“The sooner we understand the genetic factors, the sooner we can act on that information to reduce the risk.”
What To Do About It
There are five steps the Appaloosa Horse Club should take to begin actively working to address this issue:
- Publicly acknowledge that the breed has a significantly higher risk for uveitis and thus blindness. We can’t ignore it any longer. Solving this genetic mystery and thus improving the breed starts with acknowledging that the problem exists.
- Fund research into the causes of uveitis and the genetic links to the Appaloosa breed. As we reported on this site, there are independent researchers already working in this area. Thus additional research funds could be well targeted, effectively used, and quickly applied. The sooner we understand the genetic factors, the sooner we can act on that information to reduce the risk.
- Establish a monitoring database to track the incidence of uveitis in the breed. As the official breed registry, the Appaloosa Horse Club has a wealth of data that could be used to help determine whether uveitis occurs in certain bloodlines. For example, the association could ask owners of registered Appys to report incidences of uveitis and then map those occurrences to bloodlines. That data could be shared with veterinary researchers studying the genetic links and could speed our understanding of the disease traits in the breed.
- Encourage all Appaloosa owners to register their horses with the Equine Eye Registration Foundation. This organization works with the American College of Veterinary Ophthalmologists to maintain a registry of purebred horses that veterinary ophthalmologists have examined and found to be unaffected by major heritable eye diseases. Horse owners may register their horses with EERF and receive a registration number and certificate. The statistical reports generated from this database can help breeders and ophthalmologists identify trends in eye disease by breed and region.
- Communicate to Appaloosa owners everything they need to know about uveitis and blindness. The Appaloosa Journal should publish detailed, factual articles explaining what uveitis is, how to detect it early, how to treat it, and what to do if your horse goes blind. Given the risk, Appy owners need to be as well-educated on this subject as anybody in the horse world.
The Hardest Step
The hardest step to take will be the first. We are not naïve. We think the likelihood that the breed association will publicly acknowledge the increased risk is remote at best. After all, with new Appaloosa breed registrations down 44% from 1997-2007, and transfers of ownership down 55% over the same period, many Appaloosa enthusiasts understandably will be reluctant to highlight the breed’s risk for uveitis and blindness. (Registration/ownership data source: Equus, January 2008, Issue 364.)
To what extent has the breed’s reputation for suffering from this eye disease played into its decreasing popularity? No one knows. But we’ve had owners of blind Appys tell us they’ll never have another Appaloosa, so we suspect it must play a role.
For example, in August 2007 we received an email from a lady in the Midwest who contacted us because her Appaloosa mare was going blind. This was her second experience. She wrote, “I had another App with uveitis who went blind.... I love my ‘kids,’ but no more Apps for me.”
It should be self-evident that not dealing with the problem hardly seems like the appropriate – or responsible – approach to this issue.
If the Appaloosa Horse Club’s mission is truly to “improve the Appaloosa,” then certainly the association should take aggressive action to reduce the risk of uveitis in the breed. If this isn’t the Appaloosa Horse Club’s responsibility, then whose responsibility is it?
What Can You Do?
Contact the Appaloosa Horse Club directly and ask them to take these five steps. Please be polite and friendly in your communication – these are good folks who mean well. They may just need a little public pressure to help move them in the right direction!