The THICK WINDED horse and approaches to treatment - TYPE II

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

As discussed in the previous article this term is often used with reference to horses that make a ‘thick’ noise when breathing in during exercise. There is however another application or definition of this term. 

Thick Winded Type II -

These horses are said to make no abnormal breathing noises during exercise but instead demonstrate persistent poor respiratory recovery following exercise. The trainer may be overheard saying “No matter how much work I give this horse I can’t get him fit ”. As a horses fitness improves the length of time taken for respiratory recovery ( a return to a resting breathing respiratory rate) should decrease. This measure assists the trainer in assessing fitness. In the case of the Type II thick winded horse this does not happen and extended recovery times are the norm.

Now it is important to further differentiate two subtypes of this category.

  1. i.The horse that shows poor recovery immediately upon concluding the workout.

  2. ii.The horse that appears to pull up and recover normally, but then about 8 to 9 minutes later begins to pant (nostrils flaring) and often becomes quite anxious. This panting can continue for up to an hour.

Firstly (i) are horses that should undergo both a lower airways (lung) and an upper airways (throat) examination. The upper airways exam should be done at exercise on either a treadmill or with an overground scope. There is a physical reason these horses are not recovering normally and this needs to be addressed. Again this type of thick windedness does not mean that these horses will not win races but if not treated the length of their racing careers will be significantly reduced.

The horses in group (ii) are most probably suffering from a condition referred to as Exercise Induced Bronchospasm (EIB) or ‘athletic asthma’. This condition is not uncommon in human athletes and recent research has shown that the disease is very similar in both horse and man. In hot humid climates this condition needs to be differentiated from ‘Non Sweating Syndrome’ where panting is quite often the most obvious symptom.

With EIB the lower airways are normal immediately following exercise but then there is a progressive contraction of the muscles of the smaller airways ( bronchospasm) and the horse is then unable to fully expand its lungs. Yes, similar to an asthmatic attack ! And yes, not knowing what is happening to it the horse will often panic even lashing out at walls and attendants.

Treatment options -

For (i) - Firstly seek a diagnosis and then treat accordingly. Remember examine both ‘upper’ and ‘lower’ airways. Too often just lower airways are examined and dysfunctional upper airways issues are missed.

For (ii) - EIB is triggered by the respiratory effort (exercise). One may choose to treat this animal as an asthmatic (medically) but in addition one should always also examine the upper airways during exercise. In some instances the effort is being increased by dysfunctional upper airways. By correcting this issue one can potentially reduce the pressure being applied to the lungs and thence reduce the likelihood of this episode being triggered.

Remember these horses are not just a ‘type’ but are actually suffering from medically diagnosable conditions. Have them diagnosed and treated for both you and your horses sake!