Do Breathing Aids Affect Performance'

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It was inevitable: Those little plastic strips that look like Band-Aids and help people breathe easier have made it to the equine market. People have been wearing them to prevent snoring and when they have colds. Even some professional football players don them while on the playing field. The equine version, Flair nasal strips, adorned several horses in last year’s Breeders’ Cup and other graded stakes races. They certainly look ridiculous, but do these strips — or the competing Breathe E-Z clip — really make that much of a difference' Some trainers swear they do. Others aren’t so sure.

Air Flow
How hard or fast a horse can work comes down to how fast he can get oxygen from the air to the tiny capillaries in the lung, which then distribute it to the blood, bringing it to the heart and muscles. Along the way, the air meets resistance in the nasal passages, throat, ribs and inner-lung.

Most of the resistance, however, occurs right in the nasal passages, which are relatively narrow conduits for air. Making matters worse, the soft tissues in the nasoincisive notch and/or alar pouch in the nostrils (see sidebar) “collapse” when the horse sucks the air in, making the passageway even narrower. (Don’t let that flared appearance of the outer edge of the nostrils fool you. We’re talking inner structures here.)

To understand this nasal resistance concept even better, breathe in deeply and concentrate on your nose in the area of your nostrils (watch in a mirror while you do this). When you breathe deeply you can feel (and see) the sides of your nostrils collapsing inward. As the breath stops, they relax and open to a neutral position again. If you consciously flare your nostrils first, this doesn’t occur. People with a high nasal bridge and thin tissue in their nostrils experience less collapse of tissue on inspiration.

Flair Nasal Strips
The Flair equine nasal strip by CNS Inc. ($15) is a chevron-shaped light material with a flexible plastic strip implanted vertically and an adhesive back (each strip can only be used one time).

The strip primarily exerts upward traction on the tissue at the nasoincisive notch, but when in place you can also see that the blind/false nostril (alar pouch) is being pulled upward as it distends with air, which helps stop some of the collapse and, therefore, resistance.

CNS Inc. funded a small seven-horse study of the strips at Kansas State’s Veterinary College. The most remarkable (and statistically significant) finding was that the two horses in the study who had the worst documented lung bleeding during the higher levels of exercise showed dramatic decrease in bleeding (75 to 80%) when using the nasal strip. These same two horses were the most aerobically fit (relied the heaviest on oxygen for energy generation) and also showed a 5% reduction in oxygen consumption when using the strip.

Since there was no rise in their lactate production during this time (which would show they were using anaerobic sources of energy instead), the conclusion was that these horses actually expended 5% less energy to obtain the same speed when using the nasal strips. The benefit was not as obvious for horses that had not bled as badly.

The only conclusion we can safely draw from this is that horses with significant lung bleeding may benefit from use of the strip. This does not necessarily mean their top race speeds will be higher, however. That remains to be proven.

Breathe E-Z
The Breathe E-Z device ($28.95) from Protecto was designed with racing Standardbreds in mind, but it could be used on any horse. It is shaped like a small clip-on shoehorn.

The horn, convex side up, is inserted into the false nostril with the clip on the outside. It stretches the tissue taut so that it can’t collapse into the airway. This device is reusable and is secured primarily by means of a safety string that is looped over the noseband.

There is no specific scientific controlled study behind these clips, and the manufacturer makes no performance claims beyond the humane relief of nasal breathing obstruction. However, it is well known that the correction of horses with overly thick or long false nostrils, either surgically or with a device, results in obvious improvement in ease of breathing.

Field Testing
We field tested and researched both the Flair strips and the Breathe E-Z on horses whose nostrils were “normal” and generous and on horses with excessive tissue in the false nostril.

We couldn’t see any obvious pattern of improved exercise tolerance or recovery rates in normal horses, although this might change under extreme demands like racing. Horses with excessive tissue in the nostrils benefited clearly from both devices.

Studies done with the Flair strip suggest they have the potential to decrease lung bleeding, particularly at higher speeds and in horses with a significant lung-bleeding problem. Whether this translates into improved race performance remains to be documented.

The Breathe E-Z has not been scientifically studied in the same manner, but the effect we noted on the nasal airway is virtually identical.

We did not test either product on known lung bleeders or under actual race conditions, but we did include several Standardbred training miles in our field testing.

Bottom Line
We believe both devices would make breathing easier for a horse with small/flattened nostrils and/or excessive tissue in the area of the false nostril/blind “pouch.” If the horse actually made a noise as a result of his nasal conformation, the noise was eliminated. How this would translate into performance remains to be seen, but it is likely only to be significant at peak speeds.

Therefore, the obvious application for these strips is racing. While there is potential for these devices in open jumpers, barrel horses, endurance horses or upper-level eventing, the benefits for the average sport horse, competing at moderate speeds, are debatable at best. As of yet, no ruling exists on the legality of these as “equipment” in these sports.

Neither device is aesthetically pleasing, and they are both certainly conspicuous. The Flair strip has the advantage of being nonirritating, but it is designed for a single use. The Breathe E-Z is almost twice as expensive initially, but it can be reused. Since our test horses adapted well to the Breathe E-Z, it is our pick of the two — if we actually decide we need to use one.

Contact Your Local Tack Store Or: Breathe E-Z, Protecto Horse Equipment 810/754-4820; Flair Equine Nasal Strips, CNS, Inc. 888/683-5247.

Also With This Article
Click here to view ”Nasal Airflow Resistance Areas.”
Click here to view ”Are They Legal'”