Can You Ride A Horse With Heaves?

If you have a horse that suffers from heaves, also known as equine recurrent airway obstruction (RAO), it is important to take certain precautions when riding.

Heaves is a chronic respiratory condition that can cause coughing, difficulty breathing, and exercise intolerance in horses.

Riding a horse with heaves requires careful management and consideration to ensure their comfort and minimize any potential exacerbation of their symptoms.

By understanding the needs of a horse with heaves and implementing appropriate measures, you can still enjoy riding while keeping your horse’s health a top priority.

can you ride a horse with heaves

Understanding Heaves in Horses: Causes and Symptoms

In this section, we will delve into the topic of heaves in horses, exploring the various causes and symptoms associated with this respiratory condition. Heaves, also known as recurrent airway obstruction (RAO) or equine asthma, is a chronic and progressive respiratory disease that commonly affects horses.

Causes of Heaves in Horses

Heaves in horses is primarily caused by exposure to allergens present in their environment. These allergens can include dust, mold spores, pollen, and other airborne particles. When a horse inhales these allergens, it triggers an allergic response in their airways, leading to inflammation and constriction.

Prolonged exposure to these allergens can result in the development of heaves. Horses kept in poorly ventilated stables, housed in dusty environments, or exposed to moldy hay are at a higher risk of developing heaves.

Symptoms of Heaves in Horses

Identifying the symptoms of heaves in horses is crucial for early detection and effective management. The common signs of heaves include:

  • Coughing: Horses with heaves often have a persistent cough, especially during exercise or when exposed to allergens.
  • Increased respiratory rate: Affected horses may exhibit rapid and shallow breathing even at rest.
  • Labored breathing: Heaves can cause difficulty in breathing, leading to flared nostrils and heaving of the chest and abdominal muscles.
  • Exercise intolerance: Horses with heaves may tire easily during physical activity due to compromised respiratory function.
  • Nasal discharge: Some horses may have a clear or mucous-like discharge from their nostrils.
  • Weight loss: Chronic inflammation and respiratory difficulties can result in weight loss and decreased appetite in affected horses.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Diagnosing heaves in horses typically involves a thorough clinical examination, including a detailed history, physical examination, and respiratory function tests. Your veterinarian may also recommend additional tests such as airway endoscopy or bronchoalveolar lavage to assess the severity of the condition.

Treatment of heaves focuses on managing the symptoms and reducing exposure to allergens. This may involve changes in the horse’s environment, such as improving ventilation, using dust-free bedding, and providing high-quality hay that is free from mold and dust. Medications such as bronchodilators and corticosteroids may also be prescribed to alleviate inflammation and improve respiratory function.

In summary, heaves in horses is a respiratory condition caused by exposure to allergens in their environment. Recognizing the symptoms and seeking veterinary care promptly can help in managing the condition effectively and improving the horse’s quality of life.

Managing Heaves: Proper Treatment and Care

Heaves is a respiratory condition that commonly affects horses, also known as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or recurrent airway obstruction (RAO). It is characterized by inflammation and constriction of the airways, which leads to difficulty in breathing. If left untreated, heaves can significantly impact a horse’s overall health and performance. In this section, we will discuss the proper treatment and care for managing heaves in horses.

1. Environmental Management

One of the key aspects in managing heaves is providing a clean and dust-free environment for the affected horse. Dust and allergens found in hay, straw, and bedding can trigger respiratory distress. Here are some measures to consider:

  • Use low-dust bedding materials such as shredded paper or rubber mats.
  • Soak hay in water for at least 30 minutes before feeding to reduce dust.
  • Feed the horse from a ground-level feeder to minimize the intake of dust and allergens.
  • Ensure proper ventilation in the stable to improve air quality.

2. Medication and Treatment

Medication plays a vital role in managing heaves and alleviating the symptoms. Depending on the severity of the condition, your veterinarian may prescribe the following:

  • Bronchodilators: These medications help relax the airway muscles, making it easier for the horse to breathe.
  • Corticosteroids: These anti-inflammatory drugs can reduce airway inflammation and control symptoms.
  • Antihistamines: Used to manage allergic reactions that may contribute to heaves.
  • Mucolytics: These medications help thin mucus in the airways, making it easier for the horse to clear it.

