Steamed hay helps stoic cow horse keep her heaves in check.
Ventipulmin and dexamathasone.
North Dakota horse owner Joni Casey knows all about this bronchodilator and corticosteroid. She’s had to administer these medications often since her Quarter Horse R n’ R Pepinita was diagnosed with Severe Equine Asthma, aka “heaves,” as a 6- or 7-year-old. “Pep” is 17 now and Joni is a master of Severe Equine Asthma management.
She’s had the medications on hand to help Pep get through periodic bouts of equine asthma at its worst – when Pep was out working cattle and began heaving to exhale. Initially the episodes occurred at the end of long days, then it happened more often and after less exertion. Occasionally the scary spiral seemed triggered just by something in a particular batch of hay.
Over time, the telltale “heaves line” emerged where Pep’s abdominal muscles built up with that effort to expel air.
Every bout was stressful for horse and rider. “She’d even almost colic because she was so stressed out,” recalls Joni. Joni took Pep on when the mare was just six months old and their partnership is one in which the horse’s stress is equally the owner’s.
Pep’s veterinarian delivered the potentially devastating diagnosis with marching orders for the lifelong challenge of managing the mare’s asthma. Joni knows it’s a question of management, not cure, at this end of the Equine Asthma Spectrum.
Rules for Equine Asthma
No eating out of round bales because Pep’s nose would be stuck in a vortex of irritating respirable particles found even in hay of good nutrient quality. As drought conditions persist in North Dakota, hay meeting any definition of good quality is harder to find, Joni relays. She was also told Pep should not live in a box stall or other indoor situation where respirable particles swirl around in her breathing zone.
Respirable “dust” is microscopic bits of mold, bacteria and other allergens that are small enough (under 5 microns) to evade the horse’s respiratory defense mechanisms. Inhaled through the nostrils, they can get through to the lower airways, settle in the lining of the lungs and trigger the body’s inflammatory response to irritation.
The inflammation restricts the passage of air in and out of the lungs and of oxygen from the alveoli in the lungs into the bloodstream that carries it to all cells in the body. Inflammation anywhere in the horse’s body is bad news: especially in the respiratory system.
Early symptoms of respiratory disease can be hard to detect in horses. Fatigue and otherwise unexplained decreases in performance are signs that sometimes exist well before more obvious indicators like occasional coughs and nasal discharge.
Stoic Despite Symptoms
Pep’s stoic nature made the early symptoms even harder to catch. And since her diagnosis, that trait requires Joni to be extra vigilant for the slightest indicator of on oncoming asthma struggle.
“She comes from a long lineage of good reining and cutting horses,” Joni explains of her mare. Sired by Peppe San, Pepinita “instinctively knows what to do when it comes to sorting cows. She likes it and she’s wonderful at it.” So much so that she’ll perform even when she’s not feeling great. “She’ll give me her all even if she’s having a hard time breathing, so I have to be a lot more intuitive to her breathing, to how she’s moving. She’s always so good, so willing and hardworking, it can be hard to tell she’s not feeling her best.”
With medications to knock down the inflammation and open Pep’s airways quickly, Joni was prepared to provide short term relief. Neither medication is advised for long-term use. As a preventative measure, she soaked Pep’s hay to reduce respirable dust. Soaking hay does help reduce dust particles in hay, but it’s also a hassle and a water-wasting mess. Worse for the horse, it leaches nutrients and soaking hay too long can increase bacteria and fungi.
“Soaking was a real chore,” Joni notes. Especially in winter with temperatures dropping to -20°F and snow drifts sometimes piling 10’ high in the 100’ feet between her home and the three-sided shelter where Pepe lives. “We did that for several years, but it was difficult.”
The dedicated horse owner even built a homemade hay steamer to help reduce dust. That seemed to help ease Pep’s coughing, but Joni knew that reaching steam temperatures are one thing and retaining them is another. Steaming hay at insufficient temperatures and time spans can also increase bacteria and fungal growth.
More Time Together & Less Stress
Joni retired last year after a long career with Coca-Cola, in part to have more time to care for Pep. Part of that extra time was invested in online research, where Joni came across Haygain High Temperature Hay Steamers. Haygain’s proven ability to reduce up to 99% of the respirable particles in hay made sense immediately and a half-bale HG 600 Hay Steamer arrived in February of this year.
She had been stockpiling ventipulmin prior to the steamer’s arrival, but those bottles remain unopened. Joni hasn’t had to dose any dexamethasone either. When she went to the veterinary clinic for Pep’s annual exam in July, the vet was “extremely surprised,” Joni shares of how he compared Pep’s respiratory condition to last year’s. “When he checked her lungs, he said he didn’t hear anything on the left side and her right side was barely audible.”
Joni jokes that the Haygain was a “retirement gift to myself” to save on labor. She steams Pep’s hay even in the coldest mornings by keeping the steam generator unit inside at night. Per instructions, she dries the connections, steam release points and the drain on the chest to prevent residual water from becoming a frozen blockage. Haygain steaming does require some labor, she acknowledges, but it’s been easy to work into her routine caring for Pep and stablemate Jackpot. Compared to soaking it’s been a breeze.
Most importantly, Haygain has been a gift to Pep. Reducing respirable particles in the horse’s environment is the #1 recommendation for managing horses with severe equine asthma. Because hay is a major source of those particles, Haygain’s ability to significantly reduce them is an effective step in that process.
Pep is living proof of that. She continues to do the ranch work she loves, and she and Joni have a lot less to stress about and more time to enjoy their time together.
Article provided by Haygain. Posting and publishing encourage. More info: www.haygain.us.
PR: Kim F Miller
Photo available by request