Friday, 11 December 2015

Be Afraid - Be Very Afraid

If you are one of the Connemara pony breeders who still refuses to accept that HWSD is a reality, and that all breeders have a moral and ethical responsibility to gene test their breeding stock, then you may wish to change your stance.

Here is a real life scenario, it is going to be happening soon.  A dealer in France, who imported Irish bred Connemara ponies is now being sued by a purchaser, because the pony which they had bought from this dealer, has since been diagnosed (and tested) with HWSD.  This court case is due to be heard in January 2016.

'Not my problem'?  Think again.  

  • If you rely on overseas buyers for your ponies, what is going to happen to your market?  
  • If you are an Irish dealer who buys up job lots from farmers and breeders for export 'to anywhere', what is going to happen to your market??
  • If you sell (even unintentionally) an untested pony which then tests HWSD/HWSD what are you going to do about it?  
  • What are your moral/ethical obligations, if not the legal obligations under consumer law?

Each country has its own domestic laws which cover consumer rights, fair trading and definitions of 'fit for purpose'.  These such laws do not cross the borders between one country and another.

HOWEVER decisions made in the law courts of any one country are known as 'precedents' and play a part in the setting of  'case law'.  Rulings from France (in this particular instance) can be used in the courts of another jurisdiction as a precedent to support a law suit.
To put it simply, if the purchaser wins the court case in France against the dealer, then that decision is a precedent which can be used in the courts of law in another country.

Then there is the issue that the French dealer, who if they lose the court case, is going to try for recompense from the Irish person who sold that dealer the HWSD pony/ies in the first place (and yes there are cases where a person has purchased several ponies which all turned out to be HWSD affected).  The potential for a 'knock on' effect becomes an interesting conundrum on which to reflect,

Is this 'knock on' effect possible?  Yes it is.  Most people, and probably most domestic lawyers, are unaware of the United Nations Convention on Contracts for the International Sale of Goods (CISG). If a person has the will and the money to pay for legal advice it is quite possible for inter-country law suits to occur.

A slight change of direction but still entirely relevant to this post.

VALE For Fairyhill Flame

Two weeks ago Fairyhill Flame (Monaghanstown Fionn-Kingstown Fairy)  was euthanased on quality of life and welfare issues directly caused by HWSD.  Flame was purchased by a person in Scotland from a dealer in Ireland.  This pony, is the third pony from the same source that the CPRG is aware of, which has tested HWSD/HWSD . Two out of the three have had to be euthanased.

It is not the place of this blog to 'name and shame' but it is the place for the CPRG to repeat the advice that if you are buying ponies, especially from Ireland, to have them HWSD tested before you complete the deal.

IF you choose to not have the test as part of a pre-purchase agreement and then the pony does turn out to be HWSD affected, then more fool you.

One of the 'French' ponies is sired by a stallion bred by one of the 'leading lights' of the CPBS.   Maybe this is but one reason, why the council has been so backward about coming forward on this issue and have blocked and prevaricated since the beginning.

That this recent reportage now raises the number of carrier ponies owned and/or bred by members of the the Clifden clique to above the expected  penetrance level of the mutation in the wider population certainly raises issues.


  • Do not wait until 'someone' (ie breed society) says you have to test your ponies for HWSD. 
  • Get in first 
  • Use the test as a market advantage. 
  • If you get a carrier pony don't take this as a personal insult.
  • Not acknowledging the presence of HWSD is a personal shame.

Monday, 5 October 2015

Hoof Wall Separation Disease Updated Statistics October 2015

Hoof Wall Separation Disease Update

The latest statistics from the HWSD testing performed by VGL Davis have just been released. These figures cover six months from March 2015 to October 2015. As there are now three time periods covered – effectively a 12 month period - this information has been combined to provide an overview both internationally and by individual country. The information is now sufficient that trends and interpretation can be drawn from the data.
This raw data from has been converted into graphs and charts to make the information more easily accessible. A short synopsis follows each of the graphs.

