Rachel Mesaros

Cal Poly faculty and staff are hustling to prepare horses for the Equine Center’s horse sale June 3. However, one stallion presents challenges that could have affected this year’s horses.

The carrier

Backdoor Cat, a 14-year-old stallion who has been on campus since 2007, carries a gene for a hereditary disease that could have been passed on to 16 of the 25 foals for sale.

The disease, known as hereditary equine regional dermal asthenia (HERDA), is predominantly found in quarter horses. According to Animal Genetics — a genetics testing lab — it affects the connective tissue of the horse, making its skin so fragile that even putting a saddle on the horse could rub skin off.

According to animal science professor and veterinarian Dr. Matt Burd, if a stallion and mare are carriers of the gene, there is a 25 percent chance a foal they produce will have the disease, 50 percent chance the foal will just be a carrier and 25 percent chance the foal will not have the disease or be a carrier.

Moving forward

The Equine Center will no longer breed Backdoor Cat so carriers will no longer be produced at Cal Poly.

“The way I want to go forward in the breeding program is being a more responsible breeder,” Equine Center Manager Julie Yuhas said. “So we’re going to have all of our horses tested for HERDA. We have only one mare in the herd that is HERDA positive, so we would pick a stallion accordingly.”

The disease will not affect this year’s horses for sale because none of the mares that bred with Backdoor Cat were carriers.

The sale

This year’s sale will be attended by buyers from all over California as well as some out-of-state buyers. The Cal Poly Equine Center is known to have top-of-the-line horses, so high attendance of buyers is still expected despite HERDA.

The main sale will take place Saturday, but there will be a health demonstration of the horses provided by global animal health company Zoetis Friday. The horses will be auctioned to the highest bidder.

“In prior years, we’ve had some horses go within the $2,000 to $4,000 range, but we’ve also had very generous people and very nice horses that have gone for a little bit higher than that,” Yuhas said.

Generous buyers have bid more money in the past, knowing all of the proceeds go directly back to the Equine Center to help fund education, horse care and maintenance.

“It will be very hard to see these horses go, but I’m very excited to see where they end up. I hope to see them in a career where they excel,” Equine Center Student Manager Annika Moe said.

Video by Rachel Mesaros

All horses in the Equine Center have nonstop care from birth until sale. The veterinarians make sure the horses get excellent care and are fully tested for HERDA and other health conditions before leaving campus. When testing for HERDA, veterinarians send in a hair or blood sample to the lab that then determines if the horse is a carrier, has the disease or is unaffected, according to Burd.

Yuhas explained there is a lot of variety in how the horses are used once they leave Cal Poly.

“We’ve had a family that has come out to look at horses; they just want a nice trailriding horse, something that’s gentle,” Yuhas said. “I’ve had ranchers come out who want a working ranch horse, so they need something they can work with every day. There are other people who want to compete in different disciplines, so there are people looking for that performance horse.”

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