Monday, December 29, 2008

Perpetuating Lamenss Issues in Breeding

(Oh dear... poor Fugly... just had a hernia!)

Are you still holding your proverbial ponies? Good! Here we go....
Yesterday we discussed how bloodlines in quarter horses have become so refined as to render them nearly indistinguishable as the same breed (as in the difference between a 1400 pound 16.1HH Halter horse vs a 14.1HH 750 pound cutter!)
(Check out the steep pastern angles on this horse! She looks like she's wearing high heels for goodness sakes!)

We also discussed how breeders have not always done their part in improving the mental or physical qualities of their horses.... or ensured that the cornerstones of the breed- cow sense, athleticism, ability, speed, stable temperament, soundness, and the ability to work a day as long as the cowboys need- were retained.
(Hmm..this horse needs a little help with her front legs too!)

Are you taking notes? Or am I having another "Bueller" moment? Hello? .... jk

(This is what I would consider post legged behind)

So... Melanie questioned whether breeders have managed to improve upon some of the soundness issues that Quarter Horses had 15-20 years ago...
Sorry Melanie (you young and adorable thing you!)...but... 15-20 years ago I was in elementary school (werent you too?) I really couldn't say.... much as I love an American Quarter Horse, I wouldn't claim that they are a breed known for maintaining physical soundness in the best of conditions...
In my limited experience I have become most concerned with front limb lameness, particularly Navicular. It seems that at some point breeders stopped considered pastern angles, bone, correctness, proportionate hoof sizes etc.. important conformational factors and the breed suffered as a result.
(How do you figure this mares little tiny feet will hold up to all that weight?)

One would think that an expression as old as "no foot, no horse" would remain true today-... as it has for a thousand years or so..... but unfortunately that is not the case. I read an article a few years back that ventured to claim that the scientific advancement of veterinary practises in treating reproductive and physical unsoundness in Thoroughbreds have allowed horses- that would have otherwise been culled naturally as non-performers- to continue showing, breeding and producing and therefore perpetuating the unfavorable trait.

In other words, because we have learned to "fix it" or work around it, we no longer feel as compelled to breed away from it.

Lets consider this scenario...

Lets say that a colt is born with a inherited deformity to his front limb.
Other than that one issue, the breeder feel that he has tremendous potential as ...let say....a race horse.

A hundred years ago, that horse would have been culled, as would have the mare (or stud) that produced it, because breeders could not afford to produce horses that would not be able to work or perform. Hypothetically, that problem would have ended with that line....or at least close to it.

But in today's day and age there are surgeries available to fix a lot of problems that would have otherwise ended a career before it had started. In this case, lets say that our colts deformity was completely corrected with such a surgery- which allowed said colt to move forward in his training....

Now.... our fixed and fancy colt goes on to have an amazing career..... Lets say he wins the Kentucky Derby!

As the owners of that stallion you could say... "the horse had a deformity as a foal and we don't want to promote that in future we shouldn't breed him...."

"We could make $25,000 a pop using him as a breeding stallion"....Hmmmm......

Hypothetically, I'd like to say that I would do what was best for the breed....

But as I have a particular liking for horsepower of a different kind... I might be thinking about how many Porsches a just one years full "book" would buy me...
So... said breeders decide they will take what's green and make like Gumby... or something like that....

And our little Derby winning colt goes on to produce a whole whack of colts with the same problem but as they are all wicked fast and do well on the track no one minds having to do a little 'snip snip' as a all is well that ends well....right?

10 years later, that colt (that would have been culled- at least in a breeding sense) is now a top producing stallion with a few thousand offspring that have a tendency towards ______!

Well, take that scenario and multiply it by a thousand... or a hundred thousand and that would pretty much sum up what has happened to horse breeds, including the QH, across the board.

Because hypothetically- should we have never bred a horse until they had proven that they could work 15 years without taking a lame step, that they never had disease, had never shown a vice and they broke out without a buck- we'd have created the perfect horse by now!!...
But we don't... because economics and the desire to WIN tend to drive the horse industry more than our.... ? Integrity ? as breeders!

So, this study showed how the reproductive soundness of horses in the TB industry was literally being bred out of them due to our ability overcome hereditary reproductive issues. This same study showed how the advancement of drugs and artificial devices (that essentially hold a horses hoof together when it would have otherwise fallen apart) has perpetuated front limb lameness.

