On “Equine Welfare during Exercise: An evaluation of Breathing, Breathlessness and Bridles” by David Mellor* and Ngaio Beausoleil*

Showing some of the physical trauma to the jaw and teeth caused by a bit. 1 = bone spurs on the bars of the mouth; 2 = erosion of the first three cheek teeth from constant bit pressure and a horse trying to defend itself by ‘grabbing the bit’; 3 = shedding of the first cheek tooth; 4 = periostitis of the empty alveolus. Compare with the normal jaw above. © Photo: Robert Cook

London, UK (Weltexpress). This scholarly article is categorized as a review but is also an original work that synthesizes and advances understanding. By basing it on a framework recognized in human medicine, the authors bring to the study of equine respiration an invigorating new look at an old problem. Three qualitatively distinct sensations of breathlessness in man – respiratory effort, air hunger and chest tightness – are considered as they affect the ridden and driven horse at exercise. After reading the authors’ cautiously compiled comments on 164 references, the reader realizes the extent to which we have underestimated the negative effect on equine welfare of breathlessness caused by standard practices in horsemanship. We have especially overlooked, apparently, the peculiar unpleasantness of air hunger, i.e., suffocation.

An article of this Herculean caliber is surely destined to become a classic. The reader is first guided through the basic science background of respiratory anatomy and physiology. The pathophysiology then follows, after which the evidence for breathlessness in the horse as a welfare issue reaches a quiet but compelling crescendo of integration in the discussion. The oxymoron seems justified as the tone of the article throughout is dispassionate and scrupulously scientific. The evidence for every statement is referenced and the authors’ have meticulously documented the chronology and attributions.

Understandably, it has taken the authors four years to complete the project. It is the second in their planned trilogy on breathlessness. The first article provided an introduction to breathlessness in man and non-human mammals. It serves as a foundation for this one on the horse and the pending one on the brachycephalic dog.

This careful and comprehensive contribution to knowledge is published in an open access journal and includes a summary for a lay audience. It can be downloaded for free by entering the reference below. For the sake of the horse, please circulate the reference.

Mellor, D.J., and Beausoleil, N.J. (2017). Equine welfare during exercise: An evaluation of breathing, breathlessness and bridles. Animals 7, 41; doi:10.3390/ani7060041

* Foundation Director and Deputy Director respectively of the Animal Welfare Science and Bioethics Centre, Massey University, New Zealand.

Further reading full text: http://www.mdpi.com/2076-2615/7/6/41

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  1. MY COMMENT : –
    Finally! A review of the equine respiratory system and its recognised dysfunctions that truly connects the knee bone, with the thigh bone, with the .. bone, etc !
    Over many years there has been some wonderful work by numerous investigators highlighting various dynamic dysfunctions of the upper airways, volumes of research on lower airways conditions and EIPH and of course in recent times recognition of abnormal behaviours in equids, some of which have been associated with airways issues, by the relatively new group referred to as behavioural scientists.
    This review attempts to join the pieces and in my opinion, given my own 35 years of research in this field, is extremely successful.
    I would highly recommend this article to all parties involved in the field of equine respiratory medicine, surgery and management. It is time a more holistic view was taken and I can assure all that once this is adopted significant advances will follow and thence in addition to pleasing equine owners and trainers we will be seen to be placing the best interests of the species first. This is preferable to the current situation that exists in many competitive ( equine racing and eventing) codes where authorities are primarily concerned with ‘appearing’ to have the animals best interests at heart but are in fact and quite logically more concerned about the spectacle and the business aspects of their industries.

    Tom Ahern BVSc MRCVS


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