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.


Well it seems WFFS is quite the hot topic! I wrote the above piece quickly after reading the scientific papers and shared it with a discussion group run by member of the Canadian Warmblood Horse Breeders Association (CWHBA). I was invited by a friend to join this closed group that was discussing this subject. I was allowed in the group by the moderator and quickly it became apparent my take on all this was at odds with the moderator of the society who was portraying this disease as mild occurrence and really of not great concern for the breeders. Her loyalists then quickly quashed my opinions accusing me of "twisting the facts", and so I excused myself while I left to do some research. For the next two hours I studied and read the papers, so I would have facts and dates and findings correct. I wrote the above piece and posted it this website, and released it on my fb page and rejoined the group and provided a link to my article.

A firestorm of disapproval erupted and I was then dog teamed by her loyalists, criticizing and baiting me until my participation in the discussion was cancelled.

A few days later the CWHBA released a press release on the subject that was rife with inaccuracies, trying to portray this condition as just appearing in 2015 and that the purveyors of the gene were unaware of this genetic time bomb. In the meantime the original case of the tragic live birth of the colt with this fatal condition also removed herself from that discussion group because of the negativity and she wrote an excellent article for Warmblood Today on the case. The article was picked up by other publications and I read it on eurodressage.com, and it was while there I saw the above mentioned Canadian press release. I alerted the editor of the large factual errors in the release and gave her the correct dates and events. I was  asked by them to write up a short column with this information. I did some additional research including checking facts and dates with the testing company and the result : Cleaning Up Warmblood Fragile Foal Syndrome 

Since that time the Dutch Warmblood society has published an interesting and wildly erroneous narrative, claiming that the disease originated in North America and that they in Europe were totally unaware of it. I could not find a way to email them, or leave a comment and so went to the fb page to make a guest post and giving once again the correct dates and events. My post did not make it past their censors.

There is a wide range of responses to this news, and it is certainly a sorry position to pretend they knew nothing about a disease that has been being tested for in Europe since 2011. But it seems this is the tactic some are resorting to: denial ...'we didn't know", which is really an ignorant position to join in with as the records of the genetic testing company can be subpoenaed. The majority of testing since the test was made available to the public has been done in Europe...for 5 years they have been testing their stock. No matter the cover up that has and continues to be practiced the truth will come out. And we in North America will discover where exactly and which bloodlines are involved--with or without their help. 

That said, sane leadership is being displayed by others, for example, the American Hanoverian Society has offered testing at the reduced rate of $35 for their members. (5/2018)

Now in a dramatic turn around in attitude the Dutch Warmblood of NA have published a statement in which they have decided to insist that all stallions will be tested and the results posted...so finally responsibility for this problem is slowly being assumed. (5/2018)

And the hits keep on coming...May isn't even over and already multiple dutch warmbloods who have been breeding for 20 years are identified as carriers...plus Blur Hors stud found 3 of their  sires  carriers--making their stallion roster 30% carriers. But here is the  revelation that should piss you off: according to Nena Winand they knew back then, when they did the test studies, which bloodline was responsible (2011-2013) and of course the Germans knew then also...it was their horses that were tested.

Winand has said the bloodline should be revealed shortly when an additional survey of the warmblood population in Europe is completed. 

UC Davis lab has recently released the results of their tests so far this year--through May 30th 2018. Here are the percentage of carriers by breed listed  highest percentage to least:

Hanoverian 20%

Westphalian 14%

Rheinland 11%

Baden-Wurttenberg 11%

Oldenburg 9%

Dutch 7%

Holstein 7%

Knabstrupper 7%

TB 4%

Trakehner 2%

Swedish 0%

These are tests of North American populations almost exclusively, and as many thought it appears to have started out in the breeds specializing in dressage, as the more jumper breeds have a much lower percentage. The TB presence is a surprise seeing it is pure-bred, leading some to assume the origin may have been a early TB in the Hanoverian program. Also we can clearly see the gene carriers have doubled in some breeds, which is also to be expected when nothing is done to curtail its spread.

As mentioned before in this article, the lead scientist has said they knew the root line responsible back in 2011, and while she has not said so, I assume this means that in a agreement to access of the wbs to be tested she had to sign some sort of confidentiality agreement that would not allow revelation of this line by her team. I can't see any other reason that they would hold that vital information back from the public at risk--perhaps I am wrong. If I am right it leads us right back to the Hanoverian Celle, and why they would continue to market their product to their unsuspecting clients without an alert of this potentially fatal condition. Its 7 years later and still they are not forth coming on the tainted bloodline. 

As breeders we have to expect unpleasant genetic surprises now and then, that is just part of the risk:  a previously unknown recessive can pop up that is a serious threat no matter the breed. I do not think we should have to add to that risk by tolerating unethical breeders and associations who hide the defect. As I said in the beginning, this is very much like that flight attendant back in the 1980s who blissfully spread AIDS across continents and when finally identified showed absolutely no remorse. If they cared about you and your investment they would have revealed where the danger was. Face it, They don't care about anything but saving face and taking your dollars.