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Open Access Research

Genetic analysis of clinical findings at health examinations of young Swedish warmblood riding horses

Lina Jönsson1*, Anna Näsholm1, Lars Roepstorff2, Agneta Egenvall3, Göran Dalin2 and Jan Philipsson1

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Animal Breeding and Genetics, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, PO Box 7023, Uppsala 750 07, Sweden

2 Department of Equine Studies, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, PO Box 7043, Uppsala 750 07, Sweden

3 Department of Clinical Sciences, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, PO Box 7054, Uppsala 750 07, Sweden

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Acta Veterinaria Scandinavica 2013, 55:22  doi:10.1186/1751-0147-55-22

Published: 8 March 2013

Abstract

Background

Soundness is important for welfare and utility of the riding horse. Musculoskeletal disorders are the most common causes of interruption in training and of culling. Despite great importance, heritability of a majority of health traits in horses has previously not been estimated. The objective was to perform genetic analyses of medical and orthopaedic health traits in young riding horses, including estimates of heritability and genetic correlations between health traits, and to reveal possibilities for genetic evaluation of stallions for progeny health.

Results

The heritability of health traits was estimated using records from 8,238 Swedish warmblood riding horses examined as 4–5 year olds at the Riding Horse Quality Test in 1983–2005. The analyses were performed using multi-trait linear mixed animal models. The heritabilities of palpatory orthopaedic health (PALP), including effusion, swelling, heat, soreness and stiffness/atrophy, and hoof examination results (HOOF), of hoof shape and hoof wall quality, were 0.12 and 0.10, respectively. The genetic variation in these traits resulted in distinct health differences between progeny groups of stallions. The highest heritability among clinical signs of PALP was found for synovial effusions at 0.14. For systemic locations, joint related findings had the highest heritability; 0.13. The heritabilities of medical health and locomotion examination results were low, 0.02 and 0.04, respectively. A genetic improvement of health status has occurred over time but accounts only partly for the decrease in clinical findings of health during the studied period.

Conclusions

The genetic variation found in PALP and HOOF implies distinct differences between progeny groups. Thus, there are possibilities for improvement of these traits in the population through selection. The weak and non-significant correlation between PALP and HOOF suggests that both traits need to be selected for in practical breeding to improve both traits. Some genetic improvements over time have already been achieved, possibly due to regular stallion health inspections and an indirect selection for lifetime performance. For further improvements stallion breeding values for health may be introduced, based on RHQT examinations, complementary to present breeding values for performance.

Keywords:
Medical health; Orthopaedic health; Flexion test; Hoof; Clinical signs; Heritability; Genetic correlation