Reasons for performing study: Rates of airway inflammation in young racehorses decrease with time but it is not clear whether this is associated with increasing age or time exposed to the training environment. The structure of the British National Hunt (NH) population allowed closer examination of this relationship.
Objectives: To compare rates of inflammatory airway disease diagnosed by tracheal sampling (trIAD), and its components, in NH racehorses by age and training history and with published rates in young racehorses.
Methods: A prospective, longitudinal study was conducted on 5 NH yards over 2 years. Period sample prevalences of nasal discharge, tracheal mucus, airway neutrophilia and trIAD (defined by a combination of tracheal mucus and airway neutrophilia) were estimated and compared between horses with different ages and time in training.
Results: Horses new to training had twice the odds of visible tracheal mucus as ex-flat trained horses (OR 2.0; 95% CI: 1.4–2.8; P<0.001) but no significantly increased odds of airway neutrophilia (OR 1.3; 95% CI: 0.8–1.9; P = 0.3) and inconclusive evidence of increased odds of trIAD (OR 1.8; CI: 0.9–3.5; P = 0.08). However, a lower median time in training was significantly associated with the presence of visible mucus (P<0.001), increased mucus (P = 0.005) and trIAD (P = 0.03). No disease measure varied significantly with age.
Conclusions: Tracheal mucus and trIAD, but not neutrophilia detected in tracheal wash samples, were less prevalent in horses that had been exposed to the training environment for longer, explaining previously reported associations with age.
Potential relevance: Neutrophil proportion in tracheal wash samples is not as useful a clinical tool as measures of visible tracheal mucus for identifying horses requiring treatment or changes in management. The inclusion of tracheal wash neutrophils in the assessment of equine airways, or at least their relative weighting in definitions of trIAD, should be re-evaluated.