Friday, April 6, 2018

Sternlicht Withdrawn From Hilltop Farm 2018 Lineup

Hilltop Farm has just announced the withdrawal of Sternlicht from their 2018 lineup, due to the discovery that he is a carrier for Warmblood Fragile Foal Syndrome. There has already been a lot of discussion among breeders about this situation, and more clarification is needed. 

But one thing is clear: this is a level of integrity on the part of Hilltop Farm that is beyond admirable. "Transparency" is a buzzword, but this is what it really looks like; I'm so impressed. Not only that, the owner of a foal born with WFFS took time to post on Facebook about her experience, so that others could be aware. My hat is off to both.

Click here to read an article on about Warmblood Fragile Foal Syndrome

Here is Hilltop Farm's announcement:

Hilltop Farm has always been committed to not only offering the highest caliber stallions to our breeders, but also to supporting the education, overall development, and integrity of the sport horse breeding industry.  In response to an owner's request to breed a mare that was a known carrier of Warmblood Fragile Foal Syndrome (WFFS), all the Hilltop-owned stallions recently underwent genetic testing.  All the tested stallions were negative except for Sternlicht who tested positive as a carrier of WFFS.

With recessive genetic disorders like Warmblood Fragile Foal Syndrome (WFFS), two copies of a recessive gene must be present for the horse to exhibit signs of the recessive defect. Horses with only one copy of the defective gene are considered "carriers" and do not have any symptoms associated with WFFS.  A foal can only be affected with symptoms if the foal inherits the disease from both parents, and in four years of breeding Sternlicht we know of no cases of WFFS affected foals.  Current estimates are that between 6% and 11% of the Warmblood population are carriers of WFFS, but testing is not common and to-date there has been an overall lack of discussion about the disease or testing.  Hilltop Farm will be encouraging all breeders to test their breeding stock to make informed decisions.

Warmblood Fragile Foal Syndrome is an inherited systemic connective tissue disorder that is found in Warmblood horses. Foals can have extreme skin fragility that lacks tensile strength and is often characterized by tearing or ulceration from normal contact with surroundings. Limb joints are extremely lax, affected foals cannot stand normally, and they must be euthanized soon after birth. 

Sternlicht has many outstanding traits that make him a valuable contributor for sport horse breeding.  With the state of genetic testing in its infancy, the sport horse industry has not yet had an open discussion on recessive traits like WFFS.  Other breeds and registries are far ahead of us in dealing with similar situations related to recessive traits and genetic testing. Time is needed for education about WFFS, discussions on the use of genetic testing and how it will influence our breeding decisions going forward, and the role and position of the warmblood registries in these circumstances.  Consequently, we have chosen to remove Sternlicht from this year's stallion roster as we investigate the ramifications of this and other similar situations related to recessive traits and genetic testing. 

We hope that by coming forward and openly announcing this discovery, we can be a positive catalyst for how we as an industry move forward.  Questions regarding Sternlicht or Warmblood Fragile Foal Syndrome should be directed to Natalie DiBerardinis, Hilltop Farm's Managing Director, at 410-658-9898

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