Aspiring to Green Horsekeeping

5 min read

Aspiring to Green Horsekeeping

Maryland Veterinarian enlists Owners in Campaign for Equine Respiratory Health.
Equine respiratory health is a year-round hot topic for Megan Snyder, VMD, in her veterinary practice, Damascus Equine Associates in Mount Airy, MD. She focuses on internal medicine and sports medicine, two broad areas in which respiratory health plays a huge role.

Because respiratory problems often exist before obvious symptoms emerge, Dr. Snyder believes that educating her horse owners is essential to caring for their horses. It’s especially true of her many clients who board their horses at public facilities, and therefore don’t fully control every aspect of their care.
“The biggest difference in equine care, versus small animals and companion animals, is that we need to discuss our patients’ management with the horse owner and with the people who manage the farm. Every employee who feeds or cares for the horse is vital in making changes that affects the horse’s respiratory health.”
Even “Good” Hay Is Dirty
Hay’s role in respiratory health leads many of Dr. Snyder’s educational discussions. “A lot of my clients say, ‘Oh, my hay is not dusty or dirty.’ I tell them to put it in a muck tub and tell me that what sifts down to the bottom is not dirty. We have a lot of natural pollens, dust, mould and fungal things. Our warm, often moist, environment is ideal for those spores to grow.”


Reducing dust in the equine environment is an urgent call from veterinarians around the world, and Dr. Snyder is doing her part.

“I have a list of environmental recommendations to help manage our respiratory cases,” she says. “The hardest thing is that there’s no cure for the disease. We could spend a lot of money on medications and inhalers, but if we don’t change the management strategies, we’re not going to make headway.”

Haygain Hay Steamers rank high on Dr. Snyder’s recommendations. “That is definitely one of the best management strategies to help control my respiratory cases. And I see a lot less respiratory emergency cases among my horses on steamed hay. Clinically, I have seen it make a big difference for them.”

By attaining temperatures around 212°F, Haygain’s patented steaming technology is the only method proven to significantly reduce the mold and fungi Dr. Snyder finds so prevalent in her region. Haygain steaming reduces up to 99% of all respirable particles in hay – including mould, bacteria and other allergens. That’s why it’s key to preventing and/or managing respiratory problems.
A Horse & Human Condition
The fact that so many people can relate to asthma from personal experience helps in the effort to educate horse owners and stable managers about respiratory health. Veterinary thought leaders promote the phrase “Equine Asthma Spectrum” to convey the similarities in respiratory conditions for horses and humans. “A lot of our clients suffer from allergies or asthma themselves,” Dr. Snyder notes. “They know what sets them off and how important it is to try to avoid that.”

In theory, reducing triggers in the environment is easy.

In practice, it’s not. As a horse owner herself, Dr. Snyder knows this first-hand.

“Horses live in a very dusty environment,” she acknowledges. “They eat hay, they live in shavings. And for those who board their horse, it’s easy to feel like you’re being a pain in the butt to the barn manager in asking for special treatment for your horse.”

Implementing better barn air strategies is always challenging, and always worthwhile.

As with most aspects of horse care, the process involves trade-offs. For example, a horse with existing respiratory problems might be best living outdoors some or all of the day. But if that’s on grass pasture, there’s a risk of getting fat, or worse, triggering laminitis from eating too much at once – especially if the grass has a high sugar content.

Dust Busting

Hay storage tops Dr. Snyder’s list of barn dust-busting suggestions. “I’ve had horses affected with respiratory problems just because their hay was stored in the stall next to them, or in the aisleway outside their stall.” Storing hay above horses is not good either, as the dust drifts down into their stalls.

Storing hay outside the barn is safest for dust management and fire prevention. “Keeping hay outside is always best for safety and it’s the cleanest way from the respiratory health perspective.” If hay needs to be stored in the horse barn, Dr. Snyder suggests keeping it at one end of the barn, as far away from horses as possible, and moving it around as little as possible.

“Avoid doing things that stir up dust, and when you have to do them, ideally do it when your horses are not in the stable.” Dust blowers are a definite no-no when horses are indoors and fans should be positioned where they’ll move air around without stirring up more dust. Running a tractor or other equipment that puts exhaust fumes into the horse’s breathing zone are more don’ts in the dust-reduction game plan.

“But 9 of 10 times, the cause of a respiratory issue comes down to what the horse is eating,” Dr. Snyder says.
If investing in a hay steamer is not an option, wetting or soaking hay is better than feeding dry hay, she suggests. Bagged chopped forage is another less dusty option, but it’s expensive.
Behind hay, bedding is the next biggest source of respirable irritants in the stabled horse’s world. Dr. Snyder has had good experiences with bedding made of cardboard, whereas pelleted bedding started out as low-dust, but emitted particles when it was stepped on or kicked around – which happens in a horse stall!
Catch It Early
Catching respiratory problems in their earliest stages is critical to effective treatment. “Often, when we as veterinarians get called in, the respiratory problem has been going on long enough to cause disease in their lungs.”

Coughs are a clue, Dr. Snyder urges. “Horses occasionally cough at the beginning of a ride to get the mucus up and out, but if they are pulling you out of the saddle with a cough, or coughing every time they stick their nose into their hay, it’s worthwhile to do a respiratory exam and to start talking about environmental strategies.”

Keeping a diary of the horse’s vital statistics and behavior patterns is a great way to catch respiratory issues early. In addition to noting temperature and respiratory rate, it’s good to record if the horse is coughing, even just occasionally, during exercise – in an indoor or outdoor arena – or while eating. “We always want to address the problem as soon as possible,” Dr. Snyder concludes.

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