This article is a prognosis of the future viability and survival of the Fell Pony, with regard to the Fell Pony Foal Syndrome.
The scientific details regarding the Fell Pony Syndrome are complicated and far-reaching and the purpose of this article is to provide a simplified understanding of the syndrome and to provide people with a reassurance of the future of the Fell Pony Breed.
Every foal inherits half of its genetics from each parent. If, in BOTH of these parents, one gene is defective (made so by the presence of the syndrome configuration of alleles that make up the gene), then there is a one in four chance that the resulting foal will suffer from the syndrome and will die. There has been much confusion about what a one in four chance actually is. Some people have misinterpreted it as being that for every four foals a carrier mare gives birth to, if mated with a carrier stallion, one will be a syndrome foal. NOT SO - it is EACH foal that has a one in four chance of being a syndrome foal.
It is important for people who are new to the Fell Pony breed, and who may have read sensationalised reports in the press, to understand that they may safely buy a fell pony at the October sales or from a private source. A pony that has reached weaning age WILL NOT DIE OF THE SYNDROME. The syndrome only affects foals in the first weeks of life and they will die usually within the first two months of life. They do not die from the syndrome, which is not actually an illness, but will die of an infection that they are unable to fight as the syndrome affects the efficiency of the foal's immune system.
Similarly, it is important to reassure Breeders that, whilst it is possible that your mare or stallion may carry the defective gene, there is a strong possibility that you may breed a healthy foal. On the other hand, you may be one of the unlucky ones and breed a syndrome foal, but by using a different stallion/mare combination, or even the same one, you may breed a healthy foal at a future attempt.
Research is continuing into the syndrome and the Fell Pony Society is hopeful that a marker test will eventually be found. Even so, when and if this occurs, there will still be major questions to be asked and answered. For instance, how much will an individual marker test cost? Should we use inferior stock which are proven to be clear and which may change the breed as we know it? Should we continue to use quality stock that are proven carriers and gamble on the one in four chance of a syndrome foal against the three in four chance of a true to type traditional Fell Pony?
The Fell Pony Society has given the utmost backing to all those scientists and vets who have been researching the syndrome and continue to do so. We have been in continuous liaison with the Rare Breeds Survival Trust on the subject. The Fell Pony Society is also happy to report that despite the syndrome, registrations continue to increase and, in the opinion of the Society, the future of the Fell Pony Breed is secure.
The Fell Pony Society Council