Warmblood Fragile Foal Syndrome

(and the ethics of the market place)

This will just be a quick piece which I hope helps my fellow breeders to put this newest breeding challenge: Warmblood Fragile Foal Syndrome, commonly referred to as WFFS, into perspective.

Recently Hill Top Farm published that they removed some of their stock from breeding, and they gave the reason why they did this. Up until this responsible operation stepped up and took the laudable action of removing carriers of this disease and educating their warmblood customers on this threat there was an industry wide silence on this issue. 

I don't breed warmbloods anymore, instead I breed sport horses in our 300 plus year old American tradition, and I felt the fact of this defect surfacing in a population was to be expected. But my fellow breeders kept drawing me in and it was then I noticed that it was not the purveyors of these genetics that alerted their customers about this dangerous condition in their product, instead it was an American breeder that pulled the curtain back--that fact did interest me. So here I am with some hasty research to answer my own questions of "what did they know?" and "when did they know it?"

I refer you first of all to the excellent paper by C. Monthoux, published in the BMC Vet Journal in 2015: "Skin malformation in a neonatal foal tested homozygous positive for Warmblood Fragile Foal Syndrome" for a more detailed accounting. I read many other reports of this disease but this one by Monthoux was the most comprehensive and I will share some highlights I gleaned here.

Setting events in real time brings facts into focus; so let's do a timeline of the industry awareness:

   1984 - there were several instances of HERDA and related conditions in the science journals, but the paper by P. Witzig: "Dermagtosparaxis in a foal and a cow--a rare disease?", is in hindsight an example of WFFS.

   2004 - T. Winter et al published: "Eine dem Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome des menschen ahnliche" at that time WFFS did not have its own designation, and was usually identified as a related issue to HERDA or EHLERS-DANLOS syndrome, as it was here.

   2010 - S. Rufenacht et al published: "Swiss Warmblood with symptoms of hereditary equine regional  dermal asthenia without mutation in the cyclophylin B gene" clearly was another case of WFFS.

   2011 - VL Marshall et al "Cutaneous asthenia in a Warmblood foal" Austrian Vet Journal, once again is another case study of WFFS.

The above are examples of key papers published on this syndrome, but it is important to realize the occurrences they document were not the only instances of this condition, and also for it to reach 10% of the Warmblood population by 2013 it had have been around for some time.

It took N. Winand's study: "Identification of the causative mutation for inherited connective tissue disease in equines" published on 5/16/2011 (US Department of Commerce) to identify this as an unique variation of this family of fatal connective and skin diseases. Winand said: " This autosomal recessive inherited disease occurs in Warmblood horses and related breeds and is reportedly caused by a point mutation in the equine procollagen-lysine, 2- oxoflutarate 5-dioxygenase 1 gene" Shortly Winand and team developed a genetic test (spring 2013).

 In the meantime, in the spring of 2012, a Westphalian mare having trouble giving birth was brought to a clinic, and with surgical help she produced a living filly foal that was severely compromised, multiple open lesions and entire abdominal cavity exposed, she was euthanized. The mare and foal tissue was tested then for HERDA, but it came back negative. After the new Winand test came out the mare and the saved foal tissue were retested and it was determined that the mare was heteorzygous and the foal was homozygous for WFFS; which means the stallion was a carrier also.

The above are milestones in this story. Here we are 5 years later from when the disease had been firmly identified and we are just now hearing about it. Monthoux reports on test populations, one of 124 warmbloods that was done for Winands patent process and that study showed 11.11% of the randomly selected horses were carriers, and a second test on 500 German warmbloods which found 9.5% were carriers. So in 2013 it was already well known that approximately 10% of the warmblood breeding population were carriers of a fatal flaw. And we are just learning of this today?

10% means one out of every ten European warmbloods is a carrier, which in turn means their descendants are also. This is a BIG mess that could have been contained if damage control was done 5 years ago, but instead the knowledge was buried and so it has in the 5 years infiltrated uncounted herds.

So ask yourself: did you get the announcement at your breed societies in 2013 about this problem in the breeding stock? Did your warmblood breed society publish the list of the active stallions that carried this flaw, or the bloodlines responsible for it? How about in 2014? 2015? 2016? 2017? Perhaps you think the state Verbands do not know which of their stallions carry this gene defect? Or maybe you think the Germans have not pin-pointed the sources of this disease? And evidently you still would not have a clue about any of this if one ethical breeder in the United States---not in Germany where this calamity originated, but here in the States,  decided to alert you on this terrible news.

I am not an admirer of the ethics of the WBFSH member breeds of Europe, and have published my findings on their methods, false narratives and predatory ways. I quit them long ago for those reasons, but for many of you these are the organizations you have turned control of your breeding programs over to, the same people you let call the shots in international sport and who you look up to for their "centuries of experience". Wake up--they are in it for the money and the control. If they were ethical or even moral in their business dealings, like Hill Top Farm, you would have been informed and protected, instead they acted like a prostitute with full blown AIDS, blissfully spreading the disease with no thought of the consequences to you.