If you notice your horse cough at the beginning of a ride or while you warm up, but then go on to have no more trouble and you don’t hear another cough until the next time you ride.
This can be quite normal and often nothing to worry about. It’s always worth getting your vet to listen to your horse’s lungs with their stethoscope next time they come for their annual check-up or vaccine appointment just to be sure.
Why does my horse cough when I start to ride?
Horses, like humans, are always producing mucus in their airways that trap irritants and harmful particles before they get too deep into the lungs. This mucus gets carried by a special mechanism up the airways and eventually gets coughed out. Some horses just produce more mucus than others but usually, when horses start to exercise, it moves the mucus triggering the horse to cough.
Other things might contribute to your horse coughing when you start to exercise them such as taking in a big deep breath of cold air if you’re riding them in the winter or entering a dusty arena.
What if my horse continues to cough while I ride?
A couple of coughs and then nothing else, shouldn’t be too much of a worry. However, if your horse continues to cough throughout your ridden session, this might be something to get checked out by your vet as a healthy horse should not be doing this.
What could be causing this?
There are many different reasons for horses to cough. The most common cause of coughing in horses during exercise is Equine Asthma.
Equine asthma describes what has previously been known as RAO, COPD and IAD. It is essentially an umbrella term that means non-infectious inflammatory respiratory disease caused by hypersensitivity in the lung to airborne particles such as dust, moulds and pollen (University of Saskatchewan).
Some horses suffer from summer-pasture-associated equine asthma whereby it’s the spring and summer pollens in the air or particles carried over on the wind from summer harvest that causes horses to create this inflammatory response. Others will suffer from dust-related equine asthma that is exacerbated by spending too much time in a dusty and or mouldy stable.
Both will cause coughing in horses and in its milder forms, you might not notice them coughing all the time, however, exercise can trigger them to start coughing as they try to breathe in more deeply.
You might also hear them wheezing or having poor stamina to start with as well. It is also common to find your horse with a small amount of mucus nasal discharge, especially after exercise.
What are the symptoms of equine asthma
Equine asthma symptoms include:
- Increased respiratory rate
- Nasal Discharge
- Poor performance/exercise intolerance
- Heave lines
If you notice any of these clinical signs in your horse, it is vital they get checked out by your vet to make sure it isn’t something that needs more severe biosecurity measures or intensive treatment.
Should I ride while my horse is being treated for coughing?
Each horse is different, and the answer to this very much depends on what your vet has diagnosed and their treatment plan. Most vets will advise you to give your horse a break from ridden work while you take action to treat and manage their cough. Once the worst of it has subsided, and with the go-ahead from your vet, you can gradually start to introduce them to work again with short walk sessions at first. If your horse’s cough deteriorates again, stop immediately and return to complete rest.
If you feel like your horse has been improving on their medication and/or management and they manage to be ridden without coughing, this can be a great sign that they’re making excellent progress in recovery.
Some diseases, like Equine Asthma, may never completely cease to affect your horse, and horse owners should be prepared for lifelong management e.g., specific turnout and stabling routines, nebulisation etc.
Should you ride a coughing horse?
If your horse coughs once or twice at the beginning of ridden work and then stops, it’s probably nothing to worry about, but if your horse is persistently coughing while you’re riding you should stop at once and get them checked out by your vet.
Why does my horse cough after rolling?
Similarly to riding, the action of rolling can aggravate any excess mucus in the trachea which will trigger the coughing mechanism. It might also be that your horse is rolling in a dusty environment out in the paddock or a sand school and breathing in some dust might also cause them to cough.
Why is my horse sounding a dry cough?
There could be a number of reasons for coughing in horses, although equine asthma is the most likely cause of a non-productive or ‘dry’ cough. It is advisable to get your horse checked by your vet if they start coughing even if it is dry. They will be able to give you a definitive diagnosis and advise you on the correct management and treatment plan.