Should You Be Using FLAIR Strips at the Lower Levels?

Dr. David Marlin is the board chairman of the International Conference on Equine Exercise Physiology, board member of the Veterinary Comparative Respiratory Society and editor of Equine and Comparative Exercise Physiology. Dr. Marlin worked with the FEI in the lead-up to the 2008 Beijing Olympics advising on climate considerations for the equestrian disciplines. Click here to visit his website.

Meg Pellegrini and Cici Top sporting a FLAIR Equine Nasal Strip in the Training Three-Day at Galway Downs. Photo by Shelby Allen.

Until recently, FLAIR Strips have perhaps been viewed by many riders as only being something that a top-level competitor would need. This is not true.

When FLAIR Strips were first introduced, the racing industry immediately saw the benefit of this new invention. It was envisioned that the strips would reduce the stress of racing on the respiratory system and, therefore, also have beneficial effects on the body as a whole. This has subsequently been proven through a number of studies published in scientific journals.

In eventing, the use of strips by upper-level competitors in both cross country and show jumping has been rapid and widespread. The use of FLAIR Strips by lower-level competitors is less common.

Horses cannot breathe through their mouths. So, the only air they get comes in through their nose. During exercise, the negative pressure caused by breathing in causes the soft tissue that lies over the nasal passages to be drawn inward or “collapse.” This reduces the diameter of the airway and reduces the amount of oxygen the horse takes in with each breath.

FLAIR Strips work by preventing collapse of the skin over the nasal passages. This reduces the stress on the lungs and increases the amount of air flowing into the lungs. As a result, horses experience less lung stress and less lung bleeding (Exercise-Induced Pulmonary Hemorrhage or “EIPH”).

Another advantage of the FLAIR Strip is that the reduced effort to move air in and out means less stress on the body as a whole during exercise and a faster recovery after exercise.

Why should FLAIR Strips be used for horses competing in lower levels of competition?

  • Ability: Horses competing at lower levels are often not as athletic as those competing at higher levels of competition. For example, this means a canter for a horse at lower competitive level is harder work than for a horse at a higher competitive level at the same speed of canter.
  • Fitness: Horses competing at lower levels are often not as fit as those competing at higher levels of competition. A less fit horse will have to work harder at the same speed of exercise as a fit horse would and will also take longer to recover afterwards.
  • Health: Horses competing at higher levels of competition are often seen more frequently by veterinarians. This means that low-grade disease is picked up early and treated. Horses at lower levels of competition are usually seen less frequently by veterinarians and as a result may often be trained and compete with undetected low-grade disease of the respiratory system.
  • Exercise stress: There is often a perception that a horse that is not competing at a high level is not working as hard as a horse that competes at the highest level. As mentioned above, horses that are less athletic, less fit and also possibly carrying a low-grade problem are likely to work as hard, if not harder, as a horse competing at the highest level. Imagine yourself trying to keep up in a race with an Olympic marathon runner or Olympic sprinter. They would be working hard but going much faster and performing more efficiently than you, whereas you would probably be working much harder but going much slower and not performing as well.

Horses at lower levels of competition should use FLAIR Strips anytime they are undertaking hard work or prolonged exercise. So, if you are going to give your horse a hard training gallop or competing in an event, using a FLAIR Strip will reduce the amount of lung damage from bleeding in cross country and jumping.

In competition, using a FLAIR Strip will allow your horse to compete with less stress on the respiratory system. This will allow more oxygen to be delivered to the muscles, reduce bleeding, prolong onset of fatigue and provide a swifter recovery after exercise. Horses that are less fatigued are also less likely to make mistakes, which could lead to fences being knocked down, falls or injury.