Upper airway problems can ruin a good horse, whether they slow him down or cause airway noise that hurts his show placings. But they haven't always been easy to sort out because the upper airway couldn't be examined under natural exercise conditions (with rider, tack, competitors, etc).

Today there's the Dynamic Respiratory Endoscope (DRS, developed by Optomed of France), which peers inside a horse's upper airway while he works. The system includes a bridle with scope mounts (fitting over standard tack); a small breakaway pack for the video recorder, wireless transmitter, battery, and lens cleaning pump; and a hand-held video display/control box a veterinarian can use up to 0.3 miles from the horse.


"This is one of the most fantastic things to come along in veterinary medicine in the last 10 or 15 years."
--Dr. Patrick Pollock

A recent article in the Equine Veterinary Journal evaluated the DRS system on 67 randomly selected flat-racing Thoroughbreds, and found that 23 (34.3%) had airway problems during hard exercise (including eight with no respiratory noise or previous airway problems). Dorsal displacement of the soft palate (DDSP) was the most common problem, affecting 13 horses.

Interestingly, respiratory noise was a poor indicator of problems. "Not all quiet horses are normal, and not all noisy horses are abnormal," summarized lead author Patrick Pollock, CertES (Soft Tissue), Dipl. ECVS, MRCVS, senior lecturer in equine surgery at the University of Glasgow.

Speed was variably affected by airway problems, with some DDSP horses slowing as much as 5 mph when they displaced (easily enough to lose a race, noted Pollock).

The scope is "amazingly well tolerated," he reported, and the examination cost is less than half that of high-speed treadmill evaluation. Thus, he hopes more horses will get accurate diagnoses and treatments. He's also looking forward to using the DRS to research airway problems, treatments, and effects of tack (such as certain bits and nosebands).

"This is one of the most fantastic things to come along in veterinary medicine in the last 10 or 15 years," he commented.

The study, "Dynamic respiratory endoscopy in 67 Thoroughbred racehorses training under normal ridden exercise conditions," appeared in Volume 41 of the Equine Veterinary Journal (2009).

The system is currently distributed in the UK by Veterinary Endoscopy Services.


Read more and see video: "AAEP 2008: Endoscopy During Exercise Without a Treadmill"

About the Author

Christy M. West

Christy West has a BS in Equine Science from the University of Kentucky, and an MS in Agricultural Journalism from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

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