Saturday, 10 August 2013

A Gentle Reminder

Clifden Show week is beginning on Sunday.  This is a time when much purchasing of Connemara Ponies has been the norm. The genetic test for HWSS will not be available before the end of the  year, so any pony buyers will still need to use visual criteria to assess whether a pony is HWSS affected or not; there is no way of physically assessing carrier status.
So here are a few suggestions for onsite assessment:
  • Only consider young stock and/or breeding ponies presented without shoes and without hoof black. 
  • Be extremely wary of ponies which are shod and not in work, especially youngstock.
  • Do not accept any reasons/excuses about the farrier 'trimming the feet too short the last time he/she was out'.  Feet that are too short is a 'red flag'.
  • Any chipping or peeling away of the outer hoof wall is a red flag.
  • Pick up the feet yourself and have a look at the structure of the hoof wall between the white line and the outer hoof wall (see photo below).
  • Look at the environment the ponies are living in. Boggy conditions masks the issue.
  • Hoof black can be used to hide the use of hoof fillers - shod and hoof blacked 'red flag'.
For those purchasing from a distance (ie not personal inspection or through an agent) ask for not only conformation photos and videos, but close up pictures of feet - unshod and not blacked, and taken with the pony standing on concrete.
Here is a picture which demonstrates that the splitting occurs within in the structures of the hoof wall and not at the white line.  This photograph comes from a Swedish HWSS site with many good quality photographs of HWSS feet.  Even with short and newly trimmed feet (a prime method used to attempt to disguise HWSS), any sign of fissures should be classed as a 'red flag'.  Normal feet do not do this.

Another important factor to consider is the genetic inheritance of the pony/ies you may wish to buy. The higher the level of inbreeding, the higher the chances are of ponies carrying recessive genes.

Checkout An Analysis of the Sire Lines Represented in the 2013 CPBS Class 1 Stallion List if you want to found out just how dire the inbreeding issue is.

Monday, 5 August 2013

General News Updates

Those readers of the blog who also follow the HWSS Facebook page will already know that last month the number of hits on the blog reached 20,000 - this total has been reached in 19 months of operation.  As of right now the hits are 20,570.  There has been big upsurge in traffic, especially from Ireland.  As the number of hits from Ireland does not even register in the top ten source countries, which is deemed to indicate a low internet presence, this increase in traffic may be in part due to the following:

To whomsoever paid for and listed this advertisement the Irish Connemara Pony breeders should be grateful. From the perspective of the global community the significance of the HWSS issue does not seem to be understood in the heartland of Connemara pony breeding.  
It is a proven fact that continuing to ignore the existence of a genetic disease will do far more harm to the sales market than accepting that there is indeed a problem and doing something positive about it.  This has been proven in the past in the case of both HYPP and HERDA.

Linked to the incidence of  the expression of genetic disease in any population is the level of inbreeding in that population.    Deirdre Feely in her 2003 paper Characterisation of the Connemara Pony Population in Ireland states the following - the highlights are those of this blog editor:

"Following the analysis, it appears that the Connemara Pony breed is being confronted with two problems. Firstly, the survival of the traditional type of breed is under threat, and secondly, the genetic diversity of the breed is diminishing.

Today, the riding industry is an important outlet for Connemara Ponies. However, there is concern that this industry is instigating a shift from the traditional type of pony, to a taller, ‘modern’ type. The traditional type of Connemara Pony is perfectly adapted to the environment in which it developed and is completely distinct from other equine breeds. It may be necessary to safeguard against market forces inciting the disappearance of the traditional type of pony, which is a valuable national resource, and once lost can never be recovered.

The results generated from the characterisation of the Connemara Pony population indicate that past breeding practices have caused a significant loss in the breeds’ genetic diversity. To ensure that the genetic variation in the breed does not recede to a detrimental level, breeding policies need to be altered.

In future, it is vital that sire family sizes become more balanced, giving all stallions a better opportunity to breed their own replacements in the next generation. This would help to control the level of inbreeding and genetic diversity within the population.

The stallions used for breeding are closely related to each other and tend to be of similar ancestry or breeding lines. From a genetic diversity perspective it may be advantageous to have a pool of breeding stallions that are less related to each other to bestow a variety of genes to the proceeding generations.

As relationships among animals in the present population is high the mating of related animals is inevitable. Breeders must be very vigilant in respect to the stallions that they use for breeding to ensure that a minimal amount of inbreeding is practised.

There are 16 different countries, outside Ireland, that have formed their own Breeders’ Societies and maintain their own stud books. A study is presently being undertaken to characterise the Connemara Pony populations in a number of these countries. It is hoped that these animals may be a source of genetic variability that could be used to widen the gene pool of the Irish Connemara Pony population.

Adequate genetic diversity is vital for the long term health and viability of any population. Thus, it is vital that breeding practices are altered in order to secure the future prosperity of the Connemara Pony breed.'

Sadly this advice does not appear to have been taken on board by the majority of the ruling elite within the pony breeding community worldwide, not just in Ireland.  

Analysis of the genetics of the Connemara pony in all of the countries where the ponies are bred is presently underway.  If the issue of  over used bloodlines and stallions is not addressed then we can expect to see the incidence of new emerging genetic disorders to rise.   

HWSS is potentially the 'canary in the mine' - an indicator of what is to come for the breed if fundamental changes are not made now, about the selection of breeding stock to reduce the level of in-breeding.  Over use of popular or fashionable stallions is the leading cause in-breeding and subsequent population decline.  

There has to be a shift in outlook from just breeding the next generation, to looking as to what will happen in three to five generations, if this breed is to survive in a healthy state for future pony owners and breeders to enjoy.

The results of this work to date can be read on the new website Connemara Pony Genetics International  Comments and questions on the presented papers is encouraged and contributions for publication are invited.

Another new site has also recently been started Connemara Pony Breeders/Producers of Ireland, Chat & Debate where hopefully discussions of importance will not be censored as has happened in the past on other sites.