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Vets warn that 'extreme breeding' could harm horses

‘Extreme breeding’ of horses.

Vets are warning that the “extreme breeding” of horses could harm their health and welfare after pictures emerged of a young Arabian horse with a drastically concave profile. Claimed to be already worth “several million dollars”, El Rey Magnum is said to be “close to perfection” by its breeders at Orrion Farms, an Arabian horse specialist in Ellensburg, Washington state.

But British vets and equine experts have told the Veterinary Record the nine-month-old colt represents “a worrying development,” as its deformed skull could potentially cause breathing difficulties. The Guardian has been refused permission to publish pictures of the horse, but the creature can be viewed here.

Tim Greet, an equine specialist, told the Veterinary Record: “I find the whole thing unbelievable. Arabians have always had a rather ‘dished’, face but this takes things to a ridiculous level.”

According to Greet, such “deformity” is more significant for a horse than for pedigree dogs such as pugs, which can suffer breathing problems. Dogs can breathe through their mouths, but horses can only breathe through their noses. “I suspect exercise would definitely be limited for this horse,” said Greet.

Adele Waters, the editor of Veterinary Record, said that every professional vet she had shown the images to had found them shocking.

She said: “My first thoughts were, ‘Is this the work of CGI trickery?’ Many specialist horse vets have had a similar reaction. But the truth is this is a real horse and it has been bred to meet the demands of a particular market that likes a particular appearance. Where will it end? Is it really so bad for a horse to look like a horse and not a cartoon character?”

Waters questioned the morality of such fashion-led breeding, in the wake of similar fears over the health and welfare of flat-nosed dog breeds such as bulldogs, French bulldogs and pugs.

“The real original Arabian horse’s head was very beautiful but they are now being bred purely for that [concave] look. There is no functional value in a horse having a face like that. Vets believe that if you distort the skull like that there’s a risk you affect the airways and the breathing capacity of the horse.”

Dr Madeleine Campbell, an equine reproduction specialist, expert in animal welfare and ethics and director of the Equine Ethics Consultancy, told the Veterinary Record: “Whilst it is obviously impossible to comment on an individual animal based only on photographic evidence, as a general principle, any trend towards breeding for extremes of form which might adversely affect normal function must be condemned, on welfare grounds.”

Doug Leadley, a farm manager and primary breeding adviser for Orrion, claimed that “this horse is a stepping stone to getting close to perfection”. He dismissed criticisms of the horse: “I think most of those people don’t breed horses, or show them or aren’t very involved – those are people who don’t understand.”

American vets have recognised El Rey Magnum as an example of an extreme breed, and one vet has said that the horse has no medical or respiratory issues.

Since launching a promotional video earlier this month, the farm has received interest from across the world, including the UK. According to Leadley, the young horse is already worth several million dollars.

This article titled "Vets warn that 'extreme breeding' could harm horses" was written by Patrick Barkham, for The Guardian on Thursday 12 October 2017 09.51pm

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