Editor’s note: This article is part of TheHorse.com’s ongoing coverage of topics presented at the 2012 American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine Forum, held May 30 – June 2 in New Orleans, La.


A number of body systems must run properly to ensure a horse performs at the top of his game; a malfunction in just one system can decrease performance and cause potentially serious health risks to the horse.

During a recent veterinary meeting, one researcher discussed how the cardiac and respiratory systems impact equine performance, and when malfunctions in any of these areas can affect a horse’s performance.

"In the field of exercise physiology horses demonstrate exceptional athletic capability in comparison to many mammalians studied," said Emmanuelle van Erck-Westergren, DVM, PhD, Dipl. ECEIM, during a presentation at the 2012 American College Veterinary Internal Medicine Forum, held May 30 – June 2 in New Orleans, La.

Van Erck-Westergren, of Equine Sports Medicine Practice in Belgium, discussed a few key elements to remember about horses’ cardio-respiratory systems function before delving into related causes of poor performance.

Keys to Consider

The respiratory system provides oxygen to facilitate metabolism, and the cardiovascular or circulatory system delivers the oxygen around the body; in short, the cardiorespiratory system provides a horse’s body with the oxygen it needs to function properly.

"The soundness and intrinsic capacity of each of these systems plays a substantial role in determining the performance potential