The publication of the 2022 BE Fixtures Calendar has us all champing at the bit to be out and about competing, But there’s still a few cold months ahead and that means life spent mostly indoors.

For horses, indoor living comes with a 50% increase in the amount of respirable particles to which they’re exposed. These respirable irritants are the main cause of conditions on the Equine Asthma Spectrum that affect over 80 percent of active sporthorses, often without obvious symptoms.

Some horses have a genetic predisposition for Equine Asthma, but otherwise it’s an occupational disease, explains sporthorse veterinarian Emmanuelle Van Erck-Westergren, DVM, PhD, ECEIM. “Environment, stresses of training and competition which can lower immunity, and mingling with other horses, are all risk factors for Equine Asthma.”

The good news is that our horses’ environment is something we owners can control or, at least, significantly improve by reducing these risk factors.

“Sick Building?”

“Dust” is the innocent sounding description for the main causes of asthma. There’s the dust we can see, and the dust we can’t see — under 5 microns in size and invisible without a microscope.  Horses’ natural respiratory defense mechanisms can usually handle larger particles. It’s the invisible particles that pose the greatest risk because they can evade these defenses and deliver tiny bits of mould, bacteria and other irritants and allergens deep into the lungs.

Unfortunately, even a meticulously maintained yard has loads of microscopic irritants, much of them from forage. That’s true even when the forage has high nutrient value and looks and smells fresh and clean to a knowledgeable horseman. Hay is grown in dirt, harvested with heavy equipment and, usually, transported on motorways and stored. It has stuff in it that our horses don’t need.

That’s why Dr. Van Erck-Westergren includes yard visits in caring for her patients, many of whom are referred for further study when respiratory challenges persist after traditional treatments.

“I look at the horse and his environment,” explains the partner in the Equine Sports Medicine Practice in Waterloo, Belgium. “We do measurements of dust levels and samples of contaminants. Some are easy to see. Have you seen someone sweep dust from the yard aisle, then stash that in the horse’s stable? Or seen mould stains on barn walls or ceilings?

“A condition called Sick Building Syndrome exists in human medicine and it can apply to horses, too,” she continues. “They may not be coughing or having nasal discharge, but they clearly don’t feel well. That can often be linked to the amount of contaminants growing inside the building.

“Horses were designed to live outside, but many horses spend 23 hours a day in the stable. Living inside, they’re exposed to 50 times more inhalable irritants! Even if they live outside, if they’re getting hay with contaminants, it’s still a problem.”

Preventative Measures

Assess and improve your horse’s environment,” Dr Van Erck-Westergren asserts, offering these four tips for horse owners:

1. Make sure there’s ventilation in the barn. That means circulation and renewal of the air. If there’s no renewal, moisture will accumulate and foster contaminant growth. Cobwebs indicate there isn’t enough ventilation because spiders won’t make them where there’s any breeze.

2. Reduce dust: the fine dust that can be inhaled and lodge in the airways and deep in the lungs.

3. Look for signs of mould on walls, everywhere and especially on walls near stored hay.

4. Look at floor mats: specifically, what is growing between and underneath them. Urine accumulation can make it really dangerous and gross. It’s awful for horses and people. Stables don’t have to be sterile, but they do need to be clean.

Hay & Bedding

Two ubiquitous stable elements, forage and bedding, are major contributors to conditions on the Equine Asthma Spectrum. The Spectrum ranges from mild, reversible Inflammatory Airway Disease to Severe Equine Asthma that’s gone so far it can only be managed, not cured.

Dr. Westergren “strongly advises” all her clients to get a Haygain High Temperature Hay Steamer because it reduces up to 99% of the fine, respirable particles and kills mould, bacteria and yeast in hay. Ample scientific studies demonstrate the benefits of killing the mould that causes irritation and inflammation in the respiratory system.

“When it comes to preventative medicine, high-temperature steaming is something that speaks for itself over time,” she continues. “That’s why you don’t see many Haygain Hay Steamers for sale second-hand. Once horse owners adopt it, they don’t go back.”

Article provided by Haygain. For more information, please visit

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