I went for a hack last week with a friend and we were chatting about mutually known ponies, as you do. She had recently passed up on buying a Connemara for her daughter. The pony is talented, and has a good level of education, but unfortunately he suffers from Hoof Wall Separation Disease, previously known as Hoof Wall Separation Syndrome.
I had never heard of it, but it is a genetic problem for Connemaras. Basically, it is caused by both parents carrying a recessive gene, meaning that it is quite difficult to trace as carriers have sound feet.
Ponies with HWSD have hoof walls that crack and crumble very easily. All four feet are affected, and symptoms can be seen as early as 2-3 weeks of age, but it will always develop within the first year of life. Pieces of hoof crack, chip and peel off, often involving the whole of the dorsal wall. As the hoof grows down to become weight bearing it will immediately deteriorate, leaving the horse walking on the soles of his feet, with no dorsal support.
Some people confuse HWSD with White Line Disease, but a horse with HWSD will not respond to treatment for white line disease or fungal infections.
Some horses can display a milder version of the disease which can be managed to a degree, but most horses suffering from HWSD are euthanised. The condition tends to worsen with age and the foal will develop severe infections as well as being in severe discomfort and pain.
Horses with the milder version of HWSD can be managed by remedial shoes, types of hoof care, restricting turnout or exercise so that the hooves are not exposed to wet-dry conditions as changes in response to environmental factors can worsen the disease.
There is now a test for HWSD, and a lot of breeders with Connemaras and part bred Connemaras are having their breeding stock tested so that two carriers are not bred together. Carriers will have normal feet, so there is no way to observe the presence of one recessive gene.
People are calling for the HWSD test to be a legal requirement of Connemara breeders, but it’s just as important to educate potential buyers of the disease so that they request a horse be tested for it during a vetting. If the market stops buying affected horses then breeders will take note and stop breeding from carriers of HWSD.