How does the smoky air affect my horse?

While the current wildfires are at some distance from us, we have not been spared from widespread smoke and poor air quality over the last few weeks. Just as poor air quality can be an irritant for us, it can also affect your horse. Unhealthy air contains irritants that can affect our eyes and nasal passages and may have a greater impact on those – both human and equine – with pre-existing respiratory conditions.

Smoke is composed of carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, soot, nitrogen oxide, particulates, and trace minerals, as well as the primary source being burned (wood, vegetation, plastic, etc). The smoke from wildfires is high in particulate matter, which is problematic because of its extremely small size. Particulate matter easily travels to the smallest airways of the lungs, causing irritation and damage. For humans and horses, it can cause coughing, nasal discharge, and increased respiratory effort. It can also interfere with the normal defense mechanisms of the respiratory tract, decreasing immune function and the ability of the lungs to clear routinely encountered foreign materials. Horses with pre-existing respiratory conditions, such as heaves and allergies, are more sensitive to poor air quality.

How do I know if it’s safe for my horse to work?

The Air Quality Index (AQI) is the Environmental Protection Agency’s daily grade of air quality. The AQI accounts for five major pollutants: ground-level ozone, particle pollution (particulate matter), carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen dioxide. Air rated as “good” has an AQI <50. Today, August 17, 2020, Golden has an AQI of 57 (moderate), stating that air quality is acceptable, although there may be a risk for those who are more sensitive to air pollution.

Although there are currently no recommendations specifically for horses based on AQI, there are guidelines available for human athletes. The guidelines suggest removing sensitive human athletes from outdoor competition when AQI is >100 and removing all athletes from outdoor competition when AQI > 200.

What can you do to help your horse?

Be conscious of the air quality index and conditions. Go to to find the AQI in your area.

Limit exercise when smoke is visible.

Ensure adequate clean water is always available to your horse.

Limit exposure to additional dust- consider soaking hay prior to feeding.

Seek veterinary attention if your horse is showing any signs of respiratory difficulty or distress.

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