Hay should be soaked, fully submerged for between half to two hours, or steamed. Haylage can be fed but be sure to supplement the fibre in the diet with chaff products.
Don’t bed them on straw! I know that it’s cheap but it has ten times the dust load of any other bedding. Shavings, and the large flake ones are the best, or the pelleted or dust free bagged beddings are good. Be sure to take your horse out of the stable when grooming him or mucking out and ensure that banks, if you have them, are regularly turned. Mats are good for people but not for horses, providing no support to their feet when standing or their body when they lie down.
Get them out. The more time they spend either out in the field or exercising the better their lungs will be.
Finally try and feed on the floor and don’t give them a haynet when travelling. Having a bag of dust in their faces when they are undergoing the stress of travelling is asking for problems.
At this time of year when the feed and bedding is older and the stables are dirtier doing a few things can really improve your horses breathing and comfort.