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Good Question: What Do Equine Nasal Strips Do For Horses?

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – The New York State Gaming Commission ruled Monday to overturn its ban on nasal strips for racing horses.

California Chrome, the horse hoping to take home the Triple Crown for the first time in 36 years, used the strips in the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness.

The horse's trainer had pushed to use them again in next month's Belmont Stakes.

New York State Gaming Commission Equine Medical Director Scott Palmer wrote Monday morning, "I recommend that the stewards at State-based Thoroughbred racetracks discontinue their ban on equine nasal strips.  Equine nasal strips do not enhance equine performance nor do they pose a risk to equine health or safety and as such do not need to be regulated."

The strips are made by Delano, Minn. based company, Flair.  They were first introduced in 1999 at the Breeder's Cup after Breathe Right strips became popular in humans and pro athletes.

The strips are applied to a horse's nose via medical adhesive.

They support the tissue over the nasal passages behind the nostril to keep it from collapsing.

Veterinarian Dr. Ed Blach invented the Flair strips after watching horses run on treadmills.

"When they're on a treadmill, we started noticing movement and collapse of that nasal passage tissue," he said.  "Knowing that a horse can only breathe through their nose, that's what gave us the idea."

Dr. Blach also says research shows the strips can reduce bleeding in a horse's lungs and airways.

Negative pressure can get into the lungs when a horse is working at maximum speed and exertion.  Dr. Blach says the strips can reduce that pressure.

"It reduces the lung stress they'd otherwise occur. It decreases recovery time and reduces fatigue, which is very important in reducing injuries as well," he said.

Flair says it never claims the strips will make a horse run faster.  Other veterinarians who've studied the research agree.

Dr. Tracy Turner, a veterinarian with Anoka Equine Veterinary Services, says the horses are limited by the ability and training, rather than any strips.

"The research says it can help with breathing, but nothing that says it helps performances," he said. "So, if we can help horses and make, from a welfare situation, their lives a little easier going around the track, why not do it?"

Each horse's anatomy is different, so the strips would likely affect each horse differently. 

Ultimately, it could come down to the psychology of the people behind the horse.  Given California Chrome has won his last six races with the strips, nobody wants to change a thing.

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