The first chart shows the total number of ponies tested since August 2014:

In the initial six weeks after the test became available the lab tested a large number of ponies in a very short space of time. After this the demand dropped away. Testing increased rapidly in the March to October tranche – as this tranche corresponds with the time after the HWSD meeting held during the Spring Festival, one can only surmise that the attendees at this meeting went away with a greater understanding of the need to test breeding ponies for HWSD.
Even with the increased number of ponies being tested, it is interesting to note that the percentage of carrier and affected ponies in the greater population, remains relatively steady. This is the type of information which becomes both more accessible (and useful) as more data becomes available.
On the VGL website page it states At the time that this test was released, approximately 15% of Connemara were carriers of HWSD (N/HWSD) however, the number of carriers can change with each generation. “
Be aware that this figure of 15% was extrapolated from the population used for the HWSD research at Bannasch. The research population itself was biased, by virtue of the fact that as many affected ponies and their relatives made up the research cohort. Also important was the geographical origin/residence of the ponies from which samples were submitted. The carrier percentage across all countries, which is now becoming apparent, is in line with what the pedigree research initially suggested.
Some countries are showing a very much higher carrier rate than the average; this could be the result of owners realising which bloodlines appear to be a concern and then selectively testing ponies from those bloodlines. However the pedigree research indicated that with these particular countries, there was always going to be a higher carrier and affected rate because of the initial animals imported (and in some cases also subsequent imports) on which the breed was founded.
This difference of carrier rates between countries is best illustrated by the following:

The differences with the affected rates between countries is not so obvious because in many cases owners are not choosing to test ponies with obvious/known hoof pathologies. Some of the affected ponies which have been tested, and show up in the graph, will be the direct result of enquiries made to the Connemara Pony Research Group asking for advice – the given advice being 'test for HWSD and make sure that is what you are dealing with'.
France and Ireland fall outside of this above parameter, so sadly some owners in both of these countries may have been somewhat shocked to receive the test results on their ponies

Each country is listed below showing the number of ponies tested and the distribution and ratios of N/N, N/HWSD and HWSD/HWSD. The carrier and affected percentages are shown in a second graph.


Australian breeders embraced HWSD testing from the very beginning and have one of the highest uptakes of the test in the world relative to the size of the overall population. The incidence of HWSD in Australia is relatively low which is in line with the initial pedigree research.
The carrier rate remains constant across all of the tranches. This would indicate that from the number of ponies already tested the likelihood that 12% or lower will be the carrier rate in the Australian population at present. This level has the potential to drop without the loss of genetic diversity through careful breeding choices for future generations.


Ponies from the Canadian population featured highly in the research into the HWSD mutation and release of the HWSD genetic test. Therefore the impression given by the initial uptake of the the HWSD test, relative to the population size in Canada, appearing to be low results in a false picture of the reality. The steady decline in numbers tested since the beginning also paints an inaccurate picture of the true situation. The number of actual breeders in Canada is very low compared to other countries as is the number of ponies being produced. The number of ponies actually being bred at present is also low. The assumption could be made therefore, that the breeders are selectively testing current breeding stock which was not part of the research and whose status is not already known.

The percentage of carriers in a such a small population is high. This is hardly surprising because it was in Canada that the whole issue of HWSD began to be openly discussed. For those who are unaware the HWSD issue was first PUBLICLY raised in Canada after the importation of two stallions and five mares (to expand the limited gene pool in that country) resulted in 100% HWSD affected foals when mated to each other. Both stallions and all of the mares were HWSD carriers; one stallion each from the UK and Ireland and the mares from Ireland, the UK and the USA.


Denmark saw an initial flurry of testing with a subsequent drop-off.
The carrier rate in Denmark is high, as expected from the initial pedigree research.


Finland was slow to commence testing but is showing a steady increase in the number of ponies being tested. The high relative carrier rate in the October tranche suggest that several ponies from 'suspect lines' were the first to be tested.

Because of the high initial 'hit rate' of carrier results the graph for Finland appears quite skewed. Also because there are only two sets of data listed further testing will result in a more accurate picture of the HWSD status within the Finnish population. Finland shares a high level of common blood with the ponies of Scandinavian countries. It would be expected that the carrier rates in Finland will reflect those of these other countries.


France presents an interesting picture! There was virtually no interest in HWSD testing or indeed the disease itself, prior to the March meeting at Clifden. Only one sample was submitted from France for the HWSD research so the 'situation' in France was unknown to the researchers; there was concern that France would be sitting on a 'time-bomb' with the influx of cheap imports from Ireland. The one sample submitted was from such an imported pony and he is an affected pony. Much of the awareness now about HWSD in France is the result of hard work by a very small number of individuals working in the face of much opposition.
The carrier and affected rates in France is skewed once again, this time by the large increase in the number of ponies in a single tranche. Testing has revealed that several Irish bred stallions either resident in France or previously resident there, are HWSD carriers. Several of the top performing and producing French bred stallions have also been tested as carriers of the HWSD mutation. The published results are on the HWSD blog tested ponies results page.

A large number (over 270) of the German ponies were involved in the HWSD research which led to the test becoming available. As a result the HWSD status of these ponies is already known so the 'low uptake' of testing in Germany as shown by these figures is inaccurate. It would appear reasonable to assume that testing is being selectively applied to current breeding stock not part of the research.