It is essential to follow your veterinarian’s instructions regarding the dosage and administration of these medications. Regular monitoring and adjustment of the treatment plan may be necessary to ensure the best outcome for the horse.

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3. Nutritional Management

Diet plays a crucial role in managing heaves and supporting overall respiratory health. Here are some dietary considerations:

  • Provide good-quality forage that is low in dust and allergens, such as haylage or steamed hay.
  • Avoid feeding the horse in dusty environments or using dusty feeds.
  • Consider adding respiratory supplements that contain ingredients like antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids to support respiratory function.
  • Ensure the horse has access to fresh, clean water at all times.

4. Exercise and Turnout

Regular exercise and turnout are beneficial for horses with heaves. However, certain precautions should be taken:

  • Avoid intense exercise or activities that may trigger respiratory distress.
  • Choose turnout areas with good air quality and minimal dust exposure.
  • Gradually increase exercise intensity and duration to improve overall respiratory fitness.
  • Monitor the horse closely during exercise and ensure they have access to fresh air.

5. Veterinary Care and Monitoring

Regular veterinary check-ups and monitoring are essential for managing heaves effectively. Your veterinarian can assess the horse’s condition, adjust the treatment plan if necessary, and provide guidance on managing any flare-ups. Routine respiratory evaluations, including lung function tests and bloodwork, may be recommended to monitor the horse’s progress and adjust the management plan accordingly.

In summary, managing heaves in horses requires a comprehensive approach that includes environmental management, medication and treatment, nutritional management, exercise and turnout, and regular veterinary care. By implementing these strategies, horse owners can help alleviate symptoms, improve respiratory health, and enhance the overall well-being of their equine companions.

Choosing the Right Tack and Equipment for a Horse with Heaves

When it comes to managing a horse with heaves, selecting the right tack and equipment is crucial to their comfort and overall well-being. Heaves, also known as recurrent airway obstruction or equine asthma, is a chronic respiratory condition that can be triggered by various allergens such as dust, mold, or pollen. The right tack and equipment can help alleviate the symptoms and make it easier for the horse to breathe. In this section, we will discuss the important factors to consider when choosing tack and equipment for a horse with heaves.

1. Respiratory-Friendly Tack

The first step in choosing the right tack for a horse with heaves is to opt for respiratory-friendly options. Consider the following:

  • Bitless Bridle: Traditional bridles can put pressure on the horse’s respiratory system, causing discomfort. Using a bitless bridle can provide a more comfortable alternative.
  • Soft Nosebands: Opt for nosebands made from soft materials to avoid putting unnecessary pressure on the horse’s nose and airways.
  • Breathable Saddle Pads: Choose saddle pads that are breathable and allow for proper airflow to prevent excessive heat and sweating, which can exacerbate the horse’s respiratory symptoms.

2. Dust-Free Bedding and Stable Environment

To minimize the exposure to allergens and irritants, it is crucial to maintain a dust-free bedding and stable environment. Consider the following:

  • Pelleted Bedding: Use pelleted bedding instead of traditional straw or shavings, as they produce less dust and allergens.
  • Regular Cleaning: Clean the stable regularly to remove dust, mold, and other potential respiratory irritants.
  • Ventilation: Ensure proper ventilation in the stable to improve air quality and reduce the accumulation of allergens.

3. Respiratory-Friendly Feeding Equipment

The horse’s feeding equipment can also have an impact on their respiratory health. Choose respiratory-friendly feeding options:

  • Hay Soakers: Soaking hay in water before feeding can help reduce dust and mold spores that can trigger respiratory symptoms.
  • Hay Nets and Feeders: Use hay nets or slow-feeders to limit the amount of dust and allergens the horse inhales while eating.
  • Water Buckets: Opt for water buckets instead of open troughs to minimize dust and prevent the horse from inhaling unnecessary allergens.

