They are the equine equivalent of those flexible strips that people wear on their noses to prevent snoring.
With racehorses, the goal is to prevent bleeding in the lungs, ultimately allowing the animals to run faster. But do nasal strips work?
Racing officials agreed Monday to allow the strips on horses competing in the Belmont Stakes on June 7 — including California Chrome, who wore the strips while winning the first two legs of the Triple Crown.
Yet the announcement was accompanied by a statement from a state veterinarian that the strips “do not enhance equine performance.”
Others say they do help.
“The short answer is yes, a little bit,” said Rose Nolen-Walston, an assistant professor at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine.
Either way, the consensus seems to be that the strips are not harmful for animals. The strips help prevent a condition called exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage, which refers to the bursting of capillaries in the lungs, Nolen-Walston said.
This bleeding occurs from the combination of elevated blood pressure during a race and the negative pressure that the lungs create when sucking in air, she said. In other words, there is higher blood pressure pushing out from inside the vessels, along with the negative pressure pulling on the vessels from outside.
The strips work by holding the animal’s nostrils open, so that the horse’s lungs do not have to generate as much negative pressure to suck in air. With the strips, in other words, the lungs do not have to work as hard, and the bleeding can be reduced by up to 50 percent, said Howard Erickson, an emeritus professor at Kansas State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine.
Erickson said the strips were similar to the drug called Lasix in their ability to reduce bleeding.
Flair, the company that makes the strips, has posted on its website the results of eight studies of horses wearing the strips. While most concern technical measurements of things such as bleeding and blood gases, one looked at the ultimate outcome: winning.
According to the website, a Florida study found horses that wore strips had a winning percentage 3.4 percent higher than those that did not wear them. No details were available about whether the experiment was a controlled, randomized study.