18 October 2016

How a dead Quarter Horse is affecting the Arabian Horse

   In the early 80’s, a strange disease appeared in American horses. In mild cases, it appeared to be ‘tying up’, where the muscles would rhythmically pulse or completely freeze in paralysis. In more severe cases, though, the horse appeared to have problems breathing and in some severe cases literally drop dead of what appeared to be heart attack.

   The number of cases grew. Veterinarians were baffled. This wasn’t tying up; it wasn’t colic, what was this? Vet schools began doing the footwork and discovered it was new:
HYPP, Hyperkalemic Periodic Paralysis.

    Hyperkalemic periodic paralysis is a genetic disorder that causes horses to have episodes of muscle spasms, weakness, “dog sitting” due to hind quarter weakness, collapse, recumbency, sweating, high serum potassium levels, third eyelid twitching and yawning. Levels of distress during an attack vary, with some horses showing only mild symptoms, while others have very severe symptoms. Due to respiratory paralysis or respiratory failure during an attack, some horses can suffocate and die.


  Horse breeders began to do their pedigree homework.  It became apparent that it was confined to Quarter Horses. Then it narrowed down to show horses.  Horses bred by live cover or artificial insemination, and finally, horses sired by one single stallion: “Impressive”.
AQHA stallion "Impressive"

   “Impressive” was a chestnut Quarter Horse stallion of superstar stature. He’d been raced very lightly but then was retired due to laminitis. His owners then campaigned him as a halter horse.

   Halter horses don’t actually DO anything. They are shown solely for looks. Indeed, in 1974, at the age of 6, Impressive was crowned National Champion Halter Horse with only 48 halter points. This is akin to being made President of the United States with only a double handful of votes.
    Impressive was to Quarter Horse halter horse breeders what Elvis Presley was to country music: a king. Much of this was due to expert marketing, a lot of behind the arena politicizing, and glitzy advertising. Impressive wasn’t just a living breathing equine, he was a highly profitable industry. One that his owners very jealously protected in the way of intellectual property as well as biological.  

   He was sold several times.

   Each time Impressive was resold, his price rose quickly; at one point, an offer of $300,000 for him was refused by Brown, who said "ain't nobody in this world got enough money to buy this horse."  
From Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Impressive_(horse)

  He won every  halter class he was aimed at. I suspect that in some cases, especially as his fame grew, he won due to intimidation-or outright bribery-of supposedly impartial judges. It’s pretty hard to say no to a cocksure man backed by a pack of pit bull lawyers  and a lot of money in his hand.

   Everyone wanted an Impressive foal. If you could afford it, you could have one, just by paying an astronomical price for his semen. At his peak, he was commanding an enormous (by QH standards) stud fee of $25,000.
  Despite the high price, he produced over 2200 foals. 
 However, many of these foals went on to develop HYPP. In most cases they were rendered useless as riding horses (either through the deleterious effects of HYPP or the sloping back he passed on just as faithfully). Many died outright.  
  When people began to accuse the stallion of being the source of HYPP, the Impressive teams (because by now there were a lot of Impressive get owners all on the Big Money wagon)  went into action. They took the then unprecedented  step of attacking, in print, in person and in court, anyone who had the temerity to blame Impressive. It was “slander”. It was “libel”. It was “malicious and willful attempts to cause them loss of income.”
   These days it is common for Big Money to successfully trample  the little man’s First Amendment  rights if the truth threatens their bottom line, but then it was unheard of.  
   They succeeded. If they didn’t put you out of business, your reputation and that of your horse was destroyed. They virtually gagged you if you even hinted that their stallion was to blame.
   A teenager at the time, I was working at a small Quarter Horse breeding farm. “Our” stallion had not a drop of Impressive bloodlines.  We had no idea at the time what was going on but we definitely were aware of the poisonous atmosphere the Impressive folks deployed.  
  I didn’t like Impressive for two reasons. 
  One, his back sloped deeply to the front. Indeed, there was such an obvious truncation just behind the withers I wondered how a saddle would fit on his back.
  That was my first lesson in Big Money Show Horses.  It didn’t matter that the horse couldn’t carry a saddle.  The fashion in the QH halter ring was for big muscled butts and tiny feet. 
Indeed, ‘our’ stallion stood at just over 15 hands, weighed 1200 lbs. and had 00 feet. Yes.

