Just a few days ago, the 2015 American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA) Convention wrapped up four days’ worth of meetings in Fort Worth, Texas. Horsemen and women from around the world converged on the Omni Hotel for committee and membership meetings, Hall of Fame and award banquets, and social activities all centered around the American Quarter Horse.
Every year, in the weeks leading up to the Convention, I visit the AQHA’s website and download the committee agendas. They’re available to anyone, and they give me the opportunity to see what issues will be discussed and in which committees. Usually, the stud book and registration committee is first and foremost on my “must attend” sessions.
In years past, the stud book and registration committee has probably talked more about cloning than any other topic. With the appelate court recently ruling in the AQHA’s favor regarding the registration of cloned horses, cloning, for the first time in several years, was not on the agenda. Instead, the schedule contained several rule change proposals regarding the appendix registry and how those horses can advance to the regular registry, a request to approve a European testing laboratory for DNA and panel testing, proposed changes to naming and transfer rules, a suggestion on how to improve the reporting of 25-year-old and older horses to the AQHA, and two proposed changes to the use of frozen semen and embryos/oocytes.
I found much of the discussion on all of the proposed changes fascinating. But the real reason I was there was to hear what the committee had to say about frozen semen. I was not disappointed.
A member had proposed adding a section to the current rules regarding frozen semen. (Any member can submit a rule change proposal; visit www.aqha.com to find out how.) He proposed limiting the amount of time frozen semen could be used following a stallion’s death or castration. The second proposal was similarly worded regarding the use of frozen embryos or oocytes after a mare’s death. The proposed changes would start with foals of 2015 and later.
By far, these two rule proposals generated the most discussion in the committee meeting. I was undeniably impressed and proud – yes, AQHA proud – as I sat and listened to the thoughtful and thorough discussion about the rule proposals. (See complete coverage of the AQHA Convention in the April 15 issue of Quarter Horse News.)
First, AQHA Treasurer Trent Taylor presented committee members with the research and statistics behind frozen semen use, as it stands today. Since 2001, there have been 2,513 mares bred via frozen semen from 160 unique stallions. More than half of those mares were bred to one of 10 stallions. On the mare side of things, since 2000, 414 foals have been born after the mare died, with only four born more than one year after the mare’s death, and none born more than 14 months after the mare’s death.
Then the discussion started. One of the first points made about the use of frozen semen was the shrinking gene pool of the American Quarter Horse. Indeed, a 2012-2013 study by researchers at the University of Minnesota evaluated the genetic makeup of six Quarter Horse performance subgroups – halter, Western pleasure, reining, reined cow horse, cutting and racing. The study found the highest amount of inbreeding and the lowest genetic diversity in cutting horses.
“Within these subpopulations, we’re probably doing a lot of things to limit genetic diversity, and that’s probably especially true over the last 25 to 30 years. There is narrowing of the gene pool and evidence of increased inbreeding over time,” said research team member Dr. Molly McCue, a veterinarian and geneticist at the University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine.
Taking into consideration the first part of AQHA’s mission statement, “To record and preserve the pedigree of the American Quarter Horse while maintaining the integrity of the breed and welfare of its horses,” committee members focused on answering the question of how frozen semen affects the integrity of the breed. Does allowing frozen semen far past a stallion’s natural breeding lifetime advance the breed? Many believed it does not, that it is a lateral movement rather than forward progress for the breed. Do the statistics show that the use of frozen semen is self-limiting, and will that continue into the future? The bottom-line question raised by one committee member was, “Where do we want to go with the breed?”
The next point was a financial one. Owning a breeding stallion is a big investment, and some theorized that stallions would be worth less overall without the availability of frozen semen to extend the breeding career, especially in the case of young stallions who die before their time. It was pointed out that many of the decisions that have been made in the past, such as cooled semen and multiple embryos, have already had a negative impact on the economic model of the horse industry. Would this rule change do the same?
Of course, the potential legal ramifications of any change to the existing rule were discussed, and probably will be again.
Serving on any committee can be a thankless job, and that’s probably more true of the stud book and registration committee than anywhere else. That’s why I was so proud to hear the well-rounded discussion that took place that day, where nobody let their own interests – financial or otherwise – get in the way of making the right decision for the association and the breed. It’s impossible to relay to you all of the intelligent discussion that went on; that’s one of the reasons I so strongly believe that members should attend the Convention themselves and get involved.
One committee member’s words stuck with me, however, and made me really appreciate all of the men and women who give of their time to sit on the stud book and registration committee and help to guide the AQHA. He said, “What we are discussing today will affect this industry in the future, a lot longer than 25 years from now. We are looking down the road 100 years from now. If we allow things to go the way they are now, we are doing harm to this breed in the future. We are not acting in the proper stewardship of AQHA.”
It’s about putting our own interests aside to better the industry, and it was never more evident than at the AQHA Convention this year. Yep, I’m AQHA Proud.