Many trainers judge the health of their horses’ airways by listening to the sounds the animals make while they are exercising. Airway Dynamics of Midway, Ky., is doing the same thing more scientifically by using high-tech equipment. Veterinarian David Lambert and Robert West Jr., who operates Millford Farm, own the company.

Airway Dynamics demonstrated its information-gathering technique at Keeneland in conjunction with the recent International Conference on Equine Exercise Physiology. Two horses were breezed while wearing special blinkers with a pouch that held a microcassette recorder. A microphone attached to the recorder dangled between each horse’s nostrils.

“We take the information we record back to our laboratory, and we analyze it using some very specific and proprietary software that was developed in conjunction with Dr. Kevin Donohue of the University of Kentucky,” Lambert said. “In the time that we have been doing this, we’ve handled 300 to 400 cases, made probably 700 separate recordings, and listened to 150,000 to 200,000 individual breaths. We’ve developed a library of sounds that we know relate to different pathologies. We can now define the exact frequencies and the exact amplitudes of each of these particular noises. We are to the point where we are ready to go to market with this service. We’re already doing it for a number of major trainers up and down the East Coast.”

Trainer Larry Lay is a believer.

“We had a filly that had raced about six times; she had a lot of speed, but she couldn’t finish up,” he said. “I knew something was irritating her because she wasn’t the kind of filly that would just quit on her own. But three top veterinarians scoped her (examined the filly endoscopically), and they all told me that her throat was as clean as a whistle and there couldn’t be anything wrong with her breathing. I was just about to turn her out. But they (Lambert and his associates) came and worked on her, and they found what was wrong. She had surgery, and she won wire-to-wire in her next start.”

Lambert hopes that trainers and owners will use Airway Dynamics’ technology to screen their horses and not just wait until a problem is suspected. He said the company’s equipment allows airway abnormalities to be detected early in their development, before they start to limit performance in a major way.

“We’re actually already doing small surgical interventions very early in their (horses’) careers so we hold off the catastrophic events as long as we can and lengthen their careers,” Lambert said. “If you wait until the horse’s larynx is collapsing, all you’re dealing with is the last straw that broke the camel’s back. You’re just patching up a sinking ship.”

Lambert believes his company’s technique has advantages over endoscopic examinations of the horse’s throat because “there is very little correlation with what you see on the scope and what happens on the track. Our device tells us what is going on breath-by-breath when a horse breezes and also tells us where any problems occur during the breeze.”

Lambert has used Airway Dynamics’ technology to evaluate yearlings while they are being lunged. “But obviously they can’t go as a fast as an older horse, and you can’t push them as hard,” he said. “There might be ones that are OK at the lunge speed, but if you could get them on the track and make them go faster, they might try to make a noise.”

Lambert first became interested in the scientific analysis of sounds that horses make while working with a veterinarian in England named D.P. Attenburrow, who developed a radiostethoscope. Lambert said Attenburrow would place the piece of equipment over a horse’s trachea and make diagnoses based on the sounds he heard.

In 1999, Dr. Federik Derksen presented a study conducted at Michigan State University involving spectrogram analysis of respiratory sounds that horses made while exercising on a treadmill. He recorded the noises with the aid of a microphone that was placed approximately four centimeters from the tip of each horse’s nose.

“We entered into a licensing agreement with Michigan State, and then we formed Airway Dynamics,” Lambert said.

Dr. Deborah Boehler, who graduated from Michigan State’s veterinary school, oversees Airway Dynamics’ recording and sound analysis program.


About the Author

Deirdre Biles

Deirdre Biles is the Bloodstock Sales Editor for The Blood-Horse magazine.

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