Some Personal Thoughts About DSLD & The Peruvian Paso Horse

I have watched the progression of issues surrounding Degenerative Suspensory Ligament Desmitis in the Peruvian Paso Horse since 2000 when one of the first veterinarians to begin study of this disease, Dr. J. Mero, discovered some startling findings. She discovered in her studies of 20 cases involving Peruvian Pasos that DSLD primarily affects the branches of the suspensory ligaments, that it is mild to severe, causes lamenesss either bi-laterally or quadrilaterally. These findings were a start towards finding the answers to the recurring problems of lameness in the PP. In the ensuing decade the subject remains a volatile and contentious issue for many who own PPs. I believe the reason for this is that as owners of this wonderful horse, we are captured by its beauty, its tractable temperament, and of course, the smooth, smooth ride which send us head over heals for this horse. However, the problem of recurring lameness continues to rear its ugly head, and sooner or later, everyone who owns a PP comes up against it, and ultimately has to deal with the aspect of trying to find a reason for the lameness and the loss of being able to ride their horse. This causes anxiety, disappointment, and anger. It is no wonder that people become disillusioned.

So, let's face some of the facts surrounding this issue of DSLD in the Peruvian Horse.

One, it IS a fact that DSLD exists in the Peruvian Horse. "Degenerative Suspensory Ligament Desmitis is a debiliting disorder thought to be limited to suspensory ligaments of PERUVIAN PASOS, PERUVIAN PASO CROSSES, Arabians, American Saddlebreds, American Quarter Horses, Thouroughbreds, and some European breeds." This statement is cited in the article "Degenerative Suspensory Ligament Desmitis as a Systemic Disorder Characterized by Proteoglycan Accumulation", as shown in the Library Online Resource of Biology Images. As owners and breeders of the Peruvian Paso Horse we MUST, for its sake, finally accept this as a biological and veterinary medicine fact. It exists. Period. This is not to say that ALL Peruvian Horses have DSLD. They do not. The Peruvian Paso Horse breed shows a propensity to develop and manifest the disease. It frequently leads to chronic, persistent lameness, and eventually the need to euthanize the affected horse. The pathogenesis and cause of the disease remains unclear at the present time. The disease does tend to run in families.

Two, there is NO CURE. Contrary to popular belief, the disease cannot be cured. It is a degenerative progression and treatment is, at this time, only supportive, and not effective in halting the progression of DSLD.

Third, diagnosis is presumptive, and obtained from examination, and ultrasonographic examination of the legs, and ultimately a confirmed diagnosis at post mortem examination which is the ONLY POSITIVE confirmed diagnosis of this disease at present.

Fourth, there is no reliable way of diagnosing asymptomatic horses at the present time. You can ultrasound your horse(s) to check and see if the disease has begun to manifest. If no signs of the disease are shown to be present you may assume that the horse is free of the disease AT THE PRESENT TIME.

In Dr. Jaroslava Halper's study at the University of Georgia in Athens, GA, assisted by Dr. J. H. Yoon, Department of Large Animal Medicine, College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Georga, tissue from 28 horses was examined, (22of the 28 being Peruvian Pasos and 8 control horses). Upon examination the presence of excessive amounts of proteoglycans* were found to be present in these tissues removed from DSLD affected horses: a) suspensory ligaments, b) superficial and deep digital flexor tendons, c) patellar and nuchal ligaments, and d) cardiovascular system and sclera. These examinations demonstrated that DSLD, a disease thought to affect only the suspensory ligaments of the distal limbs of affected horses, is in fact, "a systmic disorder involving tissues and organs with significant connective tissue components."

* Protoeglycans are glycoproteiens that are heavily glycosated. They have a core protein with one or more vcovalently attached glycosamnioglycan (GAG) chain(s). The chains are long, linear carbohydrate polymers that are negatively charged under physiological condeitons, due to the occurrence of sulfate and uronic acid groups. Proteoglycans occur in the connective tissue.

