What is inflammatory airway disease and how does it impact performance? How can we monitor a horse’s heart to identify respiratory issues or pain? 

We know that the modern sport horse is exposed to a number of situations (for example travel, dusty environments, etc) that can stress the airway. A horse’s ability to breathe effectively to deliver oxygen to the lungs, and in turn the body, is a key determinant for athletic performance in any discipline.

“One thing that is very common in the airways of sport horses is inflammation,” Dr. Emmanuelle van Erck-Westergren tells Nicole Lakin and Tim Worden in the sixth episode of the Sport Horse Podcast. “Inflammation is the body’s immune system getting into action to retaliate against things like dust particles, infections, viruses, and so on.”

It is estimated that the majority of sport horses have some amount of inflammation in the airways. Horses that feel more fatigued toward the end of competition, aren’t performing well and feel ‘heavier’ when ridden have signs of potential inflammatory airway disease.

In this episode, Dr Van Erck-Westergren provides practical tips for addressing airway challenges in horses, including what beddings to choose, how to identify poor air quality, as well as ensuring feed is not contributing to inflammatory airway disease. She discusses how high-temperature hay steaming, for example with a Haygain steamer, is the best solution for eliminating the contaminants in hay.

The episode also covers the importance of monitoring equine athletes to understand how their bodies respond to training and competition. Additionally, Dr Van Erck-Westergren provides evidence for the use of electrocardiograms to identify cardiac arrhythmias, which are linked to pain in horses. These arrhythmias serve as a method to identify pain in sport horses—highlighting small musculoskeletal issues before they become major injuries.

This is a can’t miss episode full of great information—enjoy!

This episode is sponsored by Haygain. Until May 25th 2022, you can use the discount code HRN to receive 5% off the purchase of a hay steamer or forage feeder system!

About the Expert

Dr Emmanuelle Van Erck-Westergren runs the Equine Sports Medicine Practice based in Waterloo, Belgium. Emmanuelle graduated from the Alfort National Veterinary School in France and completed a PhD on respiratory functional tests in horses at the Veterinary Faculty of the University of Liege in Belgium. She has been a Senior Consultant at the Centre for Equine Sports Medicine at the University of Liège where she dealt with referred cases in sports medicine, participated In numerous research projects and collaborated on the training of veterinary students. In 2007, she was invited to develop the equine internal and sports medicine unit in Normandy (France). Emmanuelle became a member of the European College of Equine Internal Medicine (ECEIM) in 2008 and was subsequently acknowledged as European specialist in Equine internal medicine by the Order of Veterinarians. She was appointed Team Vet for Belgium in 2015 and was elected president of the Belgian Equine Practitioner Society (BEPS) in 2019. She continues to be active in research, teaching, and caring for sport horses throughout the world.