Halotherapy for horses worth its salt, says developer

Dry salt therapy, also known as halotherapy, is said to help with respiratory and skin health in horses.
Dry salt therapy, also known as halotherapy, is said to help with respiratory and skin health in horses. © SALT Chamber

Equine dry salt therapy, or halotherapy, is gaining ground as an alternate treatment option for horses for its potential to improve respiratory health, skin conditions, and promote overall wellness, its developer says.

Dry salt therapy, also known as halotherapy, is a natural, drug-free treatment for respiratory and skin conditions. During a session, 99.99% pure-grade sodium chloride (salt) is ground and crushed into very tiny micron-sized particles by a halogenerator. These dry aerosol microparticles of salt are then dispersed by the halogenerator into a stall or trailer. As a horse relaxes, the dry salt goes to work inside the respiratory system, acting as an antibacterial agent; clearing secretions, and dissolving bacteria and pollutants lodged in the respiratory tract. Ultimately, this lessens inflammation in the lungs, thins out mucus buildup, improves lung function, and opens breathing passages.

Salt therapy evolved from speleotherapy, a special form of climatotherapy where underground salt caves and salt mines were used to treat several respiratory and skin-related conditions. A halogenerator is a special type of equipment that was developed in the 1970s to replicate the conditions of underground salt caves and produce salt therapy for above-ground facilities. Without a halogenerator, there is no halotherapy.

Because dry salt is ultra-absorbent, the micron-sized particles dispersed into the air and not inhaled into the respiratory system during treatment also permeate into the horse’s skin, absorbing oils and reducing the frequency of irritating skin conditions.

According to the Salt Therapy Association, equine salt therapy may improve respiratory issues like heaves and asthma, as well as common skin conditions like mud fever.

Racehorse conditioners have become big proponents of halotherapy, given that improved respiratory function can lead to stronger cardiovascular performance. For horses that suffer from Exercise-induced Pulmonary Hemorrhage (EIPH), salt therapy offers a beneficial and, just as importantly, all-natural solution. For sport horses traveling on the show circuit, halotherapy can also help with adaptation to different locations’ indigenous allergies and higher seasonal pollen counts.

Leo Tonkin, who founded SALT Chamber 10 years ago, said dry salt therapy was a drug-free and safe treatment for equine health and wellbeing.

“Dry salt is like a toothbrush for the lungs. It is anti-inflammatory and antibacterial. We’ve also found it to accelerate skin recovery,” Tonkin said. In the early days, Tonkin says, there were just 10 centers in the US and Canada offering the treatment.

“As we started to penetrate the spa and wellness industry, we started working with several trainers in the horse industry. The benefits they are seeing are remarkable.”

Creating a salt room for performance horses brought with it a few more logistical challenges than what Tonkin had created in spas and wellness centers for people, leading the company to create a transportable halotherapy system, fitting out a shipping container with a conditioned air space.

Equine medical clinics and training centers have established their own salt rooms by adding a halogenerator and enclosing their permanent stables or mobile trailers. They are operating in Britain, Australia, and the United Arab Emirates.

Hagyard Equine Medical Institute is among several veterinary and rehab centers to install a salt room, and the World Equestrian Center in Ocala has also recently installed a halotherapy room.

“This isn’t just for horses that have asthma or heaves or other conditions,” Tonkins says. “It’s also for athletes, both human and equine, that are constantly utilizing their lungs for oxygen and red blood cells for endurance, performance, and recovery.”

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