It would seem, therefore, that with more than one component to contend with, owners and breeders need to be aware of every signal that their horse(s) send(s) to them. Not just lamenes in the fetlocks, or feet, but soreness in the shoulder, neck, back, hip. These could be signs of possible manifestation of DSLD. Good nutrition, proper warming up exercises before beginning a ride or training, not pushing a horse too soon (starting training at 2-3 yrs. can actually harm the horse as the growth plates in the bones are not closed and early training can cause irrepairable damage), stress reduced environments, regular farrier care, vet care, good nutrition, are all things one can do to help the horse limit symptoms. Because DSLD tends to run in families, knowing the bloodlines of the horse(s) and the history of the dam and sire is very important. It is important for a particular reason: first, to know the medical history of the dam and sire, know if there is any re-occuring lameness in dam or sire, or of the parents of the dam and sire. If there is a history, then it would be most wise to NOT breed horses that have a hsitory of chronic lameness on both parental sides or even one side. I mention lameness as opposed to weakeness because horses with DSLD or chronic lameness are not necessarily weak per se. Horses with wonderful bone, good feet, beautiful conformation, can have DSLD. It is not a disease exclusivly confined to what one would term a "weak" horse. Weakness in the proper sense should define a horse that has poor conformation, poor musculature, and poor co-ordination that prevents it from performing to its maximum capacity. Horses can, and do, have legitimate injuries to the legs, suspensory ligaments, tendons, etc.. However, when a horse presents lameness or soreness in the tendons, etc., a veterinary exam is paramount in order to rule out anything other than a bona fide injury. If a tendon is injured there are treatments that can promote healing and the horse can go back to work. If, on the other hand, following treatment the horse remains continually lame, then an ultrasound can determine if there is treatable damage, or degeneration of tissue which in that case would signify DSLD, and appropriate steps for treatment may be taken. If the disease can be supportively treated, the owner can decide what course of action should be taken. If the disease has progressed to the point of no return it is better to humanely euthanize the horse.

I think that for the Peruvian Paso horse to remain viable in this century, all owners and prospective buyers, (breeders especially) should demand an ultrasound should be done BEFORE handing over any money for the pruchase of a PP. The reasoning behind that thought is: If the horse is affected and not showing any clincal signs, the buyer goes home with the horse happily believing that he/she, has a sound, rideable horse and then, after a period of time encounters the dreaded lamness, becomes heavily disppointed to say the least, and ends up with a horse they cannot ride, end up spending money they cannot afford, to save a horse that cannot perform. They are angry, and feel cheated. I would too. I think we all need to stop trying to convince ourselves that OUR horses could never possibly have DSLD, when in fact, ALL PPs are susceptible to manifesting it. Frankly, that kind of thinking prevents the necessity of being responsible for avoiding the breeding of horses that could be, or are, affected, and continues to propel horses more likely to become affected, into the mainstream.

If one wants a Peruvian simply because of the pure pleasure of riding, or occassional showing, it is best to buy a gelding. A gelding is the ticket! It cannot reproduce, and thereby lessens the chance of bringing DSLD further and further to the front of the genetic components. For easy horsekeeping, a good companion, buy a gelding!

It is the breeder who bears the brunt of responsibility in determining the future of the PP. The breeder must know bloodlines inside out; histories of dam, sire, grandparents, greatgrandparents, medical histories; the viability of breeding stallion A to Mare B in order to have a foal that hits the ground with genetic components superior to its parents..this is crucial. If the foal is not as good as, or better than the parents, then, in my opinion, it is NO GOOD. It will only pass on its own mediocrity. Breeders have the responsibility of having the best facilities, the best vet care, the best nutrition for optimal growth, the best knowledge of horse dynamics so that their horses can grow up to be sound of mind and body. The breeder must have the financial capability to sustain a breeding farm that does all of the above without scrimping and cutting corners to the detrement of the horse. Most horses owners today are in close proximity to an urban setting where rules and regulations come into play that may make the job more difficult than for those owners who are in rural areas. In the so called "old days" when time ran at a tad more leisurely pace it was easier to do these things. But, all that aside, it boils down to this: we, as owners and breeders of PP horses need to fight for its continuance and to ensure that, at least for the next fifty years, we do our level best to see that the fight against DSLD is carried on until an answer is found..a genetic marker to help us breed out the genetic components that make up this disease. That is the only way it will be eradicated. We must care for our horses in ways that ensure good health, the same as we do for our kids. No one wants their kids to live in a dirty room, have poor nutrition, bad teeth or worked beyond their capacity to complete the tasks assigned to them. Oh, yes, there are horsepeople out there who will say, C'mon, its just a horse..it has to be tough! Don't be so namby pamby!! Uh huh...my answer to that is that neglect of these basic tenents, intentional or otherwise, and lack of horse knowledge or understanding of the horse dynamic is no excuse for the lack of common sense or doing the right thing.