 Further, many of his  equally tiny hoofed get developed navicular or laminitis within five years of foaling. In the time I worked there, I only saw the stallion ridden once. Most of their horses were not broken to saddle and even the foals weren’t halter broken until they had a definite buyer for the foal.  They were breeding for halter horses, not riding horses. That’s precisely what they got: big butted horses with tiny feet that foundered with depressing regularity. 
   It didn’t matter to the Halter crowd.  Halter horse breeders weren’t breeding for RIDING horses. No, they were breeding for pretty HALTER horses. Halter horses that were, in many cases, no more usable than a Breyer model. (But  were far more expensive).
    My second lesson was how vengeful-and merciless-Big Money can be when it’s threatened or called to task.
    I went to one Quarter Horse Congress with ‘my’ barn. Being just another muck booted teenaged girl, I was ignored. Thus I was able to overhear whispered warnings in the show barns:  don’t dare say the words HYPP and Impressive in the same sentence. The Impressive Mafia was mingling in the crowds and made it known that such ‘slander’ would be aggressively punished. 
   In 1992, the geneticists at UC Davis proved the breeders were right.
   Impressive WAS the sole source of HYPP. 
   Bless their scientific souls, those scientists didn’t give a shit how much money Impressive’s owners had. Nor were they bothered by threats of litigation. Science had proven that one single stallion-Impressive- had a dominant mutation for HYPP that he passed on to every single one of his foals.

      Impressive’s team was beaten. But did they apologize? Did they compensate their victims for court costs, not to mention Loss of Business? Not to mention the loss of horses?

   Oh, hell, no. In fact, they had set an ugly precedent in the courtrooms.

   In the meantime there were THOUSANDS of Quarter Horses bearing the mutation.

   Most QH breeders swore off anything to do with Impressive. The Registry went even further, despite furious pushback from Impressive, Inc.

 “After a number of years of debate, effective since January 1, 2007, the AQHA amended rule 205(c)(3) and rule Rule 227(e) to require all descendants of Impressive to be tested prior to being registered, and ban from registration all horses born after January 1, 2007 with HYPP genetics confirmed by DNA testing to be homozygous for the condition (H/H).

  This does not mean that the disease has been flushed from the population of Quarter Horses in the US. Far from it.
     Some breeders don’t give a damn, preferring to make a buck rather than be responsible. (Notice the rule is the horse with Impressive genes  is ‘banned from registration’, NOT banned from breeding.)

    Also, in those years between Impressive’s reign and today, a huge industry in ‘Paint” horses has engulfed the horse industry in the US.  “Paints” (the name is copyrighted and registered) are Quarter Horses with pinto coloration.
We in the US are awash in “Paints” and have been for at least two decades.

If you go to Dream Horse you will see the majority of horses for sale are Paints or Paint crosses. They are everywhere. Most of them have ‘issues’. Not  just with feet, backs, and HYPP, but also with color related problems, such as Lethal White Syndrome. I have yet to meet a paint who hasn’t had scratches, or sunburn, or ‘flicks’,a  head tossing syndrome involving overactive  and often painful trigeminal nerves.

   Also, many Appaloosa breeders fold QH breeding into their breeding programs. They want the big butts, small feet and hope for the spots to come through that often don’t.  My first leased horse, Hank, was 7/8 QH and 1/8th Appaloosa. He had no spots but did have navicular and muscle issues.  I didn’t have him long enough to know if he had HYPP, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he did. However, the Appaloosa registry (ApHA) also banned Impressive blood from being registered in 2008.

   The point, though is that the AQHA Registry (despite vociferous court battles from Impressive’s syndicate) FINALLY took steps to begin to eliminate the mutation from the Quarter Horse breed.  But it took lawyers, money and years of legal wrangling to force the breeders into what should have been a moral and ethical decision.

