Principal Body System: Respiratory
Definition: The lungs and a series of associated passageways leading into and out of them
Function: Supplies oxygen; elimintaes carbon dioxide, helps regulate the acid-base balance of the body
The equine respiratory system is geared for athleticism. With a huge lung capacity to enable air-intakes of up to 1800-litres/minute in a galloping horse, up to 300-litres of blood are pumped at high pressure at full gallop through tiny lung capillaries surrounding 10-million air-sacs, to take up and deliver over 70-litres of oxygen, per minute, to the working muscles. Phew!
As a result, any related condition that reduces efficiency of oxygen uptake from the air sacs can have a significant influence on a horse's athletic capacity. As fate would have it, in domesticity, the equine respiratory system is continually being challenged from stable environments, school surfaces, dusty bedding and feed.
Previously thought of as a winter occurrence when horses traditionally spend a lot of time stabled, we’re now seeing a similar syndrome occurring during our hot and humid summers. Thought to be caused by summer pasture allergens, the symptoms can be similar to winter issues, but it's thought that the triggers that cause the hyper-reactions are different.
Although these exact triggers are unknown, heat and humidity contribute to the hyper-reactions. The horse may be fine when the weather is nice and cool, but as soon as the heat and humidity go up, affected horses can have respiratory episodes.
Horses can experience problems throughout the entire summer or seasonally, for example, just in early spring, mid-summer, or late summer, depending on what allergens they are sensitive to. We're all familiar that one of the major contributors is pollen, although the specific pollens aren't necessarily known. However, unlike spring pollen reactions, the muggy conditions from summer humidity means a higher pollen count because the warm, humid air holds more pollen particles. Dust and heat-loving moulds may also play a part.
Because heat and humidity are instrumental in provoking attacks, a respiratory response can occur geographically and seasonally; it doesn’t tend to affect horses in dry, cool, or desert areas, or during the winter months.
Management is a 3-way approach consisting of environmental changes, addressing respiratory distress and supporting immunity so the horse can help fight the pathogens. Fortunately, there's a range of really beneficial, appropriate herbs to help support your horses respiratory system alongside appropriate management.