Q: Hi - I've learned so much from reading your newsletter that I'm sure you will have some suggestions for my current problem.
It's almost summer and my paddock is beginning to get very dusty unless we have frequent showers. The surface is primarily rock dust or stone dust. This was recommended because my paddock is on a slope and has clay underneath. The rock dust does very well in the winter -- no mud, drains well, etc. But, once warm weather hits it becomes very dry and dusty. I've tried running a sprinkler, but if the drought continues this won't be an option. I've also tried something called dustloc (made for controlling arena dust) and this didn't work at all. Since one of my horses has COPD, I know it's important to deal with this problem. Any suggestions?
A: Hi Cindy! Thanks for the kind words! I'm glad you're enjoying HORSE-SENSE.
I sympathize with your dust problem -- and you're right, there are limits to what you'll be able to do to lessen the amount of dust in your paddock if water use becomes restricted.
Most long-term solutions to a dusty arena problem do involve water, either on its own or captured and slowly released by various products that can be added to the footing. These solutions aren't cheap, though, and they can create problems of their own, especially if the arena is used for turnout or if horses are ever fed there. Since you're talking about a paddock and a horse with COPD, I'm guessing that the horse is turned out there 24/7, and that means that it will be constantly exposed to whatever chemicals might be used to keep the dust down. That's not necessarily a good thing.
As you already know, when there's a drought, you need to do everything you can to conserve water so that your farm will have enough water -- even if you're lucky enough to have a good, deep well, you're unlikely to get enough water to take care of household and horse needs and water the pastures and keep the dust down in paddocks and riding arenas.
Realistically, you may just have to live with the dust until the drought is over. That's the bad news. If you can find a grass field to use for turnout, instead of the paddock, your horse might be better off, but if the drought is serious, there may not be any grass fields available. The good news is that this kind of dust, obnoxious and messy as it is, may not cause any problems for your horse. The big offender -- the major cause of insult to the horse's respiratory system -- in COPD is hay dust (spores, actually) and as long as the horse isn't exposed to that sort of dust, its health can stay good even during a drought, even when the paddock is dry and dusty.
If you have limited water supplies, don't use the water to dampen the paddock. Instead, use it to soak your horse's hay, or to create mashes and slurries from pelleted feeds and alfalfa pellets. Even very clean hay -- hay that doesn't appear to be dusty at all -- is full of spores. Horses with COPD are very sensitive to those spores, and can suffer for several days after exposure to hay, and this means that feeding dry hay even twice a week could result in your horse showing symptoms of COPD all the time. Try using your water to eliminate hay dust and spores in your horse's environment, and if necessary (and possible) you may want to try shifting to a hay substitute.
There's some talk (strictly anecdotes, not science) about the good effects of MSM on some horses with COPD. If your horse is doing that typical wheezy coughing in spite of all your efforts, you might want to try this and see whether it has any effect. It appears (again, this is anecdote-based) that the "suggested amount" according to the package is all that's required, and that any good effect will typically be obvious within one week, so if you become desperate, it might be worth conducting a one-week experiment with your horse, as MSM is inexpensive and AFAIK harmless.
I'm sorry I can't offer more help. I know many people who are being affected by the drought, and it isn't easy for any of them. For all your sakes, I hope there will be rain soon. In the meantime, just remember that there are different kinds of dust, and that your COPD horse is actually much better off in the obviously dusty paddock than in the not-so-obviously dusty barn, near the hay.
Jessica Jahiel, PhD
Dr. Jessica Jahiel is a well-known author, lecturer, and clinician. For in-depth information on horses, training, riding, and horse management, visit her web site at www.jessicajahiel.com and the HORSE-SENSE Newsletter at www.horse-sense.org
[This article reprinted from HORSE-SENSE with permission of Jessica Jahiel, PhD]