Natural Supplements for Equine Respiratory Health

Have you heard of the theory about why Secretariat, the famous racehorse, was so successful? It was the size of his heart and lungs. The vet that did the examination after he died reports that his heart was 2 1/2 the size of a normal horse. With extra heart and lung capacity he could take in more oxygen. The equine respiratory system consists of the large and small airways and the lungs. When a horse inhales, the air travels down the trachea, which divides into the tubes known as the right and left bronchi, then into the smaller airways called bronchioles in the lungs. The bronchioles end in the small sacs called alveoli, where the barrier between the air and the blood is a thin membrane.


Image: Merck Vet Manual
The respiratory tract of the horse serves one primary function: to exchange oxygen for carbon dioxide. This exchange in the horse's airways is very high, which means that even a small abnormality can lead to a large decrease in performance. What can we do as horse owners to prevent or reduce the impacts of respiratory issues in our horses?
  • Keeping your horse in a pasture is best but if they need at stall, make sure that a stabled horse is kept in a barn that is well-ventilated.
  • Changing to a stall bedding such as chopped paper or cardboard which has less dust and mold spores.
  • Remove the horse from the barn when you are bringing in loads of hay or sweeping the floors as the dust generated can irritate the airways.
  • Switch to a pelleted feed (soaked, if possible), soaked beet pulp, or whole grains to eliminate the dust in the grains.
  • Replace hay with soaked hay cubes or pellets. Or soak the hay before feeding.
  • Do NOT let horses with respiratory issues eat from a round bale. Round bales require horses to put their faces(and noses) right in the bale which can increase the intake of dust into the airways. If you have to use round bales, use a net over it so they cannot put their nose in the bale.
Horses with faces in round bale
Net preventing horse from putting face in bale
After we make these stable management changes, how can we use can natural supplements for equine respiratory health? How can they help? I'm glad you asked! If used properly (and as always consult with your vet FIRST), the Natural Supplements I am going to talk about can.....
  • Help maintain normal respiratory function
  • Support normal recovery after strenuous activity
  • Help maintain the normal integrity and function of the lungs
  • Support normal mobilization of invading toxins
  • Assist the body in combating environmental pollutants
As you know by now if you have been reading the other posts about using Natural Supplements, there are three categories I include; herbs, essential oils, and "other" like whole foods, etc. The first type of Natural Supplement we will discuss for respiratory health are herbs. I like the following herbs and look for blends that include them:
  • Echinacea-Increases bodily resistance against viral and bacterial infection.
  • Garlic-Helps with coughs and respiratory disorders
  • Red Poppy- Used for irritable coughs. It also has a soothing effect on the nervous system and it can be helpful for excitable horses.
  • Jiaogulan acts as a bronchodilator, helping to decrease resistance in the airway.
Echinacea in the wild

I carry Silver Lining Herbal Blends on my webshop. Here is the link to the equine respiratory blend >> Click here or picture

The Essential Oils I use to help my horses breath easy are:

  • Peppermint - It is a natural antihistamine and decongestant, antispasmodic (helps relax muscles of the respiratory tract) natural expectorant.
  • Yarrow- It acts as an expectorant, it clears congestion. It also is particularly beneficial in controlling coughs.
  • Marshmallow Root- The leaf is the best part of this plant for the respiratory system. It contains generous quantities of mucilage, which give the plant its demulcent qualities, helping to soothe inflamed, irritated airways, reduce allergic response and encourage the expulsion of mucus.
Peppermint Essential Oil
For more information about essential oils and how you use them read my first blog post on Natural Supplements. Click here The last area of Natural Supplements I want to talk about is the "other" category. There are really only two I use and both are considered a "whole food", meaning a food that has been processed or refined as little as possible and is free from additives or other artificial substances. The two I use are:
  • Honey- Which can reduce irritation and soothe.
  • Spirulina- Which is a blue/green algae that boost anti-bodies. Animal studies suggest that spirulina also stops the release of histamine, which is responsible for symptoms of allergic rhinitis.
Spirulina as fed

I love the idea of using a nature made supplement to make up a deficiency or to strengthen the whole. It’s the very definition of a holistic approach to horse care. I believe that the best plan for equine health is an integrated one; the best of traditional (aka pharmaceutical) meds then compliment that with alternative (aka natural) products and methods. I hope this 5 part series has helped you understand how you can eliminate some of the chemical and synthetic drugs you use on your horse. Better for your horse, better for our planet, and better for you!!

Peace and good riding, Laura


The Horse Hippie

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