Reasons for performing study: Warmblood horse studbooks aim to breed horses with a conformation that will enable elite future performance, but reduce the risk of injuries and lameness. Negative conformational traits, such as asymmetrical or 'uneven' forefeet would possibly diminish performance. Objectives: To assess the prevalence and heritability of uneven feet and its genetic relationship to other conformation traits as well as to sporting performance later in life in Warmblood riding horses. Methods: The databases of the Royal Dutch Warmblood Studbook (KWPN, n = 44,840 horses) and Royal Dutch Equestrian Sports Federation (KNHS, n = 33,459 horses in dressage and n = 30,474 horses in showjumping) were linked through the unique number of each registered horse. Therefore, heritabilities and genetic and phenotypic correlations could be estimated from the scores of the jury at studbook admission and the sports performance of that population in dressage and jumping over the period 1990-2002. Results: The prevalence of uneven feet was 5.3% on average, and increased from under 4.5% during the first 3 years of recording to over 8% in the years from 2000 onwards. Heritability estimates of foot conformation traits were moderate and ranged from 0.16 for heel height to 0.27 for hoof shape. The genetic correlation between the trait of uneven feet and performance in competition was negative but weak: -0.09 with dressage and -0.12 with showjumping. Conclusions: Predisposition to uneven feet can be reduced by selection. Because of weak genetic correlations, the increased prevalence is not directly associated with selection for better sports performance or higher conformation grade. If the trait 'uneven feet' arises from a disproportionate relationship between height at the withers and neck length, then selection on conformation grade might result in development of uneven feet. In general, limb conformation has a moderate genetic relationship to conformation grade and foot conformation traits have a genetic relationship to sporting performance. Reducing occurrence of uneven feet by selection is possible, without limiting progress in sport performance.
- swedish warmblood