One H&C user wanted advice about her ex-racehorse's breathing:
"I recently bought a 15-year-old ex-racehorse. After I had him for about three weeks, I noticed that trotting uphill he was breathing differently. I wouldn’t say it was noisy, just different to normal. White discharge came out of both nostrils, and when I took his bridle off he also seems to stretch his jaw.Why is this happening?"
Fred and Rowena Cook of Equine Management and Training replied:
"Clear or white discharge from one nostril usually is nothing to worry about. You do not say whether the discharge is watery or thick, however, that both nostrils are affected does indicate that something is not quite as it should be especially coupled with an alteration in your horse’s breathing.
You do not say whether there is any sign of swelling around your horse’s glands or whether he coughs at all, whether is sweating more than you would expect and whether he appears to be losing weight (or you are having any issue with his weight). That he appears to stretch his jaw when the bridle is removed is not conclusive indication that your horse has an issue with swallowing, etc; it may just be something that he does because he perhaps finds the throatlash irritating. However it is a behaviour you have noted and may possibly have some bearing.
Given your horse’s age, it is likely that he does suffer from Recurrent Airway Obstruction (RAO), the underlying cause of which is usually an allergic reaction (hypersensitivity) to inhaled dust, fungal spores and/or pollen.
Allergic reactions cause the secretion of mucous into the airways and increase the effort required when breathing particularly during exertion. In severe cases a horse can be seen having to physically expel air (the abdomen lifts as muscles are used to push air out which can result in “heave line”, this being due to the enlargement of the abdominal muscles through the extra work they have, hence the lay term of “heaves” for horses with such condition. Over a prolonged period the airways do become obstructed to a certain degree.
The symptoms of RAO vary considerably in severity depending on how long a horse has been exposed to the allergens responsible for the reaction. In more severe cases, horses develop a persistent cough, have an increased respiratory rate and cannot cope with strenuous exercise. Your horse may well just be mildly affected – possibly because the rape crop is currently in flower - or he may be affected by tree pollen and so on.
Management of the horse with RAO is not complicated but entails ensuring a horse has access to plenty of fresh air. Good circulation within the stabled environment if longer spells of turnout are not feasible for other reasons. Dust control is the most critical thing – so dust-free bedding is important - and ensuring good quality hay; haylage is preferable.
You do definitely need a veterinary inspection to confirm a diagnosis – to rule out any form of infection (although the mucous is usually yellow/green if infection is present except in the case of strangles) – and to ascertain, if it is RAO, the extent of airway obstruction which may already be present as the vet may elect to prescribe a bronchodilator to help relax the muscles and open up the airways.
We hope this helps and good luck with your horse."
Fred and Rowena Cook
If you have any particular issues with your horse, then please contact the RoR Helpline for advice or contact Fred and Rowena Cook of Equine Management and Training www.equinetraining.co.uk. Their book Re-Educating Racehorses – A Life After Racing is available now.