I hesistate posting such a controversial subject, but today's post on Fugly Horse of the Day blog brought up one of the reasons this is such a sensitive subject for so many.
I honestly agree with MOST of the post. I absolutely abhor anyone selling a horse as grade to cover up any sort of issues at all. This is one of the reasons I hate AQHA's anti-HYPP H/H rule. Do you think that some of these big ticket breeders are going to stop breeding their positive horses to positive horses? No, they sure aren't--these are the people that still breed 50 foals a year so they can have the pick of the crop and cull the rest, unregistered, at a local sale barn, so why would they care if they have to include the H/H ones in the cull? It's not these types of breeders (who the rule is directed at) who care, so who suffers? The horse and whomever picks up that horse at auction, which is usually someone who wants a cheap, cute horse to help keep the weeds down on their farm and entertain the grandkids. In my experience, there aren't very many seasoned, professional horse people (with experience with HYPP positive horses and attacks) that pick up young, grade horses at auctions. Think of the people you know that have horses, but they are primarily pets and might get them broke out to go on trail rides every so often. I have friends like this, who love their horses dearly, take good care of them, but would have the shock of horrors if their horse suddenly went into a full blown attack (when they've understandably missed the earlier signs--more on this later). It's scary enough when you expect it, let alone when you don't even know it's a possiblity. It further hurts the horse because if you are prepared for an attack and can spot it early, 99% of the time you can prevent it from becoming a full-blown attack. When these horses are sold as grade, you are condemning them to a lifetime of hard attacks until someone can get a vet out quick enough to pull blood and properly diagnose it as a potassium issue, or HYPP.
The part of the post I do have an issue with is the same generalizations that have given such an overdramatic, evil stigma to the entire HYPP issue: that a positive horse will just fall down, while being ridden, into a full-blown attack, without warning, at any time. This is absolutely not true. The only situation I can see this happening, is if the horse fell down for another reason (say, heart attack) and THAT condition caused an attack.
Many, many HYPP positive horses are regularly ridden and shown. I myself have ridden positive horses and did not ride them any differently than any other horse. In fact, I've worked a positive, SYMPTOMATIC horse pretty hard, like any other horse in training. He worked, we schooled, he sweated, and he did NOT fall down on me in a fit of an attack. Nor was I worried he would do so.
These kinds of generalizations only further perpetuate the myth that HYPP positive horses are defective and dangerous. What good does it do to keep feeding into this stereotype? The only thing I have seen is the creation of a rule that only further harms positive horses by filtering them down into the hands of people who have no reason to expect to have a positive horse and therefore would be the most harmed by it.
I am not pro-HYPP or anti-HYPP. I think that it is what it is. Some people are going to continue to breed positive horses, and many rightfully so as these positive horses are sometimes the best producers, carrying superior traits that negate their exclusion simply based on one genetic defect. Mr Conclusion is an excellent example. His sire record is hard to rival, both in halter AND performance. He was HYPP N/H. Were the myriad of grade, conformationally incorrect backyard studs breeding at the same time more deserving of being stallions than Mr Conclusion simply because he had this one defect? Should his contribution to the modern horse industry be disregarded because a portion of his foals carry the HYPP gene?
While I believe when faced between breeding a positive horse and a negative horse of the same quality the negative one should always be chosen, I think it's impossible to expect an entire section of proven producers to be excluded because of one fault. It is unreasonable and unrealistic. However, I also firmly believe that the market, especially in its current state, will eventually correct the situation on its own. Positive horses simply do not sell as well as negative ones (excluding the very top area of the halter horse world). If you look at my website, I do not own a positive horse. It's not because I fear one of them falling on me while riding, but more of a marketing decision based on the size of the program I want to keep.
I think it's important to note that while attacks can and do occur, a fallen horse in a full-blown attack occurs rarely and is often only the end result when all the other warning signs are missed. If you type in "HYPP attack warning signs" into google, there isn't any clear-cut, factual based account of anything but full blown attacks. No wonder people miss these signs. If the only thing people come to understand as HYPP is the generalization of having the horse fall down on its rider, we certainly can't expect for anyone to believe that, while this is not a desireable trait by any means, it is easily controlled with some simple steps.
In my experience, the number one sign of a mild HYPP attack is sweating and muscle twitching. The horse may act perfectly normal, but begin to sweat on its shoulder, neck, and flanks and muscle twitching can appear as a fly twitch that doesn't stop, and can usually be seen in the neck by the tailhead, or anywhere else on the horse's body. Administering CLEAR Karo syrup (sometimes with plain oats) and/or acetazolamide (ask your vet for the recommended dosage for your horse) and cooling off the horse with the use of a fan will often stop a mild attack from going any further. Keep the horse calm and cool. Stress is the enemy here, so make your horse cool and comfortable and remain calm.
If the attack progresses further, the vet may need to be called to administer IV fluids to clear the build-up of potassium, but I've only ever seen that done once, and that was with an HYPP H/H horse when we missed all other signs of the attack on an extremely hot day. The important thing is to catch at mild attack before it becomes a severe one. To help prevent attacks completely, never feed a positive horse molassis-based feed or red mineral blocks. Complete feeds should be checked for excessive potassium levels and molassis content. Positive horses that become recumbent because of other issues (sickness, lameness, etc) should be carefully monitered as the less exercise they receive, the more prone to an attack they become.
While it's unfortunate that this genetic fault occured, I firmly believe that it is the responsiblity of horse professionals to take care in knowing the all the facts. It is very easy to make generalizations and understandable, to a certain degree, but by doing so we undermine our own credibility, when the generalizations and the facts do not agree.
Feel free to post your thoughts on this, if you agree, if you don't, if you just want to tell me to shut up :) I will approve all comments on this post whether I agree with them or not. My only point to this long, drawn-out commentary is that it does more harm than good to perpetuate negative stereotypes. As horse people it is our responsibility to educate--not sensationalize and scare--people on what types of issues may be out there.