4. Regular Cleaning and Maintenance

Proper cleaning and maintenance of the tack and equipment are essential to prevent the buildup of dust and allergens. Consider the following:

  • Regular Washing: Clean and wash the tack, saddle pads, and feeding equipment regularly to remove dust, mold, and allergens.
  • Proper Storage: Store the tack and equipment in a dry and clean area to prevent the accumulation of dust and mold.
  • Inspect for Wear and Tear: Regularly inspect the tack for any signs of wear and tear and replace or repair as necessary to ensure the horse’s comfort.

By choosing the right tack and equipment for a horse with heaves, you can help alleviate their respiratory symptoms and provide them with a more comfortable and healthy environment. Remember to consult with your veterinarian for specific recommendations based on your horse’s individual needs and condition.

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Exercise and Training Tips for Riding a Horse with Heaves

Horses with heaves, also known as recurrent airway obstruction (RAO), can have difficulty breathing due to inflammation and constriction of the airways. This condition can make it challenging for them to engage in physical activities such as riding. However, with proper management and training techniques, it is possible to keep your horse active and comfortable. In this section, we will discuss some exercise and training tips specifically designed for horses with heaves.

1. Establish a Routine

Consistency is key when it comes to managing horses with heaves. Establish a daily routine that includes regular exercise and training sessions. This will help keep your horse’s respiratory system in good condition and minimize the risk of flare-ups. Make sure to allocate enough time for warm-up and cool-down exercises to prevent excessive strain on your horse’s lungs.

2. Choose the Right Environment

When riding a horse with heaves, it is important to consider the environment in which they will be exercising. Avoid dusty or moldy areas, as these can trigger respiratory symptoms. Opt for well-ventilated arenas or open spaces with clean air. If possible, ride your horse outdoors to benefit from fresh air and lower levels of allergens.

3. Incorporate Low-Impact Exercises

Avoid activities that involve rapid and strenuous movements, as these can put additional strain on your horse’s respiratory system. Instead, focus on low-impact exercises such as walking or light trotting. These activities will help maintain cardiovascular fitness while minimizing the risk of triggering respiratory distress.

4. Use Proper Tack and Equipment

The right tack and equipment can make a significant difference in the comfort and well-being of horses with heaves. Use a well-fitted saddle and bridle to avoid unnecessary pressure on the chest and neck. Additionally, consider using a respiratory mask or hood during exercise to filter out dust and allergens from the air your horse breathes.

5. Monitor Environmental Factors

Pay attention to environmental factors that can affect your horse’s respiratory health. Check the pollen levels and air quality before riding, and adjust your training schedule accordingly. It may be beneficial to ride during times of the day when allergen levels are lower, such as early morning or late evening.

6. Gradually Increase Exercise Intensity

When starting an exercise program with a horse with heaves, it is important to gradually increase the intensity and duration of the workouts. This allows their respiratory system to adapt and build endurance over time. Start with short, low-intensity sessions and gradually increase the duration and intensity as your horse becomes more comfortable and fit.

7. Plan for Adequate Rest and Recovery

Just like any athlete, horses with heaves require proper rest and recovery periods. Avoid overexertion and make sure to give your horse enough time to recover between training sessions. Adequate rest will help prevent fatigue and reduce the risk of respiratory flare-ups.

8. Consult with Your Veterinarian

Always consult with your veterinarian before implementing any exercise or training program for a horse with heaves. They can provide valuable guidance and tailor a plan specifically to suit your horse’s needs. Regular check-ups and communication with your vet are essential for managing this condition effectively.

In summary, exercise and training are important for horses with heaves, but it requires careful planning and consideration of their respiratory health. Establish a routine, choose the right environment, incorporate low-impact exercises, use proper tack and equipment, monitor environmental factors, gradually increase exercise intensity, plan for adequate rest and recovery, and consult with your veterinarian. By following these tips, you can help your horse with heaves stay fit, comfortable, and enjoy riding to the best of their abilities.

Safety Precautions for Riders and Horses with Heaves

Heaves, also known as recurrent airway obstruction (RAO) or equine asthma, is a common respiratory condition that affects horses. It can cause coughing, wheezing, and difficulty breathing, making it essential to take specific safety precautions for both the rider and the affected horse. In this section, we will discuss some important safety measures to consider when dealing with heaves.

