by Dr. Clair Thunes PhD, Nutritionist for EnviroEquine & PET ~

Our lungs are one of our most precious organs. They are responsible for the transfer of oxygen from the air into our blood stream and for the removal of waste carbon dioxide. This oxygen is vital for the aerobic metabolism of our body’s energy sources in our muscles. Without it, we are forced to work anaerobically which is a much less efficient and limited way to metabolize our energy stores. The same is true for our horses.

Any resistance in the airways or lungs that slows the passage or air will slow the transfer to oxygen in to the bloodstream. For this reason, lung tissue is only millimeters thick allowing easy transfer of oxygen. Inflammation in the airways due to allergens and irritants, excess mucus production stimulated by inhalation of tiny particles in the air make this passage much harder, slowing the delivery of oxygen in to the blood stream. 

Particulate matter in the air has been shown to have a direct and negative impact on lung health and to travel considerable distances and remain suspended in the air for long periods of time. In people particulate matter has been linked with the development of adverse respiratory and cadiovascular health effects. These include decreased lung function, shortness of breath, coughing and wheezing. Studies have even shown a strong correlation between inhaled particulate matter and adult diabetes. Adults and children with existing conditions such as asthma and heart disease are at greatest risk of additional stress related to inhaling particulate matter. 

Through exercise it is possible to improve the force with which a horse’s heart pumps blood around the body thus delivering more oxygenated blood to muscle tissue. The muscles themselves become stronger and more powerful and more finely controlled through specific exercise. Bone and other soft tissues strengthen to resist the strains placed upon them during work, but lung function is not altered by fitness and conditioning work. Therefore, the horse’s lungs are the number one limiter of equine performance and as a result any damage to lung tissue reduces the horse’s performance ability. This includes damage caused by the inhalation of particulate matter such as dust in arenas and stalls. 

There is compelling evidence that the airborne particulate matter that many riders, staff and horses are exposed to on a daily basis has direct negative repercussions on lung health in both people and horses. Here at EnviroEquine, we take all aspects of equine and human health very seriously. Two products in particular help reduce dust exposure for horses and their people, Aubiose hemp bedding and EcoCareRx Dust Control.

Feed and bedding are the primary source of dust for horses kept in stalls. Carried on dust particles can be harmful bacteria, molds, and viruses that have no place in your horse’s airway. Inhaled dust can be particularly high when stalls are being mucked out. The use of leaf blowers to clean breezeways can be detrimental due to the airborne dust that is created. Type of bedding has a big impact on both dust and potential mold spores in the atmosphere.

Straw a long-time traditional bedding makes an attractive bed but quality can be inconsistent and mold can be a big issue. Straw is not absorbent leaving ammonia in the atmosphere which can irritate lungs, and there are high levels of waste. Straw bedding also shifts meaning that bare patches may appear as horses move. Availability can also be an issue depending on weather conditions such as droughts or particularly wet harvest seasons.

Shavings are often preferred over straw as they are more absorbent and provide a more consistent footing. They are generally considered to be less moldy than straw however, they can be very dusty. Horses will sometimes eat straw and shavings and due to the very high indigestible fiber content of shavings this is not a safe practice.

Aubiose hemp bedding has been a staple of European stables for over three decades and is now available through EnviroEquine to horse owners across North America. Hemp bedding is highly absorbent, soaking up urine and ammonia fumes, is dust and mold free and horses will not eat it. It also has exceptional composting parameters making it easy to dispose of and a favorite of gardeners. Purchasing hemp from a reliable source like EnviroEquine ensures a clean consistent product. Less consistent products can harbor undesirable molds. When mucked out correctly, Aubiose hemp bedding has amazing longevity and is extremely cost effective.

For those areas outside of stalls where dust occurs such as walkways and paths, dust suppression is the name of the game. Use of EcoCareRx Dust Control can help to mitigate dust problems faced by equestrian facilities and help promote lung health in both humans and horses. This all-natural product is applied via spray to areas were dust is an issue and will suppress dust for up to a year per application.

As we head in to winter the temptation can be to close up the barn in areas where winters are cold, it is tempting to close up the barns to maintain warmths. However, doing so limits ventilation and can be damaging to lung health. Taking steps to promote lung health is vitally important to the long term well being and athletic ability of your horse. Even if your horse appears fine, assess what factors are impacting lung health in and around you barn. As we always hear “an ounce of prevention if worth a pound of cure.”