owner’s warning for Connemara ponies

  • The owner of a pony with an incurable disease that makes his hooves “like paper” hopes to raise awareness about the disease.

    Sarah Cawley’s 13-year-old Connemara gelding, Cloudy, was diagnosed with Hoof Wall Separation Disease (HWSD) about four years ago.

    The genetic condition, which affects some Connemaras and half-breeds, is characterized by a hoof wall that breaks and cracks easily, and a coronal band that appears normal. This can lead to shoe loss easily and affected individuals may experience severe discomfort despite careful management. In some cases, euthanasia may be necessary.

    Sarah bought Cloudy from her aunt in 2017 and said he always had “problems” with his feet.

    “I’ve known him since he was five when my aunt brought him from Ireland. He easily lost his shoes and we always thought his hooves were fragile,” she said.

    “The summer after I bought him his feet started creaking more than usual and one day he threw a shoe and half of his hoof wall was attached. He was lame and could not walk.

    Sarah contacted her vet and it was initially thought that Cloudy had an abscess. X-rays were taken and Sarah read on HWSD online.

    “Many people have not heard of HWSD because it is not a common disease and is often confused with white line disease. [when the external hoof wall separates from the underlying laminae resulting in the horn along the white line becoming crumbly and soft]. In the past, farriers thought Cloudy had bad feet. When the vets diagnosed HWSD, they weren’t quite sure what to do about it, so I was taken to a specialist farrier, Neil Jackson,” she said.

    “Neil has done a lot of research on different ways to help Cloudy. There is no cure, and we just have to manage it as best we can. He gets his feet redone every four to five weeks and we use things like glue or light shoes with copper nails. At the moment he is barefoot behind and has shoes on the front. We’ve tried clog boots, but the problem is that Cloudy’s feet change shape so quickly and often that the boots suddenly don’t fit me even though I have a lot of sizes. Sometimes he will be fine for a few months, but then he can suddenly deteriorate and his hooves are like paper.

    Sarah said Cloudy continues to have good weeks and bad weeks.

    “Four weeks ago his feet looked fine, then two weeks later they deteriorated again. His back feet look like someone took scissors and cut them off,” he said. she declared.

    “It’s a terrible disease but I’m really lucky because Neil does so much to help keep him comfortable, I’d be lost if he ever retired. It didn’t change the way I see Cloudy , it’s not his fault. He’s the most beautiful horse and he has a home with me for life. He’s in and out of work depending on his condition, on good days he can be ridden in l arena but he will never be jumped and we don’t do road works or anything that might be hard on his feet.

    Awareness of HWSD has slowly increased over the years and in 2016 the Connemara Pony Breeders’ Society introduced a requirement for all registered foals to be DNA tested to find out if they carry the genetic mutation. The British Connemara Pony Society introduced the same requirement the following year. Older horses and ponies can also be tested.

    More and more breeders and sellers are sharing test results in sales announcements to help buyers know if a horse or pony carries the gene. The test determines if the ponies are normal (N/N), or if they carry one copy (N/HWSD) or two copies (HWSD/HWSD) of the mutation. Those carrying two copies are highly susceptible to hoof wall separation disease and only animals with both copies will show clinical signs.

    “When Cloudy was born, there was no test. He’s well raised, and there was no sign that anything was wrong when my aunt had him. It’s a really draining disease – financially and emotionally. I’m lucky to be able to afford to handle Cloudy, but others might not be able to and they might have to put their horse down,” Sarah said.

    “I hope that by sharing my story it can help others and raise more awareness of HWSD. If your Connemara keeps losing shoes or has bad feet it is definitely worth testing it out so you know what you have business.

    You might also be interested in:

    Research sheds light on a devastating hoof disease that can affect Connemara ponies. Richard Stephenson MRCVS explains

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