If any of you are even remotely involved in breeding, you’ve probably heard about Warmblood Fragile Foal Syndrome. It’s a relatively recently-discovered genetic defect found mainly in warmbloods, and is fatal to all affected foals. Over the past year or so warmblood breeders (well the responsible ones anyway) have been testing their stock to check for carriers. WFFS is recessive, so lots of horses can be carriers and be completely unaffected, but breeding two carriers together results in a 25% chance of an affected foal. For breeders this is a big deal, since obviously you don’t want to breed two carriers and risk getting an affected foal that won’t be viable. There is still a lot of widespread testing being done, but the initial estimate was that between 6-12% of the warmblood population are carriers, and the current trend is more toward the higher end of that.
Several of the warmblood registries have moved quickly to require stallion owners to test and submit the results of their stallions, so that it can be public knowledge. Most mare owners are doing the same as well, to identify any possible carriers amid their own stock. My friend Michelle at Willow Tree Warmbloods wanted to test her mares for WFFS of course, but rather than opting for just that test, she decided to go “all in” and get a full genetic panel of each of her mares from Elaton Diagnostics.
It tests a wide range of each horse’s genetic makeup, from their color genes to their susceptibility to West Nile Virus, the presence of alleles that could lead to metabolic issues, roaring, lordosis, laminitis risk, Uveitis risk, etc. I guess the easiest comparison would be to think of it as an equine version of 23 and me.
Of course, some of this research is more confirmed, while some is still in “discovery” stage and the information may not be super reliable yet. All of the details and reliability are broken down on this page. Researchers have even found genes relating to temperament, gaits, and speed (all explained here). If you’re a nerd, it’s SUPER interesting.
Michelle has a wide range of mares that she tested, from traditional european warmbloods, to ponies, to a stock horse, to a full TB, to a half TB, to an Irish sporthorse. It’s possible that I spent a while paging through the results and trying to interpret what all of it might mean. To give you an idea of just how much is included on each horse:
It’s A LOT! And admittedly, I had to google several things because I had no idea what the heck it was.
But let’s start in the easiest place, with the color results. Chestnut is recessive, so all the chestnut mares obviously only have two red genes. The bay/black mares were more interesting, seeing who has a red hidden in there… only one of them is homozygous black (that would be Inca), the rest all carry red and could produce a chestnut foal with another red carrier. Some of them have a genetic predisposition to produce more white markings, as well. The most interesting result from all of the color stuff (to me anyway) was this note on the Irish Sporthorse mare’s panel.
Even the ponies and stock horse mare didn’t have anything like “non-dun primitive markings” show up. Is it from the Irish Draught part of her lineage maybe? Interesting!
For a lot of the stuff under the health category, horses can have a couple of alleles (or even more, in some cases) present without actually being affected by said thing at all. This is NOT a diagnostic, in any way, but merely showing where there might be more genetic susceptibility.
A couple of mares showed a slightly higher susceptibility to West Nile, for example. The one with the fewest alleles present on any of the stuff in the health category was Peyton, the full TB mare.
She is the only full TB mare in the bunch, so I’m kind of interested in seeing what other TB mares might look like in comparison. For a TB she has relatively little inbreeding (only Nijinsky II), which I also wonder how much that contributes to how all this stuff shakes out.
Luckily nothing major showed up in any of the mares as far as being carriers, everyone is WFFS n/n, and it’s good information to know which ones might show slightly more genetic susceptibility to certain things. Not only does it make you a little bit more informed as a horse owner, it’s obviously important in a breeding program as well. Of course, like I said earlier, some of the test results are known to be more reliable than others, but still… more information can’t be a bad thing.
I admit, even though I own two geldings I’d be super curious to see their results as well. It doesn’t matter for the breeding side of things, but I would definitely like to know if they show markers for metabolic issues, or are more predisposed to vision issues or roaring or laminitis or West Nile or anything like that. Seems like really good information to have!
In case anyone else out there is interested in the service, Michelle did report that Etalon was super helpful and easy to work with. She’s got a call lined up with them later to ask some questions and get more details about certain things (especially what the stuff in the performance category really means!). I’m super intrigued to hear more.
Would y’all find something like this to be interesting and valuable for your own horses?