Extreme Horse Breeding
 By Saferaphus   •   27th Oct 2017   •   1,020 views   •   0 comments

An article has been circulating around the internet with the picture of an Arabian colt with an exaggeratedly dished face. The horse El Rey Magnum RCF, is considered to be close to perfection by his owners. Although the page featuring the colt on the breeder's website has been removed, it can still be found by searching the Web Archive Wayback Machine site. Only headshots of the colt are shown, and clearly, the profile looks more like a seahorse than a real horse.

The controversy is the warning by veterinarians that breeding for these types of extreme features puts horses at risk for lifelong health problems. In this case, vets claim that the bone structure of the face may cause breathing problems. They warn, that any effort to breed a horse with any exaggerated characteristics may ultimately be harmful.

Breeding for specific characteristics is why we have so many different horse breeds in the first place. All horses have a few common ancestors. They were types of horses rather than breeds. In the several thousand years humans have been using horses it's only been within the last few centuries that horses have been selectively bred for certain characteristics to develop what we now regard as breeds. But during the chase for those characteristics unique to a specific breed, sometimes things can go awry.

So the concern with the breeding of Arabians with wildly exaggerated dished faces is that the deformed skull and nasal cavities may cause problems with breathing like we see in blunt faced dogs like pugs and bulldogs. And, although there is no proof that this has happened yet, various veterinarians are warning against breeding to satisfy a fad. But wait, isn't that warning a little too late?

There are certain breeds that carry genetic diseases, and these are well documented and most breeders would agree that doing anything that might carry on these genes would be wrong. For example, it’s frowned upon to breed individuals whose offspring might be born with Hyperkalemic Periodic Paralysis or HYPP. But, disease aside, fads have already played a role in producing horses that are unsound or unhealthy. Breeding for extreme features is nothing new.

I remember visiting a Quarter Horse breeder back in the mid-1970s. Yes, it amazes me that I can remember that far back! I tagged along after my mother as they proudly showed her their horses. They were particularly excited about was their favorite show horse. My mother, after we were safely off the yard, said, “oh my gosh, did you see those tiny little feet!” The horse was typical of the American Quarter Horse halter horses of the day. They had great big beefy bodies that perched on tiny little teacup feet.

Small feet aren’t really an issue, as long as they are in proportion to the rest of the body. A Thoroughbred may be tall, but have a fine frame, with a smallish hoof and never have an unsound day. But, as the Quarter Horse world discovered, tiny feet on such a heavily muscled, large boned horses led to unsoundness that insured their line horses would live a life of discomfort.

The American Quarter Horse, as the world’s most popular breed is prone to other unsoundnesses due to fad breeding practices. Post legs and base narrow legs all around are common problems. These problems continue to plague the breed.

Lordosis is a problem that haunts breeders of American Saddlebreds. Somewhere along the way, in trying to build the perfect high neck carriage and high stepping horse, the genetic predisposition for a dropped back crept in. Some claim that a horse with lordosis is just as capable of carrying a rider as one with a normal back. Others claim the horse is withstanding a lot more discomfort.

There are other examples of what can happen when we breed to make an animal look a certain way, rather than breed for healthy, functional individual. In our quest to please the eye, we can lose sight that form should follow function. Sadly, this is nothing new.
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