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Could Exercise-Induced Pulmonary Hemorrhaging Be Affecting Your Performance Horse?

Updated on April 23, 2014

What Is Exercise-Induced Pulmonary Hemorrhage?

Well Exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhaging (EIPH) is the presents of blood in the airway of the lungs associated with excusirise. Basically what happens is when the horse is pushed to its max their blood pressure rises and the capillaries in their lungs burst. A horse that has EIPH can also be referred to as a bleeder, Because when the capillaries bust they expel blood into the airway and sometimes out the horse's nose. In a small amount of horses that have EIPH episodes, there is blood evident in their nostrils this is referred to as epistaxis. Epistaxis only occurs in about 4%-6% of EIPH horses. The best way to see if a horse has had an EIPH episode is to scope them immediately after a hard workout. Stations are less likely to suffer from EIPH than mares or geldings. EIPH can cause sudden death in some horses affected by the disorder.

What Type Of Horses Dose EIPH Effect And Why?

EIPH can effect any breed of horse at any age but it's mostly seen in racehorses and high performance horses. This is because a horse won't "bleed" unless there lungs can't handle the pressure of the high power work out. EIPH has unfortunately become an unavoidable circumstance of modern day racing and performance horse show world. Other disciplines that EIPH can be seen in other than racing include barrel racing, pole bending, reining, and jumping horses.

What Are The Long Term Effects Of EIPH On A Horse?

Just because a horse has been a "bleeder" does not mean they can not have a successful more laid back carere. The best example of this is a retired racehorse. If a horse bleeds through a drug called lasix more than 3 times within a certain time frame they are done racing usually for at least a year. Unless they are a top dollar race horse most owners will just get rid of the horse at this point. That horse can go on to be a very successful everyday riding horse.

The only real thing you will notice about a horse that has struggled with EIPH is they tend to be more sensitive to dust and dirt in the air, and they may wheeze some while you are working them. The more in shape you keep them the less likely they will wheeze.

You may be wondering why they wheeze? I know I was when I got my big guy off the track. It is because of scar tissue. Everytime the horse has had a EIPH episode it causes a little scar tissue to form in their airways. As you can imagine after time and time again of these bleeding episodes there becomes a fair amount of scar tissue in that horses lungs and airways that just make everything work harder and can cause them to wheeze.

So basically the only long term effects on a horse that has been a "bleeder" is overall sensitive lungs.

The Horse's Lungs

So the picture below shows the lungs of a horse. The circle on the right side of the picture shows what the inside of the alveoli looks like. Just a bunch of capillaries full of blood. If you look closely at the illustration of the lungs you can see the alveoli connected with bronchial.

Illustration Of The Horse's Lungs

Managing A Horse That Has Been Effected By EIPH

The overall management of a previous EIPH horse is fairly simple. Below are some basic tips to help you with the task at hand of managing a special needs former bleeder.

  • Dust is your worst enemy. You want to keep the horse in as much of a dust free environment as possible. If you get hay that is dusty it may be necessary to soak it before you feed it. Water down your arena before you ride and keep your horse out of the dust trail of other horses.
  • Watch in spring for allergies. Because their lungs are so sensitive it can make them more susceptible to allergies.
  • Slow and easy warm-ups!!! It is important especially in the heat of summer and the cold of winter to give your horse a very slow and gradual warm-up before you really start working them hard.
  • Fitness is key! The better shape the horse is in and is kept in the less their lungs will have to work to do their job.

Don't let the past life of your horse limit your future. If your horse was a "bleeder" that means they should never go back to the track or be jumping 6" jumps but that doesn't mean you can never gallop them or never jump them again. You have to know your horse and know where their fitness level is. If you spend 3 months of slowly working up to a short race or a short jumpers course of 3"-4" chances are your horse will handle it like a champ!

With the right knowledge and a little management a former EIPH horse can be a wonderful everyday riding horse!


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