Dust-free bedding alleviates equine asthma.

“Where are tomorrow’s true horsemen?” is a lament often uttered at horsey gatherings. Some worry that young people don’t take the care and knowledge part of horse ownership seriously.

Fourteen-year-old Abby North contradicts those concerns. She takes complete care of her 8-year-old Off The Track Thoroughbred, Raven, even when the going gets rough.

Young horse owner helps her horse cope with respiratory disease

And the going got rough In November of 2023. That’s when Raven returned from a hunter/jumper competition with a virus. His stablemate, Abby’s mom’s horse, caught the virus, too, but recovered promptly.

Raven did not.

“He had a runny nose, very thick yellow discharge and he kept coughing when I rode him,” explains Abby. “I could ride him, but he just wasn’t himself.  Then he just spiraled.” The symptoms got worse as he sunk into pneumonia.

Raven is a normally energetic Thoroughbred who likes to work. “When he’s not happy, he’s not easy to deal with,” shared Abby’s mom, Cindy North.

On their veterinarian’s recommendation, Abby stopped riding Raven in January as his symptoms intensified. “She had to manage him when he was feeling onery because of not getting work,” Cindy says. “Abby did a good job of finding activities that helped them bond without riding, but it wasn’t easy.”

A Cough’s Progression

Raven’s cough was particularly troubling. It began with a few coughs while ridden and progressed to full-on fits in the night. During Raven’s lay-off from ridden work, Abby noticed that he was only coughing when in his stall.

The Norths monitor their horses with stall cameras and hearing him struggle several times through the night was scary.

One early incident was especially frightening to Abby and Cindy. “It looked like some kind of respiratory spasm,” recounts Cindy, who is an experienced horsewoman. “His respiratory rate was 40 and he was pawing the ground. It almost looked like he was choking.”

A veterinarian suspected the initially mild coughing was related to Raven being a cribber and wearing a cribbing collar in his stall. Pursuing that possibility was a dead end.

“We had vets look at him and we just couldn’t figure it out,” Abby shares.

So Abby hit the internet to research possible causes and cures. She came upon Inflammatory Airway Disease as a coughing cause. “It’s basically horse asthma,” she explains of this condition on the mild or moderate end of the Equine Asthma Spectrum.

Reducing Dust

dust-free Airlite bedding helps Raven cope with equine asthma

“I learned that it’s important to have a dust-free environment, and especially to have dust-free bedding.” And that led Abby to Airlite dust-free cardboard bedding. Wood shavings were removed from Raven’s stall and replaced by Airlite.

“Raven stopped coughing within 2-3 days of me putting Airlite in his stall,” Abby reports. “My vet recommended that to get the dust out, along with steaming Raven’s hay.”

Reducing dust in the horse’s environment is veterinarians’ urgent consensus on protecting their respiratory health.

Bedding and hay are the biggest contributors of tiny airborne particles that irritate and inflame the lining of the respiratory tract. This constricts the airway, leaving less room for air to get in and for carbon dioxide to get out.

Plus, the tiniest particles can get through to the lungs, where they can impede the transfer of oxygen to the bloodstream. Horses need oxygen for every cellular function, so restricted oxygen supply equals restricted well-being. Even mild inflammation can seriously impair performance at the high levels.

Inflammatory Airway Disease Diagnosis

An endoscopic exam and a tracheal wash confirmed Raven’s case of Inflammatory Airway Disease. While some cases of mild IAD can be reversed, Abby acts on the assumption that Raven will always have the condition. It will be a matter of managing it effectively to keep him happy, healthy and breathing easy.

As such, Airlite dust-free bedding will be part of Raven’s management for the long term.

Happily, the bedding has additional benefits, starting with super absorbency.  Airlite neutralizes the ammonia odors related to urine accumulation. This is another respiratory irritant, for horses and people. Generally, if this familiar barn odor is noticeable, ammonia levels are already at a harmful level.

As the family’s main mucker, Abby appreciates that Airlite is true to its name – it’s light. “With shavings, the parts that are soiled with pee are so heavy. With Airlite, it’s so nice and easy to take out the pee spots.”

Yet, it’s heavy enough to stay in place when a fan is needed in the stable to counteract the dampness that accompanies wet weather conditions.

As of March, Abby was bringing Raven back to fitness. They had been competing in 2’6” jumping division before his illness and Abby aspires to work back to that level and higher in time.

“He’s my first horse and he’s still kind of learning things, so we go slow.”

In addition to caring for Raven, Abby helps pay some of his bills. She cares for the family’s chickens and sells their eggs and chicks. And she helps cover the cost of lessons by riding and starting some of her trainer’s ponies.

Cindy is proud of her daughter’s initiative in pursuing help for her horse. Raven is lucky to have an owner so proactive about and devoted to his health. And the future of horsemanship looks bright with Abby in the picture.