Sunday, 19 October 2008

Dog breeders bad, horse breeders good?

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The Crufts, Kennel Club, RSPCA, BBC row has brought the whole pedigree issue into question. And horse owners can't just sit back and spectate. The BHS may think they are immune from criticism with the Queen as Patron, but she is also Patron of the RSPCA. The Establishment connections are working both ways this time. Tradition hasn't saved the Kennel Club, it won't save the BHS. We are actually going to have to look at what is being done in our name. The BHS claims to represent all horseowners. Well if they claim to represent me, they can take a moral stand, starting right now.

Inbreeding, genetic problems, freaks for the show ring. Nothing to do with horses then.

Contrast two breeders websites, one for Corgis and one for Arabian horses. The Corgi website recommends "probably the safest and best route for a novice breeder is what is called the "Brackett Breeding" (for Lloyd Brackett of German Shepherd fame in the 50's): Where the male selected is himself an outstanding specimen, nearly faultless, and has such progenitors: "Let the sire of the sire be the grandsire of the dam, on the dam's side." The Arab website recommends, "Ruminaja Ali, bred by Russell and Mildred Jameson of Ranch Ruminaja, was foaled on May 11, 1976. His pedigree, a judicious blending of the “new” Egyptian imports to the United States, was a reflection of that old horseman’s adage, “Let the sire of the sire be the grandsire of the dam.”

For Dogs and Horses the recommendation is "Let the Sire of the Sire Be the Grandsire of the Dam." Sounds OK till you put it in English. Uncle mates with Niece. This is illegal in England and you will be in court for INCEST.

Steve Jones, Professor of Genetics at University College London, told the BBC: “People are carrying out breeding which would be first of all entirely illegal in humans and secondly is absolutely insane from the point of view of the health of the animals. In some breeds they are paying a terrible, terrible price in genetic disease.”

This obsession with bloodlines and their purity is not just damaging our pets, it is damaging us. We are continuing the apartheid system, mimicing the bigotry in "To kill a mockingbird" and echoing Hitler's ludicrous "Race Hygiene" nonsense.

I am not against breeding for type, if you want a child's pony, choosing a nice natured stallion of the right size, with good feet and nice paces to mate with a similar mare makes sense. But the minute you add a breed society with closed bloodlines, incest seems to be the result, and the horrors of genetic disease follow.

Here is a comment about Fell Ponies. "I think a major stumbling block too is that so many Fells are interrelated to a very large degree. At its most extreme, my first Fell was the product of a brother and sister mating (not accidental!). When you think that a pony may begin to breed at the age of 3-4 and go on until 25, it makes detangling things hard from sheer volume."

Fell ponies were being deliberately mated to their siblings and today Fell foal syndrome, a genetic condition,kills between 10% and 20% of Fell foals. Once they are diagnosed they tend to be put down as it is depressing watching their gradual death over a couple of months. Follow this link to Fell Pony 2000, the charity that is sponsoring research. But the Fell Pony Society appears to suggest carry on breeding with the same restricted bloodlines.

Dwarfism is rife in Miniature Horses, foals with huge heads and deformed feet, cow hocks, parrot mouths and all, continue to be born. We don't see them, because they can't be shown. Hiding disabilities doesn't solve the problem, it saves embarrassment which is a very different thing. But look at this report which has the courage to show what breeding for miniature actually means.

Arabian horse breeders have a charity looking at the genetic conditions that affect their pure breed. Here is a list.
"S.C.I.D. (COMBINED IMMUNODEFICIENCY) SCID is a lethal disease of Arabian foals inherited as an autosomal recessive. Lacking a competent immune system, SCID foals succumb before five months of age to massive infection, primarily of the respiratory tract. An affected foal provides evidence of carrier status of both parents. A DNA test is now available.

OCCIPITAL-ATLANTO-AXIAL MALFORMATION=OAAM This is a condition of the nervous system that ranges from a lack of coordination of voluntary muscular movements to the paralysis of both front and rear legs. Vertebrae fuse together in the neck and fuse to the base of the skull as well. Foals often cannot stand to nurse or the symptoms may not be seen for several weeks.

CEREBELLAR DISEASE=CEREBELLAR ABIOTROPHY Degeneration of the granular layer of the cerebellum portion of the brain causes a lack of coordination, a lack of balance and head tremors. Symptoms generally do not occur until the foal is several weeks old. The gait (movements) become exaggerated and the legs are placed wide-apart to stand at rest. Early indications include crashing into fences and falling over backwards.

DILUTE LETHAL=LAVENDER Brain lesions cause behavior that is frequently consistent to when the brain is denied oxygen a birth. Foals are often the result of a difficult birth, are unable to stand and nurse, have rigidity in their joints and may have rapid eye movements. Coat color is a dull gray and the skin tends to be an unhealthy pink color; hence, lavender. These foals die."

The problem is increasing in Arabs, and genetic problems tied to a closed gene pool and an enthusiasm for incest, spell disaster.

I suppose the most depressing stuff is on the Thoroughbred. Caslicks Procedure is a routine operation to stitch up the vulva to stop infection. Read that back to yourself. Female Genital Mutilation is routine in the horse that is supposed to represent all that is best about English Horsemanship. Thoroughbreds breeders are intensely proud of their restricted gene pool. But it is the horse that pays. Here is the technical stuff on why it is done.

The more severe conformational abnormalities are more likely to result in failure of the vulval seal, and to increased faecal contamination since the vulva forms a shelf on to which faeces may collect. The vulval lips may be angled at 25 degrees or even 50 degrees to the vertical in these cases.