The carrier rate  tends to reflect the intermingling of the different lines from all over Europe and imports from Ireland.

Great Britain including Northern Ireland

A large proportion of the ponies being tested under the banner of Great Britain are from Northern Ireland. The VGL recording system does not differentiate between the post codes. (one can hardly expect this). This anomaly does result in a misleading graph. Of the ponies not from Northern Ireland that are being tested a high proportion are imports from Ireland. Very few of the British results are from British bred ponies. The high number of affected ponies is a direct reflection of the ponies which have been imported from Ireland that then proceed to display HWSD hoof pathology with their new owners.

Carrier and affected rates are skewed by the true demographics of the tested population which is not geographically accurate.


The total number of tested ponies – although steadily increasing – is woefully inadequate considering the size of the Connemara pony population in Ireland. As can be seen, the rate of carrier and affected test results is also steadily rising. This information gives, to the discerning breeder, a reinforcement as to why breeding stock should all be tested.
The carrier and affected rates follow relatively the same gradient. Initial pedigree research indicated that the expected carrier rate in the Irish population would be in excess of 40%. There is insufficient data, because of such low testing numbers, to determine whether these rates will continue to trend upwards as expected.

New Zealand and Norway have not been graphed.

The volume of data on these countries is not sufficient for graphing purposes. New Zealand has not tested any further ponies since the previous report in March 2015. A large number of the New Zealand population contributed samples to the HWSD research, so their status is already known without undergoing VGL testing. Norway has only data from the latest tranche.

The data from Norway is as follows:

TRANCHE N/N N/HWSD HWSD/HWSD Grand Total % of Carriers % of Affected Country
Mar/Oct15 4 1
5 20.0 0.0 Norway

The Netherlands

The Netherlands has a small population of 'home bred' Connemara ponies. Also as there is only two of the tranches logged as no testing occurred during the first the data is incomplete. There is a slight increase in ponies tested between the separate groupings of the past 12 months.
The Netherlands shares common bloodlines with the rest of Europe especially those of Denmark. This reflection is apparent in the relatively high carrier rate.


Sweden shows a consistent number of ponies being tested in the past 12 months. There has been a noticeable increase in the level of carriers tested. This could be a direct result of the results published on the HWSD blog page; owners/breeders making the decision to test solely because of the bloodlines published in the results.

The carrier rate for Sweden was always predicted, by the initial pedigree research, as going to be high. The high carrier rate reflects the bloodlines which were initially imported to found the breed in Sweden. Subsequent imports from various countries have compounded the issue. As a greater number of ponies are tested, the expectation is that the carrier rate will rise in this country. Both the endemic population and recent imports have high carrier potential. Extreme care is needed to prevent this situation becoming worse.

United States of America

The USA is the leading country overall, for the numbers of ponies that they have had tested for HWSD. Considering that the population of the breed in the USA is minuscule compared to that of Ireland, the UK and France, the American breeders deserve a big pat on the back! Initially there was a goodly number of ponies tested, which then dropped to half of the initial tranche. There is slight increase in the latest tranche over the previous period.
The carrier population in the USA is interesting and rather unique. Research shows that the HWSD mutation came into the USA with the first wave of imports from Ireland; two in foal mares, which both went on to produce dynasties of top performers, through multiple progeny. Subsequent imports in recent times from Ireland, Australia and the UK have raised the carrier rate as to that which is evident and depicted in the graph.

The level of reporting of test results lags significantly behind than the testing rates.  Where tests are publicly reported it is obvious that owners are acting selectively about which tests they choose to share. There is a higher reportage of  N/N results than that of the other two options which results in skewing public perception to accept that HWSD is of a lesser significance than is truly the case.

Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Videos on HWSD are now on YouTube

The video recordings of Dr Carrie Finno and Ray Knightley from the August 2014 meeting at Clifden are now 'live' on YouTube
The Connemara Pony Research Group now has its own YouTube channel and this is where these talks can be found.

Other information is that there has now been more than 5,000 hits made on the Tested Ponies Results page since it commenced in September 2014.

The total number of hits on this blog now stands at 63,266!

Pageviews by Countries

Graph of most popular countries among blog viewers
United States
United Kingdom
New Zealand

Monday, 11 May 2015

Analysis of the latest HWSD test results from VGL Davis

The Veterinary Genetics Laboratory of  UC Davis has forwarded the HWSD test results covering 23 October 2014 to 4 March 2015.

Using the raw data supplied by VGL the CPRG makes the following report.

