Horse Sport Ireland Launch National Warmblood Fragile Foal Testing Scheme

  • 23 May 2020, 09:00

Horse Sport Ireland are delighted to announce the launch the first of several nationwide equine health screening tests in 2020. The first health screening scheme is for Warmblood Fragile Foal Syndrome (WFFS) testing, it is funded by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM) and supported by the HSI board.

WFFS is genetic condition, typically found in Warmblood horses, which effects the foals’ connective tissue. The condition is characterised by fragile skin and mucous membranes causing painful skin blistering; hyperflexible joints, floppy ears, excess fluid in the foetus, potential abortion and premature birth. There is currently no treatment or cure for the syndrome, thus, effected foals rarely survive and are euthanised after birth, if born alive.

Currently, there is no clear understanding of the prevalence of the gene in Ireland. However, HSI has tested Stallions as part of their inspection process for the past two years and some other studbooks and stud owners have begun testing their own stock and detailing stallion carrier status to their clients and on the horses records. Much of the renewed focus on WFFS is due to widespread coverage of a case in Texas in 2018. The incidence of WFFS carrier status in the global warmblood/sport horse population is estimated at 9-11%. However, research has suggested that the percentage of carriers is likely to be higher due to the lack of widespread testing schemes. Further to this, it is relatively unknown if and how much this genetic mutation effects other breeds; a small percentage of carriers have been identified in non-sport horse populations.

To improve understanding of the condition and incidence in equine populations, several studbooks and breed societies, such as the KWPN and Westfalen studbooks, require genetic testing and disclosure of a horses’ WFFS status. HSI began compulsory WFFS testing of all stallions undergoing HSI studbook inspection two year ago.

Currently the only way to prevent the breeding of WFFS effected or carrier foals, is to test the proposed mating pair (sire and dam) prior to covering and determine the carrier status of both equines (see figure).

⦁ The condition may occur when both the dam and the sire of the foal are WFFS carriers. The foal has a 25% chance of being born normal; a 25% chance of being born with the fatal condition and a 50% chance of being a carrier of WFFS.
⦁ If only one parent is a carrier, the foal has a 50% change of becoming a carrier pf the condition to.
⦁ If both parents are normal, i.e. do not carry the condition, there is a 0% chance of the foal being either a carrier or effected by the fatal condition.

Alison Corbally, HSI Director of Breeding & Programmes said:

“This is the first of a number of national health testing schemes to be implemented by Horse Sport Ireland this year. An improved awareness of the level of genetic carriers will allow Irish breeders to minimise the risk of breeding a fatally infected foal and the associated economic impacts. Given that is not feasible to test all breeding equines at this time and in order to utilise these testing regimes to benefit all Irish breeders, HSI are now offering free WFFS testing for 2020 foals of interested breeders/owners. This scheme is open to all DAFM approved studbooks. We hope as many breeders as possible avail of the scheme.”


The result of these tests may also help Irish breeders to discern their mares WFFS status. Such that, if mares are bred to a stallion with a known negative WFFS carrier status and the foal returns a positive WFFS results, the gene has been inherited from the mare.

There are no health implications for carrier horses, the risk of contracting the fatal WFFS condition occurs only when both the dam and sire breeding pair are carriers of WFFS. However, nationwide testing would, in the first instance, improve our understanding of the incidence of WFFS carrier status in Irish equine populations. It is important to gather this information on WFFS incidence to support Irish breeders in preventing further transmission of carrier status to foals and potential breeding equines in Ireland. More importantly, the results of this testing scheme can be used to empower breeder decision making by avoiding the mating of two carrier animals. This will effectively eliminate the risk of breeding a fatally effected foal.

Applications to the scheme should be made directly online at Horse Sport Ireland. Please CLICK HERE to apply online or scan the QR code below.












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