Dr Caslick (a French veterinarian) in the 1930's first pointed out the importance of this condition in relation to genital infection in Thoroughbred mares. Interestingly, it is most commonly found in Thoroughbreds, and, in the author's experience, is almost unknown in Shires and native ponies.

The major and most concerning factor that governs the effectiveness of the three seals is the conformation of the mare. The ideal conformation is achieved if 80% of the vulva lies below the pelvic floor. A simple test can be used to assess this: If a sterile plastic tube is inserted through the vulva into the vagina and allowed to rest horizontally on the vagina floor, the amount of vulva lying below this tube should be approximately 80% in a well-conformed mare.

If the mare's pelvis is too low, then the vulva tends to fall toward the horizontal plane. This not only reduces the effectiveness of the vulval seal, but it also sets the anus back from the vulva (see the photo above). This opens up the vulva to contamination by feces, increasing the risk of uterine infection.

A mare with naturally poor conformation generally has a low pelvis. This is most often seen in performance mares or Thoroughbred mares, as the hindquarter musculature required for athletic excellence tends to be associated with a low pelvis and high croup, which predispose a mare to a sloping vulva.

As might be expected, there is a finite number of times that a Caslick's operation can be performed, as the vulval lips become more fibrotic with time, and harder to cut and resuture. It is possible in theory to perform a more recently developed procedure, the Pouret operation, on mares where a Caslick's operation is increasingly difficult to perform. This attempts to realign the mare's vulva and anus, but it is a much more major and complicated procedure and, therefore, is rarely practiced.

The finite number of times a Caslick's operation can be performed obviously limits some mares' breeding careers of some mares. Hence, carrying out a Caslick's operation on a mare before it is really required, i.e., as a safeguard, is not advised if she is destined to be a career broodmare. If the mare is older and/or is intended to produce only a few foals, then the long-term consequences of a Caslick's operation are less important.

Apart from potentially limiting a mare's breeding career, another consideration is that the perineal and general conformation that predispose a mare to reproductive tract infections is inherited. Mares with poor perineal conformation are very likely to pass that poor conformation on to any filly foals and, hence, on to subsequent generations, perpetuating the trait within the population.

There is, therefore, a welfare consideration to make when performing a Caslick's operation. The equine industry has to decide whether the shorter-term financial gain of selecting breeding stock purely for athletic performance should be at the expense of the longer-term detrimental effect on reproductive ability and equine welfare.

This is the link to the technical stuff above

A mare with naturally poor conformation generally has a low pelvis. This is most often seen in performance mares or Thoroughbred mares, as the hindquarter musculature required for athletic excellence tends to be associated with a low pelvis and high croup, which predispose a mare to a sloping vulva.

Read that passage again. Naturally poor conformation is most often seen in performance mares or Thoroughbred mares. And we think the Kennel Club has problems. Just what is being done in our name?

Incest is not only damaging genetically. We are destroying an essential characteristic of their natural behaviour by forcing them to commit incest. " In horses, it was clearly shown that the causes for female dispersal were incest avoidance and not intra-specific competition (Monard, 1996). As a rule, this is confirmed for mammal species where tenure length by males exceeds the age at first reproduction in females (Clutton-Brock, 1989). When horses are allowed to choose their mating partner freely, the inbreeding coefficient of the offspring is lower than expected should they mate randomly (Duncan et al, 1984). See the full article

The horse is a product of its environment and for the last 5,000 years man has been a major part of that environment, but that doesn't give us a right to force incest on an animal that naturally avoids incest. It doesn't give us a right to impose breeding policies that reflect English 17th Century class structures. The American and French revolutions drove England to defend and glorify their class structure and their belief that breeding is all. The Thoroughbred, the Pedigree dogs all derive from a frightened aristocracy trying to shore up their God given powers. Why do we respect this nonsense?

For those deformed miniatures, the dying Fell pony foals, the genitally mutilated Thoroughbreds, you can truly say "Breeding is all!" And the RSPCA are only worried about dog breeding. Why in the 21st Century is any organisation insisting that race, and class and pure bloodlines are what matter. Try saying it to people and you would be locked up.

If all this pure bloodline stuff is so good the BHS must stand next to the Kennel Club and defend them. Otherwise it is time for some serious stable cleaning.

Out with closed bloodlines, out with Incest, breed female racehorses that have conformation as females, not surgically enhanced mutants.

Why not just have fun with your ponies, horses, mules, donkeys, whatever. Give it a go, it's great.

Please go to , my new website covering the saddlechariot/iBex and it's uses. This is where you will also find links to all my articles on training, safety, vehicle design and even the weird stuff on cooking and politics.
My new contact details are
and my phone number is +44 7510 736 518



Wow that was quite the crash course..Humans sure love to overdue a good thing don't they?
If a little bit is good then tons of it must be better.

I blame our ancestral DNA, you know the code that makes Chimpanzees try to carry 25 bananas instead of 10...they keep piling them on and watching them fall off...over and over.

Certainly more people are familiar with Dog breeds that have been that have been totally wrecked from the interbreeding...just because we come into more contact with Dogs than Horses.

Thanks for the visit and for your well reasoned and researched posting.

Ken said...

Plato, in his Republic, wanted to get political leaders from a breeding program. The idea never got off the ground. I don't think. Maybe it did. Maybe that's part of our problem.

Ken Harris

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