Sadly the momentum of the first 6 weeks of testing has not been maintained. In the first flush of the test being available, 400 ponies were tested. In the six months following, the number has dropped to 264 ponies tested.

It is now quite obvious and incontrovertible that the countries producing the largest number of ponies are the poorest performers with regards to HWSD testing of ponies.

The fall off in testing is demonstrated by the following chart:

The two comparative charts demonstrates the country variables.

Please note that changes in scale occur relative to the data range in each individual chart.

This means that one cannot just compare the 'visual pattern' between one chart and the next.

A secondary issue requiring clarification is the reporting rate of test results. This varies from country to country

It is quite obvious that there are more ponies being tested than for which any information is being publicly listed by the owners. Of course there is a fundamental right of privacy for pony owners.

Below is a an overall view of reporting rates. The reporting rate is established by comparing the number of ponies listed on the CPRG tested ponies page, to the number of ponies tested at VGL. 
So the total number ponies tested is over six hundred.  Across all the countries the reporting level is 53%  of ponies tested with the median slightly higher.

Each country is then charted and shows the testing statistics for the period September 2014 to 4 March 2015 as two separate cohorts. Status notification equates to reporting rates as previously explained.

With only three ponies tested in France it is very easy to get 100% reporting!!

One of the issues facing all responsible breeders is the carrier rate WITHIN discrete populations. As stated from the beginning of  HWSD research, the carrier rate is reflective of the original ponies imported into any particular country and any subsequent importations.


What this data illustrates is that the uptake of HWSD testing of breeding stock is far lower than what is required for the ongoing safety of the breed.  Some countries have been much more proactive in testing for HWSD.  These countries are also the ones which, on a numerical basis have to be considered to be 'minority' populations.

The 'big three', Ireland, France and the UK have really abysmal testing rates; both individual breeders and the breed societies in these countries, really need to have a good hard look at themselves and their motivations as to why they are not testing.

Until there is a larger population of ponies tested, the carrier population does remain 'biased'. However even with the limited information already available, between the two tested cohorts for which there is information, the drop in the carrier level is only minimal.  
This is a concern.

The majority of the test results being reported are for N/N ponies.  Only one country, New Zealand, has reported all of the tested carrier ponies.  

It is very obvious that the reporting of carrier or affected status ponies is at a rate very much lower than the actual number being tested.  

The raw data is as follows:

HWSD DNA Testing Statistics - 10/23/2014 - 03/04/2015

By Country N/N N/HWSD HWSD/HWSD Grand Total
Australia 29 4
Canada 7 2
Germany 14 4
Denmark 8 2
Finland 12 7
France 1

Great Britain 21 10 1 32
Ireland 25 5
The Netherlands 15 5 1 21
New Zealand 2

Sweden 25 14 1 40
United States 39 9 1 49
Grand Total 198 62 4 264

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

SERPINB11 Frameshift Variant Associated with Novel Hoof Specific Phenotype in Connemara Ponies

The peer reviewed research paper on HWSD has now been published.

This is the peer review that the president of the ICCPS and the CPBS Council required before these august bodies would act in any positive manner with regards to the issue of  HWSD.

The CPBS wanted proof that HWSD is in fact a real disease before they formulated a breeding plan.

Now logic would dictate that any 'breeding plans' should have already been ready for discussion, immediately that the CPBS and ICCPS demands for peer review were fulfilled.  

So, what IS the much vaunted 'breeding plan' for the future of the Connemara pony?  Where can it be read?  When is the discussion going to happen?

Discussion from all stakeholders is needed before any decisions are made about 'breeding plans' which have the potential to either reduce the carrier incidence of HWSD or alternatively  contribute to the demise of the Connemara pony totally.

Sadly, history demonstrates that the latter is more likely to occur than the former.  The over selection of specific bloodlines and the subsequent loss of genetic diversity, as the result of the inspection process, is a major contributor to the rising incidence of HWSD in the international Connemara pony genepool.

The continuation of such practices as selection through inspection, is only likely to increase the likelihood of other genetic diseases arising in the breed.  If genetic diversity is not encouraged in the here and now, then the future for the breed is grim and increasingly at risk.

Exclusion of carrier ponies and affected females from the breeding herd will spell doomsday.

Had the CPBS and the ICCPS not had their collective heads deeply buried in the sand for the past five years, then  they would have already had productive discussions with stakeholders and have also some kind of plan mapped out, if not ready to implement.

As robustly evidenced at the recent meeting at Clifden on the 28 March 2015 the 'powers that be' are still in denial mode.

C'est la vie.

