The Irish Connemara pony is known for being both athletic and surefooted. But a recently discovered and frustrating hoof condition can strike these ponies down before they even reach weanling age. Fortunately, researchers are making strides in understanding this syndrome, and might have uncovered a way to drastically reduce its incidence.

At the 2013 International Equine Conference on Laminitis and Diseases of the Foot, held Nov. 1-3 in West Palm Beach, Fla., Carrie Finno, DVM, PhD, Dipl. ACVIM, presented recent study results suggesting that Connemara hoof wall separation syndrome (HWSS) is an autosomal recessive trait that can be avoided by careful breeding.

Finno, currently a researcher in the University of Minnesota Equine Neuromuscular Diagnostic Laboratory, explained that the syndrome is characterized by severe hoof wall separation during the first year of Connemara foals' lives.

"The weight-bearing borders of the hoof wall break away from the underlying structure, leaving the pony to bear weight on the sole," she said. And while this condition appears clinically similar to white line disease—which causes a progressive separation of the inner structures from the outer hoof wall in horses of all breeds, ages, and sexes—it only affects Connemara foals aged 1 to 4 months, and it only affects the dorsal hoof wall (the outside of the hoof wall at the toe).

"This is a life-long problem and never resolves," Finno said. "Owners have tried lots of different supplements, frequent trimming, shoes, etc. with limited success."

Recently, Finno and colleagues from the University of California, Davis, a