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Tuning the Equine Engine to Prevent Poor Performance - 2020 Conference - Part 11A

Updated: Jun 24, 2022

Hello and welcome to part 11 of my blog about the Horses Inside Out Conference 2020 - Anatomy In Action.

Today I would like to share with you the presentation from Richard Hepburn which was on the second day of the conference and called ‘Tuning the Equine Engine to Prevent Poor Performance’

gillian higgins horses inside out Richard hepburn MRCVS digestive health

Richard is a vet with a specific interest in gastroenterology, neurology and intensive care. He has worked in equine hospitals in the UK and NZ and is a Diplomate of the American College of Verterinary Internal Medicine and a RCVS Recognised Specialist in Equine Internal Medicine.

gillian higgins horses inside out Richard Hepburn vet MRCVS

Richard spoke about making the equine engine run well.

The equine engine comprises of:

  • The Respiratory tract

  • Gastro-intestinal tract

  • Cardiovascular system

  • Muscles

Realistically differences in athletic ability are mainly due to breed and individual variation rather than the way in which the horse is trained.

However, there are 2 ways we can aim to ‘tune the equine engine’

  1. Improve malleable factors (those which actually respond to training)

  2. Limit limiting factors (reduce the effect of problems which are performance reducing)

Richard’s presentation mainly focused on two systems in the horse:

  • The respiratory system

  • The digestive system

Today I would like to share with you what was discussed about the respiratory system and part b of this blog will follow in a couple days with the information regarding the digestive system.

The Respiratory System

  • The only body system which does not improve with training

Basically you cannot train the lungs, you have what you have!

Therefore respiratory function is a limiting factor and is in fact the main limiting factor when it comes to individual horse performance.

Dynamic upper airway obstruction is found in 70% of sport horse performance cases.

Inflammatory airway disease (Equine Asthma) is found in up to 86% of all treadmill poor performance cases.

Equine asthma is a common subclinical finding in stabled sport horses which can also:

  • Reduce willingness to perform

  • Increase resting O2 consumption

  • Deplete muscle glycogen stores

So what can we do to reduce the effect of this performance effecting problem?

gillian higgins horses inside out improve respiratory health horse equine

Richard shared with us a few ways in which we can help our horses:

  • Reduce exposure to respirable particles (dust, mold spores)

  • Low dust feed stuffs - soaked or steamed hay or feed haylage

Did you know feeding from a hay net as opposed to from the ground causes 4x more respirable dust to be released into the environment!?

  • Low dust bedding and environment - Shavings or paper not straw

  • Remove the horse from the stable during mucking out

  • Improve ventilation of the breathing zone

Richard pointed out that the breathing zone for the horse is actually nostril height when the horse has his nose to the ground eating.

Most stables are not well ventilated at this height.

He suggested drilling ventilation holes in stable doors or using wire mesh instead of solid wood or metal doors.

He also told us how it can take anything between 2-12 weeks for a horse with a respiratory issue to get back to normal lung function should they have been in a respiratory ‘danger zone’

Lots of us will have tried various different medicines and supplements for our own horses that may have had a mild or perhaps serious respiratory issue in the past.

Richard shared with us that there is little evidence that any supplement can improve equine performance.

Even anabolic steroids must be given for over 14 weeks before any benefit is identified.

Nasal dilator strips may reduce airway resistance and reduce metabolic cost of breathing.

Interestingly he did say that Vitamin C may limit airway oxidative stress. And to be careful with long term garlic supplementation (a supplement we have traditionally been advised will assist with respiratory issues) as anaemia can occur.

I hope you have found this blog useful. Please keep an eye out for part b to learn more about enhancing performance via the digestive system.

Thank you to Horses Inside Out for allowing me access to their professional photos.

Thanks again,

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