During the summer months, the air quality index (AQI) is an important environmental measurement to people with respiratory disorders. AQI is a measure of pollution in the air, which is influenced by ground-level ozone and particulate matter as well as heat and humidity. The AQI scale runs from 0 to 500 with corresponding color codes. Higher values and certain colors are associated with more pollution and greater health concerns. On days with low air quality, children, the elderly and people with asthma or similar conditions are advised to limit their physical activity. All of this also applies to horses, so it’s a good idea to check the AQI daily and adjust your horse’s activity levels as necessary.
Here are what AQI color codes mean:
• Green (AQI from 0 to 50) means the air quality is good and all horses should have no trouble breathing.
• Yellow (AQI from 51 to 100) indicates moderate air quality. Unusually sensitive horses might have trouble breathing after prolonged exertion. Horses with acute heaves or those recovering from respiratory illnesses are best limited to light exercise.
• Orange (AQI from 101 to 150) corresponds to unhealthy air for sensitive horses. If your horse has heaves, even if he isn’t in the midst of a flare-up, limit his activity on these days. The poor air quality could trigger one.
• Red conditions (AQI from 151 to 200) are unhealthy for any horse. Keep any riding you do to a slow walk or cancel your ride altogether. Two other designations---purple and maroon--- indicate even worse conditions and call for the same restrictions.
Beyond limiting exercise, there are other steps you can take to protect vulnerable horses on days with poor AQI: Make sure you have any medications they may need on hand and control dust in their environment by wetting hay and footing. Also check on them during the heat of the day to ensure they are breathing comfortably. If a horse appears to be stressed or having trouble breathing, move him into a cooler environment if possible---or just a stall with a fan---and call your veterinarian to share your concerns.
Originally published in EQUUS 490