1. Proper Ventilation

When you have a horse with heaves, it is crucial to provide them with a well-ventilated environment. Poor air quality can exacerbate respiratory symptoms and lead to further complications. Ensure that the stables are clean, with proper ventilation to allow fresh air circulation. Use fans or open windows to increase air circulation and reduce dust accumulation.

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2. Dust Control

Dust particles can trigger respiratory distress in horses with heaves. Take measures to minimize dust in the stable and the horse’s living area. Use dust-free bedding such as straw pellets or wood shavings instead of dusty materials like sawdust. Regularly wet down the bedding to suppress dust and prevent it from becoming airborne.

Furthermore, avoid using dusty hay or feed. Opt for soaked hay or hay alternatives, such as haylage or hay cubes. This helps to reduce the amount of airborne particles that the horse may inhale, decreasing the risk of respiratory irritation.

3. Outdoor Riding

When riding a horse with heaves, consider choosing outdoor arenas or riding in open spaces to minimize exposure to dust and allergens. Avoid riding in indoor arenas with poor ventilation, as they can have higher levels of airborne particles that can trigger respiratory symptoms. Outdoor riding allows for better air circulation and reduces the risk of respiratory distress.

4. Adequate Cool-Down

After exercise, it is essential to provide horses with heaves sufficient time to cool down gradually. Sudden changes in temperature or rapid cooling can trigger respiratory flare-ups. Extend your cool-down period and avoid exposing the horse to cold drafts. Use blankets or sheets to help regulate their body temperature and prevent temperature fluctuations.

5. Medication Management

Follow your veterinarian’s prescribed medication regimen for treating heaves. Ensure that you administer medications as instructed, whether it’s through inhalers, oral drugs, or other forms. Make a note of the medication schedule and keep track of any side effects or changes in the horse’s respiratory condition.

It is crucial to store medications properly, following the instructions provided. Keep them in a cool, dry place, away from direct sunlight and extremes of temperature.

6. Regular Veterinary Check-Ups

Schedule regular check-ups with your veterinarian to monitor the horse’s respiratory health. Regular examinations and diagnostic tests can help detect any changes or exacerbations of heaves and allow for timely intervention. Your veterinarian may adjust the treatment plan or suggest additional measures based on the horse’s condition.

7. Healthy Diet and Exercise

A well-balanced diet and regular exercise can contribute to overall respiratory health. Provide your horse with a high-quality diet that is free from mold, dust, and other potential allergens. Soaking hay or using alternative forages can help manage respiratory symptoms.

Regular exercise helps improve lung function and overall fitness. Consult with your veterinarian or an equine specialist to develop an exercise plan suitable for your horse’s condition and capabilities.


When dealing with heaves in horses, safety precautions are crucial to managing the condition effectively. Providing proper ventilation, controlling dust, choosing outdoor riding areas, ensuring adequate cool-downs, following medication management protocols, scheduling regular veterinary check-ups, and maintaining a healthy diet and exercise routine are all essential for the well-being of both the rider and the horse with heaves. By implementing these safety measures, you can help reduce respiratory distress and improve the quality of life for your horse.


1. Can you ride a horse with heaves?

Saddle riding may not be suitable for horses with heaves, as increased respiratory effort can worsen their condition. It is important to consult with a veterinarian to assess the severity of heaves and determine the appropriate level of exercise for the horse.


In conclusion, riding a horse with heaves can be a challenging and potentially risky endeavor. Heaves, also known as equine asthma, is a respiratory condition that can severely impact a horse’s breathing and overall health. It is essential to prioritize the horse’s welfare and consult with a veterinarian before attempting to ride a horse with this condition.

Riding a horse with heaves can worsen their respiratory distress and lead to further health complications. It is crucial to provide proper management, including appropriate medical treatment, a suitable environment, and an adjusted exercise regimen, to ensure the horse’s comfort and well-being.

Ultimately, the decision to ride a horse with heaves should be made in consultation with a veterinarian, who can provide guidance and support to ensure the horse’s safety and minimize any potential risks.