Researchers have shown that significant amounts of mucus in a racehorse’s airway can negatively affect his performance, and they’ve theorized that dust in the horse’s environment contributes to that mucus. Therefore, the logical next step is to reduce dust in a horse’s environment in order to optimize his respiratory health. But how do you do that?

To help answer that question, a team of veterinarians led by Michigan State University (MSU) researchers investigated equine exposure to dust in six racehorse stables, with findings presented by Melissa L. Millerick-May, MSc, PhD, assistant professor of medicine at MSU, at the 2009 American Association of Equine Practitioners convention held Dec. 5-9 in Las Vegas, Nev.

"We are investigating equine exposure to particulates (dust particles) less than 10 microns in diameter (invisible to the naked eye,) as particles in this size range are those that are likely to reach further into the horse’s lung," she commented.

For the study, 653 horses at a Midwestern Thoroughbred racetrack were evaluated for the presence of mucus in their airways from April through October. From these a subset of horses were selected to be either "cases" (mucus score >2) or "controls" (no visible mucus). Selected horses wore personal breathing zone monitors with the end of the sampling tube placed on the noseband of their halters for roughly 17.5 hours per day. High tracheal mucus scores (2 or greater on a 4-point scale, the level shown to impact racing performance in previous research) were seen in 23.1% of studied horses.

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