Warming up to Warmbloods
These horses have significantly more substance, heavier bones, more muscle and deeper barrels than other breeds and are known as much for their generally willing, tractable disposition as for their strength and power. Their size and presence has made these horses stand out in the competition ring, and with ever-increasing numbers, a Warmblood invasion is underway.
The Georgia Hunter Jumper equitation finals in 1998 had about an equal mix of Thoroughbred, Warmblood and other assorted breeds, but by 2005, every single finalist was a Warmblood. The American Warmblood registry has been in existence for 23 years and reports that within the last five years, the number of registered horses has more than doubled. There is only speculation as to the cause for this increased popularity, but these breeds are undoubtedly here to stay.Equine veterinarians increasingly will be called to treat these burgeoning breeds, and it will be important to capitalize on these opportunities in practice.
To say that Warmbloods are "big horses that grow slowly" may seem obvious, but this simple statement speaks volumes about the nutritional idiosyncrasies of these breeds. The No. 1 goal of veterinarians advising Warmblood owners is to create a feeding program that ensures slow, steady growth.
These horses, as a group, are especially sensitive to developmental orthopedic disease (DOD) in its many forms. DOD is a group of several related metabolic disorders that affect the young horse from mid gestation through all early critical growth stages. A predisposing genetic component, environmental factors and deficiencies or imbalances of calcium (Ca), phosphorous (Ph), copper (Cu) and zinc (Zn) all contribute to these conditions, most of which center around a failure of cartilage maturation leading to soft, weak bones and joint surfaces. Epiphysitis (physitis), osteochondrosis dissecans (OCD), cervical vertebral malformation (Wobbler's Syndrome) and various flexural deformities are all manifestations of DOD.
The most common of these problems is OCD, which can be seen in a higher percentage of Warmbloods. In OCD cases, a failure of calcification leaves a plug of cartilage within developing subchondral bone. This area eventually results in a subchondral bone cyst, a cartilaginous flap or possible chips and fragments. As the affected horse develops and attempts to use this joint, the classic signs of effusion and pain result in lameness.
"It is unknown if the problem is increasing in frequency or being more frequently diagnosed due to superior radiographic equipment and technique," says Dr. Peter Huntington, an Australian equine researcher.