Conditioning and Winning without Raceday Medication
By SID GUSTAFSON
Horses evolved as social grazers of the plains, group survivalists moving and grazing together most all of the time. During their 60-million-year evolution, horses came to require near-constant forage, friends and locomotion to maintain health and vigor of wind and limb.
Despite domestication and selective breeding, today’s racehorses are no exception. Although horses are extremely adaptable, the last place a horse evolved to live is in a stall, alone, with limited space to move and forage about with others. The solution to manage bleeding in racehorses is to breed, develop, teach, train and care for horses in a horse-sensitive fashion that provides abundant lifetime locomotion and socialization. Pulmonary health is reflective of overall health and soundness in horses.
In order to maintain pulmonary health, natural conditions need to be re-created in the stable. Horses prefer to graze together and move nearly constantly. Constant foraging, grazing, socializing and moving are essential for joint and bone health, hoof health, metabolic health and pulmonary health, and, of course, mental health. In order for lungs to stay healthy, horses need movement, more movement than American trainers currently provide the population of stabled. Horses communicate with movement and sustain physiologic and metabolic health via near-constant locomotion. Movement is what is most often missing in a racehorse’s stabled life.
Walking throughout the day enhances and maintains lung health. Stabled horses need hours of walking each day, more walking than most are currently afforded. Veterinarians who manage racehorse health need to ensure that their patients are provided with adequate daily locomotion. The movement of training and track conditioning are not adequate to condition healthy lungs throughout the rest of the day, as lung health requires 24/7 movement. For a horse, moving is breathing. Abundant on-track and off-track locomotion is necessary to condition a horse’s lungs and to provide the necessary resilience to withstand the rigors of racing.
Lungs deteriorate when movement is restricted. Horses breath all day long, and near-constant movement is required much of the day to assist their breathing to maintain pulmonary flexibility and vigor. Plentiful walking enhances breathing and lung health. Swimming and doing lunges are also appropriate lung-conditioning activities. Grazing while casually walking clears the airways. Hand grazing may be the best lung-healthy activity of all. Racetracks need to provide abundant hand-grazing opportunities for all of the stabled horses, and the green grass needs to be appropriate grazing grass. Kentucky limestone grass is always best, it seems.
Training over hills and dales, as well as walking up and down inclines helps develop and sustain pulmonary vigor. When horses are locked in a stall a large percentage of the time, their lungs deteriorate. Stabling that does not afford abundant movement and head-down grazing and foraging impairs lung health, making horses vulnerable to bleed when exerted in a race. The cause of exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage is insensitive and deficient stabling and husbandry practices and includes diagnostic failures to detect bleeding during training.
The care that establishes and enhances pulmonary health and endurance in horses is the same care that enriches stabled horses’ lives. Pulmonary care is providing the same near-constant movement that keeps racehorses’ musculoskeletal systems sound. It is the care that keeps horses on their feet during races. Horses must remain sound of limb to ensure lung soundness, and they must remain sound of lung to achieve and maintain limb soundness. Afternoon and evening hand walking and hand grazing are essential to develop and sustain lungs and limbs fit to race.
Horses with healthy lungs are content and fulfilled horses whose lives their caretakers adequately, if not extensively, enrich. Lung health is supported by limb health. Breathing and running are biologically intertwined on the track, a breath per stride. To stride correctly is to breathe correctly. To breathe correctly is to breathe soundly, and race sound.
Horses who are bred, socialized, and developed properly from birth, and who train while living enriched stable lives are seldom likely to experience performance-impairing E.I.P.H. while racing. They are more apt to stay sound. Humane care of the horse prevents bleeding. Pulmonary health is reflective of appropriate husbandry, breeding, training, nutrition, and the abundant provisions of forage, friends, and perhaps most importantly, locomotion. Bleeding in a race is reflective of inadequate care and preparation, of miscalculations and untoward medication practices. Lasix perpetuates substandard horsemanship, artificially suppressing the untoward result (bleeding) of inadequate preparation of the thoroughbred.
Genetics play a role in pulmonary health and physical durability. Lasix perpetuates genetic weakness by allowing ailing horses to prevail and sow their seeds of pharmaceutical dependence. Running sore causes lungs to bleed. Lasix manages a wide variety of unsoundness, as do the cortisones and NSAIDs (bute and similar drugs). These anti-inflammatory drugs aggravate coagulation processes. Rather than drugs, pulmonary health is dependent on appropriate breeding and proper development for the vigor, durability and endurance thoroughbred racing demands. Drugs are not the solution. Competent horsemanship is the solution. Genetic dosage, behavioral and physical development, socialization, training, and locomotion husbandry are the keys to racehorse soundness, lung health, stamina, and durability. The causes of E.I.P.H. are no mystery to seasoned race folk. Horses prone to bleed are those horses that are mistakenly bred, inadequately developed and inappropriately stabled and trained.
Horses evolved in the open spaces of the northern hemisphere and require the cleanest, purest air to thrive and develop healthy lungs and hearts. Stable air needs to be constantly refreshed to maintain pulmonary health. Ventilation is essential, and enclosed structures are often inappropriate. Barn design needs to provide both clean air and abundant locomotion. Bedding is critical. Clean straw provides the most movement by simulating grazing. Horses stalled on straw are noted to move about with their heads down nibbling and exploring for hours, recreating nature to some degree, keeping their lungs healthy with movement, their respiratory tracts drained by all the head-down nibbling and grazing. Horses need near-constant head-down movement to maintain optimum lung health. Long-standing horses’ lungs deteriorate quickly. Not only does near-constant movement maintain and enhance pulmonary health, abundant locomotion maintains metabolic health, joint and bone health, hoof health and digestive health.
To enhance lung health is to enhance the overall health and soundness of the racehorse. Racing appears much safer in Lasix-free jurisdictions, where the drug crutch is not allowed, because the drug crutch allows horses to be cared for in a substandard fashion. (A link to the transcript from the Kentucky Raceday Medication Committee hearing is here.) Drugs are not allowed to replace appropriate care and training in Asia and Europe, and raceday drugs should be barred in America as they are in the rest of the civilized world. The stabled racehorse has to be carefully and humanely cared for and nourished in a holistic fashion, both physically and behaviorally, to win and stay healthy to win again.
Science link. Exercise Induced Pulmonary Hemorrhage in Horses: American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine Consensus Statement
Supporting Science link, ACVIM EIPH
Dr Gustafson is a practicing veterinarian, equine behavior educator, and novelist. The application of behavior science enhances optimum health, performance, soundness, contentment, and longevity in animal athletes. Behavioral and nutritional strategies enrich the lives of stabled horses. Training and husbandry from the horse's perspective result in content, cooperative horses who are willing to learn and perform.