Do not be a turtle with your head tucked up in your shell. Go out and really look at your horse(s)..check to see if they stand straight at the shoulder, have a sloping shoulder angle, have elegant necks and a clean throatlatch that enable them to collect, nice shaped ears, large alert eyes that are clear and bright, large well formed nostril to allow in lots of air, a short compact back, deep barrel, sloping croup, strong loins, low tail set, well shaped rear end, with strong hamstrings, strong gaskins, well shaped, strong feet with adequate heel and a frog that adequately fills the space between the heels and the bar, hooves that are properly trimmed, no long toes, fetlocks that correspond to the slope of the shoulder, no coon feet, soft shiny hair, no chipped teeth or sharp corners that hamper chewing and eating; make sure the horse moves with ease and eagerness under saddle. These things should be checked out everyday, and everytime you get ready to ride or do a training exercise. If you checked "no" to any of the above find out why and correct it if possible. As a breeder of horses it took me a long time to get hard, not be barn blind. I was not always strong enough to be truly constructively critical of my horses. It took me a long time to be able to weed out the weak horses and those that were not ever going to go the distance.I wanted to keep them all. I had a lot of heartache. I spent a lot of money on horses that I should have gotten rid of..money that could have been better spent on the good horses I had. Experience is a hard teacher but once the lesson is learned, you never forget it. If you breed mediocrity to mediocrity, you get mediocrity. That is the plain fact of the matter. You can whitewash the horse all you want, but if it does not have good conformation, good angles, good neck, good feet, strength and agility, it will still be a mediocre horse.

When I first got into the breed over twenty years ago there were a combined 3000 members in the Peruvian Paso Horse Registry of North America, and the American Association of Owners and Breeders of Peruvian Paso Horses. Where are those people today?...gone, and why?..because of squabbling; over-inflated egos; believing that only the horse you bought had DSLD and no others, especially not the ones that came from the people you bought from; believing the myth that only a Peruvian could train a PP; uninformed and unknowlegeable first time buyers who were easily intimadated by all the falderal that surrounded the PP; jealousy; unwillingness on the part of some PP owners to help and instruct new buyers and owners; because some people thought they knew everything after owning the horse for a month, a year, after winning a ribbon or two without having paid their dues from the ground up; cliques; and selling horses that were lame, continual denial of DSLD in the PP...these are some of the reasons why a lot of people are gone.

We are struggling to begin again with a new registry, and there is still division among owners and breeders. We need to get OVER it. We need to make a public breed registry statement about DSLD and acknowledge it like the Quarter Horse Registry did with HYPP. We need to be open and above board at all times about it, and have it be a breed registry rule that before selling a horse to anyone, as the legal owner of that horse ,we can certify that we have had it ultra sounded and that it is AT THE PRESENT TIME free of any manifestation of DSLD. Doing this on a voluntary basis is fine, but let us face reality.. not everyone is going to do it, and that makes the whole issue a moot point. It would go a long, long way in making the breed look good in the public eye if the breed registry would make it mandatory, and it would give eveyone a great deal of credibility. If other countries do not want want to do that, it does not mean we cannot. We in North America should set the bar and strive for the highest standards possible. It would garner a lot of respect in the horse community. DSLD is no longer a dirty word. It is a fact of life in the world of the PP breed. We can, and will, make a difference if we all work together for the common good and the genetic marker that will make this thing go away. Send donations to Dr. Gus Cothran at Texas A&M where he is making great headway in his genetic research. It is not just for our breed, but for all breeds.

These statements are strictly my own personal opinions and thoughts regarding DSLD in the Peruvian Horse, and do not reflect the ideas, opinions or statements of others, nor are they meant to reflect in a negative fashion on PHW. I have been in horses for over forty years, and in the Peruvian Horse breed for over twenty years. Of all the horses I have owned and bred the PP remains the truest love, and the horse I most enjoyed. Most of what I have written here today is a reflection of my frustration that the world still sees the PP as a horse that cannot do anything, is no good, and is the horse with "that leg problem", none of which is true. Granted, the PP does have the problem of a systemic disease which may or may not manifest itself during the horses's lifetime. But all that aside, the Peruvian horse is still the most beautiful and most thrilling horse in the equine world to ride and own (in my humble opinion), and I think we who own them should do everything possible to raise the level of their presence in the horse community.I wanted to present some information that is factual and helpful, hopefully, to people who own or want to to own a Peruvian Horse. My opinions and statements are not meant to be taken as the gospel..they are simply my opinions. Any legitimate and thoughtful point for discussion is welcomed.

Pam J

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Comment by Terry Barrall on May 23, 2013 at 7:30pm

Sandra - To the best of my knowledge gelding a stallion does not in any way affect that horse's chances or timing of manifesting inherent disease. 

