Reading time 3 minutes

The significant concern for many horse owners is the presence of chronic coughing in horses, which is commonly referred to as “hay allergy” or “chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)”.

Once a horse develops such sensitive airways, it can become quite challenging for the owner to manage its housing and feeding effectively.

But not every single cough has to be an alarm signal. A horse can potentially choke when consuming its mineral feed too quickly.

For a horse that frequently experiences choking, consider distributing the feed over the hay or placing two to three large stones in the feed trough to encourage slower eating. This approach can help prevent the horse from ingesting its food too quickly, reducing the risk of choking.

More commonly, you’ll notice horses coughing while being ridden. This coughing occurs intermittently, irrespective of how dusty the riding arena may be on a given day. Typically, it’s a single cough or a brief bout of coughing that occurs only when starting to trot for the first time.

The horse proceeds through the remainder of the riding lesson or training without any further coughing, maintaining a normal breathing rate.

Instantly performing a bronchoscopy in this case is not deemed necessary. Frequently, this cough symptomatology is attributed to a blocked diaphragm.

When the horse begins to trot for the first time after warming up, it takes a deep breath. However, if the diaphragm is blocked, abdominal breathing cannot be as deep as it should be. Inhalation is prematurely halted, triggering a coughing reflex.

Many of us who are less athletic may relate to this sensation when they suddenly need to run, such as when a horse escapes through the fence.


Coughing in a horse, specifically when it occurs during trotting and is not related to airway issues, may sometimes be attributed to a blocked diaphragm. In such cases, seeking treatment from a craniosacral therapist or an osteopath with expertise in visceral work can be a potential solution. These professionals can address issues related to the diaphragm and offer treatment to alleviate the horse’s discomfort.

It’s important to recognize that not every instance of coughing in a horse is an indication of a serious problem that requires immediate medication. Coughing can be a natural response to various factors, and it’s often a sign that the horse’s respiratory system is functioning to clear irritants or mucus. However, if coughing becomes chronic, severe, or is accompanied by other concerning symptoms, it should be evaluated by a veterinarian to identify the underlying cause and determine appropriate treatment.