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“The time has long since come for the Appaloosa Horse Club to demonstrate leadership in addressing the troubling issue of uveitis and blindness in the breed.”

Taking Responsibility

It should be clear by now that the Appaloosa breed has some kind of genetic predisposition for uveitis and, consequently, blindness. What is less clear is why the official breed association, the Appaloosa Horse Club, has done so little to address the issue. The association needs to take responsibility for it.

For one thing, much more research needs to be done. We only know that the breed has a significantly higher risk for uveitis and, thanks to the latest study on MHC and alleles, researchers may have found a genetic ‘marker’ that identifies the risk factor. But there is a lot more we need to know about this breed’s risk, and especially how to reduce it.

Staying Quiet

We sent an email to the CEO of the Appaloosa Horse Club, Steve Taylor, in December 2006, to learn what the breed association was doing on this subject – whether it be educating Appaloosa owners, funding research, or using its registry to track cases of blindness in the breed. We concluded our email by noting, “We love our Appaloosas and would like to know what the breed association has done or is doing to address this disability that affects so many of these wonderful animals.”

Mr. Taylor responded, “According to staff folks I've talked with, there hasn't been much discussion or coverage of this issue in the past.”

That would be an understatement.

Indeed, we reviewed the editorial indexes for every issue of the monthly Appaloosa Journal for the past six years through 2006, and found not a single article on the subject of uveitis or blindness. The Appaloosa Journal is the breed association’s flagship publication and its principal form of communication with Appaloosa owners. Yet over the space of six years and 72 monthly issues of its magazine, the Appaloosa Horse Club apparently did not see fit to inform its members about this critically important issue. (If the magazine did carry an article on the topic, it certainly wasn’t significant enough to warrant a listing in an editorial index.)

Many other horse publications in that same time frame have published articles on uveitis and blindness in horses, including Equus, The Horse, Paint Horse Journal, and the AQHA’s America’s Horse.

Why would the Appaloosa Journal, of all publications, be silent on this topic?

A Flawed Effort

Perhaps spurred by our inquiry to Mr. Taylor, the Appaloosa Journal finally carried an article on ERU in its April 2007 issue. Unfortunately, the article contained inaccuracies. Most glaringly, it stated incorrectly that “Studies on Appaloosas and moon blindness, however, have not shown that Appaloosas are more prone to ERU than other breeds....” 
 
That, of course, is just flat wrong.
 
The article also carried other incorrect information, including the suggestion that deworming with Ivermectin will help control the “external parasites [that] have been known to cause the condition, as they can migrate from the neck area into the eye.”  
 
This was simply a flawed article and accomplished little, except to perhaps confuse Appaloosa owners.  Fortunately, an editor’s note at the end of this piece promised a future article on uveitis, so the magazine will have another chance to get it right.

Funding Research

In his response to us, Mr. Taylor also noted that the Appaloosa Horse Club “has never had much of a research budget....” Yet the Club earns more than $5,000,000 in annual revenues and spends more than $400,000 on trophies and awards each year, according to its most recently filed tax return.

For an organization whose mission is to “promote, enhance and improve the Appaloosa,” it surely has the financial resources – not to mention the responsibility – to fund research into an affliction that strikes Appaloosas more than any other breed of horse.

Eight months after our initial contact with the Appaloosa Horse Club, we have yet to hear of any initiative the association has launched to come to grips with this problem.

The time has long since come for the Appaloosa Horse Club to demonstrate leadership in addressing the troubling issue of uveitis and blindness in the breed. What can the association do? Plenty. See our recommendations here.