Unlike humans, a horse only breathes through its nose when exercising. This means that the oxygen vital for working muscles is only available from the air passing through the nose. Let's review the role of the respiratory system and why breathing easy is so important to health and performance.
The equine respiratory system starts at the nostrils and ends at the lungs. It includes the “upper airway” and the “lower airway.” When a horse inhales, air passes through the tube-like upper airway beginning at the nostrils, through the nasal passages, past the throat, down the trachea, and then enters the lower airway: the lungs. Once in the lungs, oxygen contained in the air passes out of the alveoli into small blood vessels carrying red blood cells through the lungs. The oxygen binds to the red blood cells which transport the oxygen to the heart and skeletal muscles to be used for producing energy for exercise. The waste product of energy is carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide is transported out of the body by taking the reverse pathway. Blood carries carbon dioxide from the tissues back to the lungs, where it passes through the pulmonary capillaries, into the alveoli and is exhaled out of the body.
The narrowest part of the upper airway is the nasal passages. In fact, during exercise over 90% of the resistance to breathing air into the lungs occurs in the upper airway, and over 50% of the upper airway resistance occurs at the nasal passages. That's why the nasal passages are critical for easy breathing.
You can feel the outside of the nasal passages. If you place your hand a few inches above your horse's nostrils, you'll feel a region of the nasal passages that is unsupported by bone. When you press on the tissue in this area, it collapses inward (Figure 2). This soft tissue also collapses during intensive exercise. The faster your horse goes, the more it collapses. When the nasal passages collapse, resistance to airflow increases just when air is needed most.
During exercise, the horse starts to breathe deeper and faster to bring more air into the lungs and to breathe carbon dioxide out. When galloping, about two five-gallon buckets of air move in and out of the horse's lungs every second. You can also think of it as six 60-gallon bathtubs full of air every minute.
The resistance to flow of air caused by the collapse of the nasal passage is critical because at a gallop, a horse's breathing and stride are linked. That means a horse takes a single breath with each stride. As a horse moves faster, its legs don't move faster, but rather the horse extends the length of its stride. So, anything that increases resistance to breathing impacts stride and can cause the horse to consume more energy to breathe that otherwise could be used to power the heart and skeletal muscles. Anything that makes breathing difficult will not only impair stride and performance, but it can also cause anxiousness or loss of concentration.
FLAIR® Equine Nasal Strips gently support the tissue that collapses in the nasal passages (Figure 3). The Strips are clinically proven to make breathing easier during intensive exercise, so horses use less energy and optimize their stride. When a fraction of a second matters, breathing and stride matter.
The equine respiratory system can be a major cause of poor performance or premature retirement from competition. Reducing resistance to make breathing easier is a proven way to protect the health of the respiratory system. FLAIR Strips are beneficial for horses that work hard at all levels of training and competition.
For more information, visit flairstrips.com/learn.