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Is wobblers genetic?

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  • Is wobblers genetic?

    I have a mare that was diagnosed with wobblers and had the basket surgery. She improved but is only sound for flatwork and trail rides and I am planning on retireing her. I have been researching and trying to find out what causes this condition. I bought the mare as a 6 yr old, full PPE, and she was my show horse for several years before the symptoms began. She is not obviously neuro, you have to really know what to look for to see it and she compensates very well. She was diagnosed and treated by Dr. Grant at San Luis Rey so I think the diagnosis was correct.

    I have never heard of a horse being totally fine, good enough to be an A circuit hunter, and then suddenly become neuro. Is this something that she was born with and just never showed up until now? Could this have been caused by some sort of trauma? I have heard that her old owner taught her to tie as a baby by tying her to a solid post "cowboy style" and let her struggle and fight. Could this have caused an injury to the cervical spine? What about being flipped over? Also I have read that incorrect nutrition can also be a cause, is this correct? When I bought the mare, she was very overweight and being fed a ton of feed with little to no work. I wonder if she was also overfed as a baby?

    This whole experience has been devastating to me as she is such a nice mare and the fanciest horse I have ever had. Since I have decided to retire her, several people have said I should breed her. I think this is very irresponsible as I will never know where her unsoundness came from. Even though I will not breed her, I would really like to better understand wobblers and how it comes about. If anyone has any experience with this or has knowledge on whether or not it is a genetic problem please let me know.

  • #2
    I would also like to know about wobblers. We have a mare that was diagnosed as a very young horse. She seemed to get better despite the vet wanting to put her down, and she now shows in the 3 foot hunters quite well. She is a good mover/jumper and doesn't have any wobbler signs.

    She does have funny lameness issues here and there that we can't pinpoint, then she gets better. Could this be a sign? Just wondering because she has good breeding and would like to know if this is something that she would/could pass on if the owner decided to breed her.


    • #3
      It used to be considered genetic but coming from the stallion gene. Some injuries occur because the horse is predispossed to a neuroligical disorder and might be stumbling, falling etc. He/she would be ataxic not knowing where his hind end is and has trouble backing up. Problems will occur with so many WB stallions in Germany breeding ungodly numbers of mares and it will not be diagnosed for several years when it shows up in young horses.


      • #4
        I don't know, a friend of mine had a colt from a fairly big name spotted WB o/o a TB that was euthanized as a young yearling with severe wobblers. This mare was very difficult to get in foal and when she did, she aborted every foal (6 maybe) but this one and one other. To my knowledge the stallion has never had offspring with this problem (and he has plenty on the ground to be a good case study) but I really can't help think it was the mare. It seemed like nature was convinced she should not reproduce but through repro technology today she was able to have two with a struggle to get in foal and keep. I think it took on average 3 tries (in some cases more) to get her in foal. And as I said most of those were then aborted anytime up to 6 months or so. Of the foals that survived, the one died with wobblers, not sure if the other is still around or not.

        I'd be almost 110% sure it was not the stallions fault in this case (maybe 150%) and was the mares just based on her breeding history, if it were truly genetic.
        Celtic Pride Farm
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        • #5
          PLEASE don't start stating that Wobblers comes from the stallion! A foal gets 50% of their genes from the stallion and 50% from the mare. Studies have not found just one specific cause for Wobblers, there can be many contributing factors.

          Wobblers and OCD often go hand in hand. For those who don't know, Wobblers is a result of lesions developing, most often, between the C3 and C7 vertebrae. The lesions can cause pressure on the spinal cord, producing neurological type symptoms.

          For me personally, knowing the history on the horse and that she potentially was fed up too much as a youngster, etc., etc., I have to wonder if OCD is a contributing factor, and for me, I would not bred the mare. Some recent studies done have shown that breeding a Wobblers stallion to a Wobblers mare has not increased the liklihood of Wobblers in the foal. That being said, it did show a significant increase of other bone deformities, such as OCD. Wobblers, OCD and Epiphysitis are all related and classified as Developmental Orthopedic Disease, more commonly refered to as DOD. For me, I would not breed her and would get her spayed so that no one down the line takes the chance on breeding her either. There are just too many nice horses out there and many more unwanted horses to risk trying to put one more in the gene pool!
          Home of Welsh Cob stallion Goldhills Brandysnap
          Also home to Daventry Equine Appraisals & Equine Expert Witness


          • #6
            When I started breeding long ago, I had two mares bred to a stallion who developed orthopedic disease and "wobblers" disease. Both were diagnosed via myleogram. One was cut by Barrie and the other was to far down at the last Cervicle vertabrae to be accessable surgically. I had a third horse also born that year with no problems, who was unrelated. They were not "fed" up and had rations were formulated by a nutritionist. I culled the one mare, switched stallions and have had no other problems. It is a shame because I loves the stallion. This is just my experience, I drew my own conclusions.
            Lisa Coletto
            Standing Elite Hanoverian stallion, Cabalito


            • #7
              My boarder lost her 2yo gelding to Wobblers several years ago, diagnosed at New Bolton. He was know to have flipped over a gate as a weanling before he came here so perhaps that was the cause. He was not a candidate for surgery because of the location and severity of the impingement. That particular sire/dam is a real nick with one another and have produced many full siblings (some older, some younger) with no evidence of the same problem, in fact one is competing very successfully in dressage and has been at or near the top of the standings at several levels.
              "If a horse has a "warm" back—loose, supple and oscillating—he can lift the rider...on a "cold" back—low and stiff—the rider achieves nothing other than growing old sitting on it." —Charles de Kunffy


              • #8
                Several years ago, we had a young race filly that very suddenly (overnight) became a stage 4 wobbler. She had been in training for six months and looked as though she would have been competitive on the track. There was no prior history of trauma that we were aware of and the vets' conclusion was basically "sometimes it just happens". At the time I did a lot of research into the syndrome, even though we decided not to breed her and ultimately ended up having to put her down.