      However, today is a different climate. Now Big Money knows that favorable legal decisions can be purchased.  Sometimes all it takes is ‘binding arbitration” (a kangaroo court procedure that never, ever finds in the favor of the little man). Usually, though it entails keeping several lawyers employed who drag the defendant into court for decades until the little guy runs out of money, patience, hope and finally submits to the inevitable despite it not being just. Judges, especially Supreme Court ones, can be purchased and trusted to rule the way Big Money desires. Legal decisions  can be purchased. Justice for the little man is extinct.

   So how is it that a dead Quarter Horse can affect Arabian horses?

   There is a newly elucidated disease called “Lavender Foal Syndrome.” It afflicts Egyptian Arabians.

Below is the link to a report on the disease. There is a video that is disturbing to watch, but it is important for someone wanting to breed his mare see it. 


Foals with LFS display several neurologic symptoms. These include [1]:

    Tetanic-like seizures
    Stiff or paddling leg movements
    Involuntary eye movements
    hyperextension of the head or neck [1]

These neurologic symptoms result in the foal being unable to stand or nurse and are always fatal [1]. Affected foals are usually humanly euthanized a few days after birth. Foals with the disorder also have a diluted coat color sometimes described as silver, pewter, pale gray or lavender, resulting in the name of the disorder, "Lavender Foal Syndrome" [1]. LFS can be difficult to diagnose immediately as its symptoms are very similar to several other neonatal conditions including encephalitis and neonatal maladjustment syndrome [2]. 

It is a mutation, a genetic disease much like Lethal White Syndrome is to Paints.  A foal born with Lavender  Foal Syndrome is definitely lavender colored. They don’t live very long.  Almost immediately upon being foaled, they demonstrate distressing actions: tetany, (meaning actions as if the horse has tetanus), spasms like those caused by strychnine, etc. Afflicted foals cannot stand and must be euthanized. It is obvious that the foal with the disease is in pain, not to mention fear.

   The disease is caused by a recessive gene. This means a horse could be a carrier but not show any symptoms of the disease. However, if a carrier is mated to another carrier, the resulting foal will have LFS and die. It is lethal. It is painful. It is incurable.

  The disease, so far, has been traced to six Egyptian Arabian stallions, and, possibly, one Crabbet Arabian in Australia.

   What are their names? Who owns them?

   You will not find out. The owners of the stallions are keeping the identity SECRET.  
Go ahead, go surfing. You’ll learn a lot about the disease itself but not who the responsible stallions are.

   This is the lessons they learned from Impressive.
   Rather than be honest with a mare owner, they will NOT reveal that their stallion carries the LFS mutation.  The ‘official’ explanation is that they don’t want their stallion’s reputation tarnished. They want to ‘avoid the stigma’ the disease brings.

  That’s bullshit.
  What it is all about is the money.
   They don’t want to lose money. They are in the business of breeding horses. Being ethical has no place in their mission. They don’t CARE about YOUR business, just your checkbook. A stallion takes a few minutes to breed a mare. It takes a little longer to inseminate a mare artificially. The mare takes 11 months to grow the foal, and in that time, can’t be bred to another stallion.  They don’t give a shit about that. They want their stud fee now and devil take the hindmost.

    The owners of these stallions are no different than the scum ball with an STD who gets your daughter pregnant and then skips town.  

 They look at their bottom line, not the life or death of a foal, and certainly they don’t give a damn about anyone else in the business.

  They want everyone who is breeding Arabians to shoulder the cost of testing every horse they own, rather than say, I am sorry but I cannot ethically continue breeding this stallion.

  Stigma? You bet. But it’s not the stigma of having a stallion with a mutation. That's not something we have any control over. It's evolution in action. Shit happens with horses. We all know that.

The stigma they should consider very carefully is the one they will gain when the identities of the stallions leaks out-which it will, eventually. That knowledge-that the owners are fully aware that their stallion has this mutation but is still willing to take money from a person to breed his or her mare to that horse, without  explicitly admitting that the stallion carries this disease, will do more damage to their business than any  money they make in  stud fees. They are committing a criminal act. It is a CRIME.

And should be treated as such.


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Khutulan said...

Thank you!