Grand Meadows Cares Series: My Horse Is Coughing – What Can I Do To Help Support His Well-Being?  

by Nikki Alvin-Smith

There are many reasons that a horse coughs as infectious and non-infectious respiratory issues are common in horses. Chronic conditions can severely impact the performance of a horse during its lifetime.

Good horse care management practices together with the use of feed supplements to help horses as they struggle with respiratory issues can offer good support. The aim is always to keep the horse as comfortable as possible and if viable, able to continue its working life, even if at a lesser performance level than previously attained.

It is important to remember that the more efficient the horse’s digestive process and its ability to ingest and utilize the nutritional benefits from its diet, the better its health and well-being will be and hence the less stress the horse will be subjected to overall.

When you consider that horses breathe in millions of dust particles in every breath, it’s little wonder that management protocols in their environment and lifestyle can have a huge impact on how the horse can be helped to manage its breathing issues. Attention paid to their environment and how it is cleaned, how it is set up, and how the horse’s routine is managed can help support the horse’s well-being long term.

All aspects of the horse’s lifestyle should be reviewed with particular attention paid to their stables and working arenas, hay quality and lifestyle, as all these factors can make a big difference on the air quality that the horse is subjected to as a part of daily life. In fact, doing little things can make a lot of difference to the horse’s respiratory health.

Open and Closed Environments

Horse transport, stabling and indoor work areas all provide a closed environment where the equine is likely subjected to a lack of fresh air. Fresh air is not clean either, but it is likely less particle laden with contaminants than a closed space.

This doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to blast down the road with the horse trailer grills down allowing the dangerous practice of a horse to stick his head out of the conveyance. But it does mean that dusty footing/bedding and forage should be avoided and either replaced with non-particle producing materials, removed altogether or in the case of hay, soaked/wet down or treated using a hay steaming machine. Hay will lose some nutritional value when soaked or steamed, so supplementation of the horse’s diet may be required to provide necessary amounts of depleted minerals and vitamins available for ingestion from the forage.

Large round bales are notorious for being dusty. Though with recent additions of chemical preservatives (which are almost mandatory for use in order to cure hay that is produced in large units square or round), the amount of dust and mold in these bigger bales is reduced. Given that the products used in this endeavor are tested and safe for horses to ingest, a question in itself, many vets recommend switching to small bales and buying good quality ‘clean and green’ hay for dry feeding needs. Other options are to utilize pelleted or cubed feeds.

Storage of hay is also a critical component of hay quality. For obvious reasons storing hay in a loft space above the horse’s stall is not a brilliant idea. Wherever the hay is stored protecting it from adverse weather (including even seemingly minor drips from a small hole in the roof that can cause mold contamination), is prudent. And given the price of hay, nobody wants to see any hay supplies go bad.

Turnout 24/7 on pasture is not a viable option for most horse management facilities, but it is a good solution that can provide an environment that is likely less dust laden than a horse barn. Bear in mind that grasses can also provide a source of allergens. So consider your options carefully.

Ventilate and Vacuum

Both passive and mechanical ventilation in horse barns can help improve the interior air quality within the building. High ceilings and careful siting of the stabling with center aisles able to catch summer breezes, can both help avoid humid conditions within the space and improve airflow. As can partially grilled stall dividing walls and front walls.

Sweeping the barn aisle may be commonplace, and a clean barn is a safer barn than one littered with flammable hay detritus and sawdust everywhere. But a more prudent clean up practice would be to utilize a vacuum rather than a broom.

If it is viable, do all movement of bedding (including mucking out, where disturbance of hopefully low dust producing bedding occurs,) and aisle clean up with the equine absent from the building. Then literally ‘wait for the dust to settle’ before bringing the horse back into the stable area.

It is also prudent to avoid using sprays (such as those used for fly prevention or grooming product aids) that may cause lung irritation in the horse.

Exercise Areas

If you ever ridden or trained in a dusty arena or showground, then you know the negative consequences of such an endeavor. Your own coughing and spluttering, clothes and equipment coated with dust, and horse with his nose closer to the ground than yours joining in blowing discharge from his nose and likely wheezing with the effort required to perform.

As a veteran dressage clinician/coach and advanced level competitor, I can attest to the misery such an environment induces in all that are subjected to work in it. Frankly, due to better awareness of the physical damage such an environment causes to horse and human lungs and eyes, I won’t subject either myself or my horse and rider students to being made to tolerate the dust and complain vociferously to show or host management until it is remedied.

There are many low-dust footing products and footing additives that will hold water for timed release that can be installed to alleviate the dust issue. A variety of watering methods and equipment can be utilized to ensure that the working space for horse and rider is kept as particle and dust free as possible.

Riding out on grass fields or trails is a valuable adjunct practice in which to train the horse. Such activity brings many benefits to horse and rider including a mental and physical refresh.

Where possible managing the care of breeding and performance horses with protocols as close to their horse-friendly natural habitat and lifestyle as is practicable is always a boon to their health, as I noted as a guest on the Stall and Stable podcast on advice on the topic of Keeping The Grand Prix Horse.

Do Your Best

Long-term health problems are part of life and worrying over what is going on will not help. If your horse shows signs of exercise intolerance or frequent coughing, then it is smart to attack the issue head on and get busy with curative or remedial practices aided by veterinary intervention, Mother Nature and good horse-keeping methods that are appropriate for the individual case.

Avoiding long-term equine health issues is not always possible, but certainly more likely if the animal is kept fit and in good health. Do your best to prevent respiratory issues by practicing good horse management and care in the first place. But when issues arise, and they will, do your best to navigate them based on fact-based research of available products with careful attention to what suits your individual horse best.

Don’t be tempted to throw everything possible at this (or any other health issue) at once with over-supplementation or medication, especially as contraindication may not be known between products and you won’t know what is beneficial and what is not.

Basic lifestyle changes in daily horse care like the ones mentioned above can result in significant improvement in the horse’s health. Don’t be shy to give them a try.

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 About Grand Meadows: Founded in 1989 by visionary Angela Slater, Grand Meadows is a leading horse health product and equine supplement manufacturer driven by the guiding principle of providing affordable, extremely high-quality science-backed horse products to help ensure horses look and feel their best.

For the past 35 years the company’s mission has been honored and developed further, by President Nick Hartog, who among other accomplishments is one of the founding members and current board member of the National Animal Supplement Council (NASC), an organization that has a profound impact on the safety, transparency, and legitimacy of the animal supplement industry.

Grand Meadow products are widely used and trusted across the entire horse community from Olympic medal winning competitors and successful horse racing trainers to backyard horse owners. Their equine supplements are highly regarded for their excellent quality resourced ingredients and completely accurate labelling and effective formulations. Learn more at

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