                Shamardal is a TB who was diagnosed as a wobbler as a yearling. He was eventually "cured" and went on to have a very impressive career at the track. He now stands at stud at Darley in Australia (and possibly Europe?). I haven't heard anything about him siring wobblers, which does seem to point away from the inheritance factor. Shamardal's sire is Giant's Causeway, who stands for 125K in Kentucky. He has numerous foals racing all over the world, and Shamardal is the only one I've heard of who was affected. Shamardal's dam, Helsinki, is from the family of another top sire, Street Cry. Again, no problems that I'm aware of.

                I'd probably think long and hard about breeding a mare who was a wobbler but, based on the evidence I've seen, I wouldn't rule it out entirely.


                • #9
                  With some of these ancedotes I would wonder how the wobblers was diagnosed and therefore if it really was Wobblers. I know some were diagnosed by reputable vets but the others we "hear about"... I could see how a horse could be genetically predisposed to Wobblers. But I could also see how a horse could end up with Wobblers due to an injury. Keep in mind that horses hurt themselves all the time and we often do not see it occur. Just because nobody saw it happen doesn't mean it didn't happen. How many times have you walked out to the paddock and asked your horse "Now, how did you manage to do that?" when you saw a cut, some swelling, etc.? Any of these horses could have had a spinal injury that nobody observed. And these injuries do not necessarily make them lame, especially if it only a fracture.

                  I can also see how a horse could be genetically more likely to develop Wobblers after an injury. Some may be more likely to develop excess bone growth/spurs etc. after a bone is broken/fractured whereas others wouldn't. People are the same way.

                  I don't know that I would automatically discount your mare as a potential breeder. I think there is more opportunity for Wobblers to occur due to injury than there is just due to genetics. I think I would be more concerned if multiple siblings raised by different people (ie. different environment and training techniques which could contribute/not contribute to spinal injury) also had Wobblers, especially at a young age which would suggest to me that it was a genetic orthopedic development from a young age and less likely to be due to injury.

                  Also, I find it hard to believe that it would be the stallion's genetic contribution and not the mare's. Seems like it could be from either side, or both. Doesn't a foal get orthopedic contribution in the form of conformation from the dam as well as the sire? Granted, I'm not a geneticist but it doesn't make sense to me that something orthopedic like that could be sex-linked.
                  Altamont Sport Horses
                  Trakehners * Knabstruppers * Appaloosa Sport Horses
                  Home of stallions: Ambrosius af Asgard "Atlantis" & Hollywood Hot Spot
                  Birmingham, AL


                  • #10
                    I didn't know that Wobblers had anything to do with OCD. Good to know. I do know the stallion the mare is out of and he does have offspring with OCD. Interesting. The mare I speak of is not mine, but if it was I don't think I would breed her now that I have all this information.


                    • #11
                      I have heard off and on for several years of Wobblers syndrome connected to a certain stallion in Germany. I didn't believe it at first, but later on started to think there might be some truth to it after a friend imported a horse that developed such severe Wobblers by age 6 that vets were recommending euthansia. The horse was sired by the WB stallion in question. After the horse was diagnosed, my friend did some checking around in Germany and learned the same things that I had heard years before. She and the client she had sold the horse to thought about suing the seller in Germany but realized it would be near impossible trying to litigate across the ocean.


                      • #12
                        OCD has been associated with overfeeding youngsters, first thought to be overfeeding protein and more recently starches. So...could Wobblers be also due to overfeeding and some impact that has on the bones that also causes OCD? Just thinking aloud.
                        Altamont Sport Horses
                        Trakehners * Knabstruppers * Appaloosa Sport Horses
                        Home of stallions: Ambrosius af Asgard "Atlantis" & Hollywood Hot Spot
                        Birmingham, AL


                        • #13
                          I was told that one of the things the vet told the owner of this horse to do when she had wobblers was to feed her very little and keep her on stall rest. So it does kind of make sense that overfeeding could cause wobbler symptoms just like ocd.


                          • #14
                            Originally posted by Samotis View Post
                            I didn't know that Wobblers had anything to do with OCD. Good to know. I do know the stallion the mare is out of and he does have offspring with OCD. Interesting. The mare I speak of is not mine, but if it was I don't think I would breed her now that I have all this information.

                            Actually, as long as I can remember, Wobblers in our area is referred to as OCD in the neck. Like OCD, not enough research has been done on Wobblers. And, like OCD, enough IS known to determine it is often not just from one cause. Theoretically speaking then, it could be genetic, injury triggered, nutrition, predisposition for it, etc....one of the above or all, just like all of the other DOD problems cases. So, it is very possible that a particular stallion could be predisposing his foals to it, as could a mare. But, you can't go and lump ALL stallions into the same boat and say that is where the problem lies! Hope that makes sense.
                            Home of Welsh Cob stallion Goldhills Brandysnap
                            Also home to Daventry Equine Appraisals & Equine Expert Witness