Carole Mortimer: Should disease carriers be graded? *H&H VIP*

  • Opinion

    How often does something sensational hit the headlines and then disappear from sight? So it would seem with Warmblood Foal Fragile Syndrome (WFFS), a nasty genetic disease with no cure, meaning affected foals have to be euthanised.

    While it may seem that the topic has gone away, of course that is not the case. It is right now being carried in the genes of the sport horse stallions and mares around the world, and that includes horses in the UK. Breeders should not be complacent just because the headlines have subsided.

    Now is the time to be taking action, to ensure that next season everyone can make the correct choices for their 2020 crop of foals.

    All stallions in the UK should be tested to see whether they carry the disease. As the gene responsible for the disease is recessive, a foal can only contract WFFS if both parents carry the defect, in which instance there is a 50% chance of the foal contracting the disease.

    Hopefully by now, all the British studbooks and breed societies that register warmblood horses should have requested that their graded stallions are tested to see if they carry WFFS and are, therefore, capable of passing on the fault. And of course the results should be public.

    One can, however, understand the dilemma, and sympathise with, the owner of a stallion that tests positive as a carrier. Should a stallion still stand at stud if he is deemed a carrier? Will he attract mares?

    While testing stallions has to be the first step, it is not the only route to reducing the risk of passing on this horrible disease. Mares are a bigger part of the equation as there are more mares breeding than stallions, and any responsible breeder should want to know if they have a carrier (or two or three) in their herd.

    While I would not condemn the older stallion that tests positive, as long as he only breeds to non-carrier mares, the question I wrestle with is this: should a young stallion that tests positive pass a grading or should it be recommended that he is gelded and be kept as a competition horse? Or not even come forward for grading?

    Perhaps from now on, anyone who is serious about breeding potential stallions and broodmares should test their foals during their first year and only keep the non-carriers, males and females, as breeding stock. It has to be far less painful to know early on and make adaptations to the plan, than to spend four years producing a potential stallion only to find out he is a carrier and might not pass a grading.

    Responsible breeding just got a whole lot more responsible.

    Browned off

    It is extraordinary to think that — at the time of writing — most of this year’s foals will never have experienced rain. To them life, so far, is simply a long, warm, carefree day of one siesta after another. Rain, when it comes, along with being wet and dripping, may come as a bit of a cold shock. But how they, and their dams, will enjoy the green, soft and extremely palatable grass that will follow.

    They are not the only ones who will be overjoyed to see the return of grass as we know it. It’s not often the British want for rain, but I guess that at the moment there isn’t one person with a horse who isn’t doing the dance.

    Ref Horse & Hound; 2 August 2018

    Stallions at Stud