Monday, January 26, 2009

Taking a breather! Tidbits on equine respiration

Last Wednesday afternoon I started to get a "funny feeling" in my lungs at work--raw and wheezy. By the next morning I was sure I had succumbed to the plague. Well, as my physician later explained to me, it was something less dire: bronchitis. I'm all better now, but in recognizion of this experience I thought I'd compile some info on equine respiration...

Facts about horses and breathing...

  • Horses cannot breath through their mouth. All air intake is through their nostrils.
  • A foal only a few months old has all the lung tissue it is ever going to have.
  • The horse's long nasal cavity serves to take the chill off the air. Air entering a horses nostrils will warm by about 45 degrees F in 1/100th of a second.
  • Horses hold their breath over jumps and do not breathe again until they land. When they land, they start breathing out.
  • At canter and gallop normal horses take one breath perfectly in time with one stride.
  • Tightening a horse's girth too much will affect the horse's performance--not because of constricting the chest and preventing the lungs from expanding, but because it decreases the effectiveness of the muscles around the front of the chest and shoulder that move the forelegs (from The Horse magazine).
  • Training and excercise put pressure on the horse's nasal passages which can irritate the spiral, spongy bones in the nostril. This can result in bleeding and making the horse vulnerable to infection.
  • If all the horse's airways in the lung were opened out and laid flat on the ground, they would occupy a total area equivalent to 10 tennis courts. The large lung surface assists in heat dissipation during and after exercise. Up to 20% of the muscle heat generated during exercise being exchanged across the lung surface
  • The upper respiratory system has been implicated in 47-49% of cases affecting poor performance in racehorses, followed by the cardiac system in 22.3% of cases; and the musculoskeletal system in 15-20% of cases.
  • About 25% of all equine veterinary calls are due to a respiratory problem.
  • With regard to respiratory infections (and probably any infection): For every degree of fever, a horse should be rested for 7 days.
Normal horse respiration

A horse's inhalations should take about the same amount of time as its exhalations, and a normal horse takes 8-15 breaths per minute. You can count inhalation/exhalation cycles in three ways:
  • watch the horse's nostrils move as it breathes
  • watch the horse's body (belly rises and falls)
  • listen at its trachea or windpipe.
A high respiratory rate can pain, excitement, stress, fever, or infection. Other vital signs will help narrow down the cause of respiration problems.


When a Sneeze Is More than a Sneeze: Equine Upper Respiratory Viruses
L.E. Johnson In: NAVC Proceedings 2007, North American Veterinary Conference (Eds). Publisher: NAVC ( Internet Publisher: International Veterinary Information Service, Ithaca NY

Facts about Equine Respiratory Disease
from Pfizer

The airway and lungs from The Horse Magazine


  1. This was very interesting. Glad you're better.

  2. Hope you are feeling better soon Stacey!

    I never thought about the sheer size and tissue mass of the lungs- the visual of it covering 10 tennis courts was just incredible. Thanks once again for some fantastic information!!

  3. Air entering a horses nostrils will warm by about 45 degrees F in 1/100th of a second.

    Wish I could do that! Brr!

  4. Horses' brains and bodies never cease to amaze me. They are such incredible creatures. I always wondered why they have such huge nasal passages. Now I know the rest of the story.

  5. Your posts are very informative. I did not know horses could warm the air as they breathe it in quite so efficiently. Makes me feel less worried about my horse in the 0 degree weather we had last night!

  6. the more i learn, the more I worry! I think I miss the bliss of being a carefree young rider... those were the days!

  7. Thanks for the visit and the compliments on the bridle. It means a lot coming from you.

    Have you come across the site that teaches you how to teach your horse to breath properly holistically? In it they give examples of improper breathing and the results. My Gimme A Dream (with the baling twine bitless bridle) is prone to nervous attacks. At best he is diuretic. At worst, he becomes severely colicky and takes what I call a nervous breakdown. I have been practicing light breathing techniques with him, nothing that would interfere with his regular breathing but his has not had an attack in eleven months now. He has finally gained weight that I'm sure he shook off during attacks.
    The site is:
    in the UK


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