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

HWSD Meeting, Station House Hotel Theatre, Clifden. 3pm 28 March 2015

HWSD Meeting, 
Station House Hotel Theatre, 
3pm 28 March 2015

There have been multiple requests, via social media, for this meeting to be repeated at other venues in Ireland, however logistics and time constraints of the speakers makes this very difficult to arrange.

As a result the organiser is attempting to arrange for live streaming for this meeting.  

Because of connectivity issues there will be only a limited number of link-ups available.  

The present idea is that several 'meeting hubs' will be arranged in reasonably central locations in other parts of Ireland, where people can then gather to watch the meeting.  It is also hoped that there will be facility for limited interaction to the meeting, via IM for, the people at the 'hubs'.

It is possible that people in countries other than Ireland could also  be linked to the live stream using the same concept of  a centralised venue.

Expressions of interest from countries other than Ireland should be made to the CPRG email account:   Remove ( ) before sending email.

In addition to Kate Murray (MRCVS) speaking about the background and veterinary perspective of HWSD as previously advertised, Sheila Ramsay will also be speaking at the meeting and presenting the latest information on the pedigree research.

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Now we have the HWSD test this becomes very relevant. An edited version of an December 2011 post.

As people are getting their ponies tested for HWSD some of them are getting shocks at the results they are receiving. Feelings of  devastation and guilt, that maybe they have innocently helped to spread the problem further through the population, are not uncommon.

"Genetic Diseases in dogs and cats; What can we really do about them?"  (Robson, Mark. Vetscript, June 2009, page 6. Wellington, New Zealand)

What relevance does a paper on dogs and cats have to the issue of HWSD in ponies?  
Whatever the species, the principles of breeding sound, disease free animals is the same.  One of the comments Robson makes is that "one thing we have learned from dealing with breeders for many years is that logic does not often come into decision making".
Robson believes breeders are driven by the three 'Es': ego, emotion and economics. He goes onto express the opinion that for many breeders, the prestige of winning will overcome any long-term concerns genetic problems may cause in their dog's health.  Ego takes precedence over common sense.  Strong words?  Yes, but think about it.

The thought that years of hard work and breeding has resulted in the appearance of a genetic defect is very difficult for anyone to accept.  Denial is going to happen, it is a normal human response and is in fact the manner by which an individual's mental health is maintained until such time as they can cope appropriately with the challenge placed before them.  Also consider the scenario where all the animals on a property are afflicted. The defect is seen as 'normal' for the people who deal with the animals on an everyday basis and they actually cannot see that there is a problem, until it is pointed out by an uninvolved third party.

Years spent breeding a line of animals with a particular appearance (type) which then turns up with a genetic defect is emotionally painful as well as a blow to the ego.  "Emotion may cloud a breeder's judgement and he or she may breed from favourites even when there is mounting evidence of ill-health in the line." (Robson).

People who know that there is a problem within their breed (for example in specific dogs breeds  such as British Bulldogs or HYPP positive  horses) but who choose to continue to breed affected and afflicted animals are not 'in denial' from a mental health perspective.   Choosing to  continue to breed from these lines  is  considered to be more likely to be made on economic grounds.  Robson then goes onto say "where large numbers of animals are bred, concerns about individual animals and any genetic defects are lost in the herd mentality where the dollars are the primary endpoint" and is referring in this case to 'puppy mills'.  The equivalent to 'puppy mills' are found in horse breeding worldwide.
It is not all doom and gloom though.  Many horse and pony breeds do now have genetic screening tests available for known genetic problems. To reduce the incidence in the population they require the results to be recorded on registration papers.   With some breeds and species a single copy of  a mutated gene is considered to be an asset, but active doubling up of the gene is strenuously avoided (for example the double muscling gene in breeds of beef cattle and sheep).   In most cases involving  horses  (as opposed to commercial food animals) the work to find out what these mutations actually are, has been both led and driven by the people most affected - the breeders who have had the misfortune to inadvertently breed affected ponies; this is certainly the case with the HWSD research.

Some countries now consider that breeding animals with a known genetic defect to be an Animal Welfare Issue, dictating that to do so is an offence under that country's legislation.  Now that the genetic link has been proven for HWSD, breeders within such jurisdictions will need to be assured of the HWSD status of any ponies which they may wish to sell or purchase in the future; to not do so could make  them  vulnerable to possible litigation.

A very important take home message is that any N/HWSD pony of breeding quality and selected HWSD/HWSD breeding quality ponies MUST NOT BE EXCLUDED FROM BREEDING.  If these ponies are excluded from the breeding population some of the best performance lines will become endangered.