Test Successful But Not Necessarily for the Breed

Willowtrail Farm Fell PoniesA news item about the status of the FIS carrier test caused a flurry of communication last week. When I first read the news article, it didn’t sit well, but it wasn’t until I read Carole Morland’s post on Facebook that I understood my discomfort. The article indicated that the test was a success because fewer syndrome foals have been born. Carole questioned whether that was truly a measure of success for the breed, and rightly so.

The FIS carrier test allows pony owners and breeders to determine the status of a pony with respect to Foal Immunodeficiency Syndrome. FIS is primarily associated with Fell Ponies but has also been found in Dales Ponies and Gypsy Horses which have a fair share of Fell and Dales blood in them.

The news item about the FIS test was based on a paper published by the developers of the test about the test results they’ve accumulated so far. I’ll be reviewing that paper and some of my concerns about the conclusions drawn by the researchers in the next issue of Fell Pony News from Willowtrail Farm (click here to subscribe if you haven’t already.)

On Facebook, Carole Morland observed that fewer stallions have been licensed in the past few years. She asked whether that could be because good quality colts are being culled because of their FIS carrier status and whether that is good for the breed. I agree with Carole’s concern, as I know of at least two good stallions who were gelded because they were known carriers.

One benefit of the discussion on Facebook was the opportunity to distinguish between good Fell Pony stallions and Fell Pony stallions of rare blood lines. I shared that I’ve looked at rare blood lines, and my results indicate that some bloodlines are rare for a reason: they don’t represent the breed well. Questions were also asked about inbreeding coefficients, and since I was a co-developer of a database that used to provide that information for the breed, I was able to share my observations there, too. I made the decision not to continue the database because inbreeding coefficients are too easy to use incorrectly for mating decisions, in part because they rely on stud book data that isn’t always accurate.

It is disappointing that a potentially helpful tool for breeders of Fell Ponies isn’t being presented in a proper light with respect to breed conservation. I applaud breeders like Carole Morland for speaking out and helping educate people about the possible pitfalls the test poses for the breed.

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2013

About workponies

Breeder of Fell Ponies, teamster of work ponies, and author of Feather Notes, Fell Pony News, and A Humbling Experience: My First Few Years with Fell Ponies. Distributor of Dynamite Specialty Products for the health of our planet and the beings I share it with.
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