Be Heard

On March 5, during the American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA) Convention, I posted a question on the Quarter Horse News Facebook page, asking: “Would you support mandatory five-panel genetic testing in order to register an American Quarter Horse?”

I posed the question because, the day prior, I sat in on a meeting of the AQHA’s Stud Book and Registration Committee. Topics on the agenda included three proposed rule amendments relating to genetic testing and AQHA registration. The first proposal was to make the genetic panel test mandatory for all future registrations; require placement of the genetic panel test results on the registration certificate; and waive testing of offspring of parents who are N/N for all genetic diseases on the genetic panel test. The other two proposals more specifically singled out the genetic disease heredity equine regional dermal asthenia (HERDA) and descendants of the stallion Poco Bueno.

Quarter Horse News Facebook followers left 137 comments over the next few days. Some believed the AQHA was just looking for a way to make more money, not understanding that AQHA rule changes come from the membership, not the association. (By the way, did you know any AQHA member can submit a proposal to amend an existing rule or create a new one? More about that later.)

The remaining comments spanned a wide range of opinions. Most of the comments were well-written, insightful, intelligent and thought-provoking. Some believe genetic testing should be mandatory before registering a horse. Others believe it’s solely the breeder’s responsibility and should not be mandatory.

The actual recommendation made by the Stud Book and Registration Committee to the AQHA Executive Committee fell somewhere in the middle. (More on that later, too. For now, back to the Facebook comments.)

I wasn’t surprised by the number of comments, likes or shares the question generated on Facebook. Genetic diseases such as glycogen branching enzyme deficiency (GEBD), HERDA, hyperkalemic periodic paralysis (HYPP), malignant hyperthermia (MH) and polysaccharide storage myopathy (PSSM) can be hot topics. What surprised me, however, was the lack of in-person member representation as the Stud Book and Registration Committee debated the rule proposals. Including myself, there were no more than 15 AQHA members present. Of those, fewer than 10 actually stood up and addressed the committee members. Four of those were for other issues such as cloning and international registrations.

Three proposals had been submitted regarding HERDA, and at least four people stood up to address the committee and plead their case. They were prepared with an informative HERDA handout and armed with first-hand knowledge of the disease. And they were heard.

None of the 137 comments on Facebook were heard, at least not by the committee.

It’s a high-tech world out there, and there is no doubt it is infinitely easier (and cheaper) to log on to Facebook and post a few comments than it is to travel to Houston, Texas, and attend the AQHA Convention. But posting to online forums and commenting on Facebook can give us a false sense of involvement – the mistaken idea that we are being heard when, in fact, our comments are falling, if not on deaf ears, then on the wrong ears.

Now, I’m not saying that we should all stop interacting online. On the contrary, online discussions can serve many valuable purposes, such as increasing your knowledge of a certain subject or gaining insight as to how a particular decision effects others in the industry.

What I am saying is that at some point, we’ve got to log off and show up. Get involved. If there is something you think the AQHA (or any other member association) should be doing, tell them. Go through the proper channels and be heard. (Remember when I told you there would be more about submitting rule amendment proposals later? Here it is.)

The AQHA’s website clearly offers guidelines for writing proposed rule changes with a downloadable form that is simple to fill out and return. You could talk to your regional director and ask him to represent your interests at the next level. Or, you could speak to a committee member and tell her your thoughts on key issues.

The Stud Book and Registration Committee did a fabulous job of discussing the issues (financial, moral and logistical) surrounding genetic testing. If you weren’t there, you missed out on some very frank, open conversations about the American Quarter Horse and the future of the breed. Over the course of those two days, no decision was made without thorough and careful consideration of the implications and consequences. (Remember when I promised to tell you the Stud Book and Registration Committee’s final recommendations? Keep reading.)

In the end, mandatory genetic panel testing for breeding stallions will be phased in, similar to how it was done for HYPP testing several years ago.

I, for one, am glad to see the AQHA take a stand to eradicate genetic diseases from our equine population. If you are of a differing opinion, go find that rule change proposal form. Fill it out. Get involved.

Be heard.