As for the theoretical/reality probability of a D/E free gene pool -- FIRST we need a genetic market. The researchers are currently hot on the trail of such a gene, but it's not yet accomplished. When that happens it is easily theoretically possible to virtually eradicate the disease in our breed and others. In real-life it will not be so easy, as it will probably involve balancing the value of some affected lines with the exact nature & manner of transmission of the mutated gene. I forsee dedicated breeders working very hard to accomplish this, and the necessity of doing some serious culling in order to accomplish this. It won't happen over night, but it can happen. 

Right now we really can't do much except study bloodlines and try breed and buy as intelligently as possible. IMO the MOST important thing we can do is support research and DONATE!! With a relatively small $50K they can complete the next phase of research and take us much closer to this goal. 

Comment by Sandra Himsley on May 20, 2013 at 4:14am

I know it once was thought to be science fiction but thanks to the development of frozen semen and cloning there is the very real tools available to create (in theory and probably reality) a completly dlsd free gene pool from these dlsd free horses surely?

Comment by Sandra Himsley on May 20, 2013 at 4:11am

"If one wants a Peruvian simply because of the pure pleasure of riding, or occassional showing, it is best to buy a gelding. A gelding is the ticket! It cannot reproduce, and thereby lessens the chance of bringing DSLD further and further to the front of the genetic components. For easy horsekeeping, a good companion, buy a gelding!"

Great artcle, especialy the ultrasound beforre sale.

although the suggestion to only have a gelding seemes a bit dead end for the breed?

Or did i miss something, does gelding a horse prevent the development in a horse that if left entire would develop dlsd?

I would have thought that keeping track of all horses and would identifying all and age of onset THEN highlighting the ones that either are very late onset or the jewels of the breed that never  develop dlsd and thus be extremly valuable seedstock. 

Surely this would be the way to reducing with the ultimate aim of eliminating to the best of members ability the presence of this condition?

Imagine the loss to the breed if your wonderful stallion had been gelded instead of being one of the diamonds of the breed who never developed it?

Comment by Elizabeth Schmehl on April 23, 2013 at 9:32pm

Thanks Pam, I have actually read all your hand out that you left with Kris, very interesting. I have a question, some of these symptoms can be misinterpreted like a bow tendon and swallowing on the tendon? 

Comment by Jill O'Brien on June 16, 2011 at 5:29pm

Hi Pam, hope you've recovered from your trip to Oz, health wise.  I have passed on your handout to my Vet (very keen to learn more) and will now 'steer' her towards your posts here.  The info will help immensely.   I have yet to receive the 'large' book, but will follow up with Kris.

Comment by Linda Garro on July 9, 2010 at 5:45pm
Pam, thank you so very much for very well written post. I and many other completely agree with you. We all love this awesome breed, and want to see it flourish in the future. As we learn more and more about this disease, it becomes clear that it affects other breeds. I had a beautiful Tennuvian (reg. Spotted Saddle Horse) that I had to euthanize at age 11 1/2. He literally broke down overnight and *never did his pasterns drop. He had little things happen in his life that when added up, they were all symptoms. He was a strong, mountain goat who when 'on the muscle' wouls execute a beautiful paso llano - perfect timing and smoother than nearly all Peruvians I have ridden. When very relaxed and just hanging out under saddle he did a runwalk, complete with some head nod. His favored moving along gait was a saddlerack. You are correct in that 'strong' sure isn't an indication that the horse is not affected. thank you again, for posting to this venue.
Comment by Pam Johnston on July 3, 2010 at 10:39am
Thank you for bringing this information forward Susan. I've read Dr. Halper's paper and the news is good. The mystery of DSLD is slowly being unravelled.
Comment by susan T-H Golshani on July 2, 2010 at 1:32pm
Dr Halpers latest research findings were published this week:
http://www.sciencedirect.com/science?_ob=ArticleURL&_udi=B6WB5-...

In this she goes over her previous findings with the procedures in details, likens dsld/espa to the proteroid form of EDS-
http://www.wrongdiagnosis.com/e/ehlers_danlos_syndrome_progeroid_fo...

..... and she mentions more findings for future research.

The complete paper can be found in the files section of
http://tech.groups.yahoo.com/group/DSLD-equine/
Comment by susan T-H Golshani on June 25, 2010 at 5:09pm
one of the most comprehensive spots on the web for dsld is -
http://marimbatlb.blogspot.com/

The blog owner wants more stories on dsld horses. Many breeds are represented.
Comment by Pam Johnston on June 25, 2010 at 11:11am
Susan, Yes! Yes! Yes! and Yes! to everything you have said! For those who want to show, go ahead. No problem. The majority of horses owners however, just want to RIDE! And in order to do that they need to have a horse that is not lame!

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