By: Melissa Sykes
- Paint horse breeders will be the first to tell you that color sells. The more white, the more flashy and desirable the individual becomes. However, all white can have dire consequences.
In the paint breed there are four color categories – overo, tobiano, tovero and solid or breeding stock.
An overo has white coming up from the belly but it usually does not cross the topline. The face usually has white over one or both eyes (which can be blue). Tobiano, on the other hand, is white that does cross the topline and is most often accompanied by a solid head with minimal white and white on the legs. A tovero exhibits both color patters (tobiano and overo). And, breeding stock is a solid color with no white above the knees, hocks or under the head (i.e. a blaze should not go under the chin).
Many paint horses, whether exhibiting color or not, carry the gene for lethal white overo syndrome. When a foal is born solid white to paint parents, the odds are high that it has lethal white syndrome. These foals usually die within 24 – 28 hours because their intestines are not developed. Why this is tied to the all-white coloring is a mystery.
Geneticists have developed a test to determine if a horse carries the gene. The cost is $50 – very inexpensive when compared to the costs associated with breeding a mare and foaling her out.
Paint breeders are advised not to put down a newborn foal just because it is all white – it could very well be free of lethal white syndrome. Wait until symptoms such as colic are present. If the foal is healthy and symptom free by day three, it does not have the syndrome.
There was a case in Florida a few years back where an all-white foal was born to two overo parents. The vet was called out to put it down immediately. But, by the time he arrived, the foal had been up nursing. The decision was made to wait until the symptoms were present. That little colt is now standing at stud. Genetic testing was done on him, his parents and his sire’s dam – none carried the lethal white gene.
But many do, even solid breeding stock paints can carry the lethal white gene. If both the mare and sire are carriers, then statistically, one out of every four foals will have the syndrome and two out of four will be carriers. If only one parent is a carrier, then none of the resulting foals will have the syndrome but half of them will be carriers.
$50 – not such a high price after all.