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When fractions of a second matter, breathing easy is key to peak performance and health.

Sponsored by Flair, LLC

Unlike humans, when exercising, a horse only breathes through its nose. 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 (Figure 1). 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 into 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 narrowest part of the upper airways 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.

equine respiratory system anatomy diagram

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.

equine nasal passage diagram

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, 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 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 is the difference between earning money and not, breathing and stride matter.

equine nasal strips versus anatomy diagram

Breathing easier is not only beneficial during exercise, but it’s also important during recovery after exercise. The quicker a horse recovers, the more energy it has for tomorrow.

FLAIR Strips are also proven to reduce exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage (“EIPH”, or lung bleeding). University studies show that substantially all horses that work hard experience some degree of EIPH. However, less than 5% of horses show blood at the nostrils even though they’ve bled in the lungs. The damage from repeated occurrences of EIPH is cumulative and can shorten a horse’s competitive career. EIPH occurs because the fragile membrane that separates the alveoli from the blood vessels in the lungs ruptures. This thin (1/100th the thickness of a human hair) membrane is highly efficient for oxygen to pass from the lungs the blood. However, because it is so thin, it is highly vulnerable to rupture when exposed to high blood pressures and enormous airway pressures that are generated in the lungs during intensive exercise.

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.

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