The THICK WINDED horse and approaches to treatment - TYPE I

It is quite common in racing circles to hear that a particular horse is ‘Thick Winded’ or is a bit ‘Thick in The Wind’!

Traditionally these horses were simply viewed as a ‘type’ similar to a horse with ‘soft feet’ or having a particular temperament, ‘relaxed’ or ‘nervous’ etc

These days we understand that in many cases these horses are not breathing correctly and therefore have a potentially ‘performance limiting’ issue. Having said this some of these horses are quite capable of performing at a winning level. However it is unlikely that these horses will continue to perform at this level for the length of time a ‘normal breathing’ horse would.

What is a ‘thick winded horse?

Firstly the sound that these horses make is described as a ‘harsh, low pitched inspiratory noise’ during exercise. A little like air being sucked through a flattened rubber tube. The noise is a combination of that made by air being sucked through a narrow space and in addition the vibration of the tube around it. This inspiratory ( breathing in) noise needs to be differentiated from the ‘high pitched inspiratory whistle’ associated with a semi collapsed larynx ( laryngeal hemiplegia).

In the case of ‘thick winded’ horses air is passing during inspiration through both the oral (mouth) route and the nasal route at the same time. And the condition that allows this to occur we now refer to as Palatal Instability (PI).

Horses are of course obligate nasal breathers (should only breathe through their nostrils) but if this normal route is not adequate then they will ‘cheat’ ( sneak some air through their mouth as well as their nostrils).

As much as this seems like a logical reaction by the horse there are however potential downsides.

  1. i.In the short term PI will increase the likelihood of pharyngeal airways collapse ( choke).

  2. ii.In the longer term continued leakage of saliva , feed material and oral bacteria into the airways will mean that the airways themselves (lungs) will be more and more compromised. The chance and severity of bleeding ( Exercise Induced Pulmonary Hemorrhage EIPH) will quite probably also increase.

Treatment Options -

  1. 1.Devices such as nosebands attempt to keep the horses mouth shut so as to reduce the likelihood of air being sucked through the mouth.Unfortunately even with a nose band on most horses can still get some air through. In addition if the horse believes that it will need the oral option then a tight nose band may well be met by a refusal to work or train or if forced to go to work the horse will not put itself under pressure (not try!).

  2. 2.For Surgical Treatment see,