One thing the TB racing industry has working in their favor (that the QH industry does not) is that they do not allow horses to be registered within the Jockey Club unless they were bred via LIVE COVER (allegedly!...some freaky horses (who conspicuously look like some top sires) come out of Argentina with no name breeding and win some big purses!! Suspect!) which has limited the ability of science to a certain degree....
As in the case of the Triple Crown contender War Emblem- who has nothing in a physical sense hampering his ability to stand at stud besides the will or desire to do so! Apparently he has no drive to *ehem* with a mares!! Which has cost his owners over 55 million $$ in lost stud fees... Ouch!
So... after all that blah blah blah.... the answer to Melanie's question is, "NO!" Quarter horses (as with almost all other breeds) still have as many soundness issues today as they once had...if not more.
Which makes it all the more important to be particularly fussy about the conformation of a ensure that they have the right angles, (no steep shoulders, steep pasterns, post legged etc.), the right proportions (a decent size foot, not to heavy on the front end, a good amount of bone, decent size hock etc.) and that they travel straight and true (winging in or out, toed in or out etc..) .....
One could argue that there have been many a great horses that have overcome conformational problems (Seabuiscut and Smart Little Lena) to achieve success in their given sport. While we don't have to seek perfection in our horses in order to believe them capable of success, perhaps we should take better care to ensure that future generations are less likely to suffer for them.
Now...Go catch your ponies... I have more tomorrow! Who just grumbled!!! I heard you!!
PS- Stephanie has some great comments on yesterdays post. I'd like her to do a post on top stallions in the WP industry. Wouldnt you?


  1. Very interesting - I also find some belief in that theory.

    Not so much in the corrected deformities part of it - for a couple of reasons, while I am sure it contributes to a growing problem - but what I see more is what you said: Not paying attention to bone structure, hoof size, angles, and longevity. Only paying attention to what's winning.

    We tend to breed what wins - not what we should breed. And it all trickles down that way, Juli (over at Horse Talk with H&R) is quick to remind me that the "horse show" part of the QH world is a small part of it, yes but, even those not breeding for "show quality" will tout their stud that has **Rugged Lark!" on his papers and people will breed to it because of that. Because Rugged Lark was famous that's why - because he was a winner. See where I'm going - it really does effect all QHs eventually not just show world.

    Refinement is winning, specialization is winning - horses with a nice thick bone structure and big feet aren't winning - so we are not breeding them.

    Horses with a refined bone structure and smaller feet are winning. So wanting more winning foals we breed winners to winners and get a baby even more refined than mom and dad. It wins - so we breed him.

    In 2009 we have Quarter Horses (note, I did not say all or alot) that would die if they ran over an open range. Cause they would break their dang legs on the first patch of uneven ground they found.

    I have seen top WP Horses get a wittle tiny stone bruise from a small rock (heaven forbid) in the arena and be out for the dang season - it absences - it's deep so it blows though the hoof wall......

    You add that in with the issues that your theory states - deformities. And you get a whole load of QHs just waiting to have a soundness issues.

    You see breeding a horse with imperfect legs is justifiable to many people, for money like you mentioned and AND you know it's not 100% certain your stud will pass on that mystery lameness you've been hiding for the last 5 years. And what if he does? You can always say he got it from Mom - because you've kept the mystery lameness secret. Besides, chances are the people that bred their mare to your stud will TOO! Hard to sell a foal with "mystery lameness" better to hide and unload the baby on someone else.

    Don't even get me started on our breaking practices and how much we in the QH industry ride the young horses - yes, yes I know not every breaks a horse to be shown at age 2, but alot are in the world of QH competition think of what that does on a super refined skeleton - joints - ligaments - tendons....

    Sigh...nobody cares...there are some people do - but will breed an inferior mare or stud in hopes of a winner anyway - because they want a "so and so's" baby, because they are winning. And so it continues...


    A WP and HUS post huh? I will give it some thought - don't want to bore everyone with bloodline details for events they are not interested in...but I'll think about it.

  2. You know, I just got done trying to explain this to some other people about my Okie mare. Her lameness was sort of a mystery to us because nothing on either side of her had anything similar. Even the vets could not tell me if it was genetic or some sort of a mineral deficiency from the womb. People tried to convince me to breed her because in all other aspects she was a beautiful mare and quite talented, as far as her lameness would permit. But I could never see the sense in making her carry a baby or take the chance that she may reproduce her lameness. I know most other people would have raised as many babies from her as they could have before her leg or hip gave out. To me the idea was just stupid-why take the chance?
    Now as far as never breeding a lame horse, I guess I would have to know intimately as to why they went lame. We have an older mare who is no longer riding sound that I would like to breed. But then, I know that she is lame due to bursitis in her shoulders due to hard work.

    It can be a difficult choice of "should I or shouldn't I" when it comes to breeding. Money and awards usually quell a lot of people's qualms.;)

  3. Oh-and I would very much like Stephanie to do a post on what's current in the WP and HUS world.

  4. Interesting stuff - I wish more breeders cared about correctness instead of money, but not much we can all do about that!!

    I really enjoy the bloodline posts - Steph - I would be interested in the WP and HUS bloodlines if you are up for it!!

    I always feel that one way to combat some of these issues is to be as informed as you are able/willing and try to make the best decisions, whether it be buying/breeding/selling.

    Just to egg you guys on a bit - I would be interested in seeing a few posts with more details on confirmation - what everyone thinks is good/bad, with photos comparing them, etc. Not so much the obvious stuff, but the more finer points. I'm trying to teach my eye to notice and recognize the good and bad (if that makes any sense at all)