Thursday, 23 February 2017

The problem with Women…

I think I’ve finally figured it out. Why women are always late. Or at least why I’m almost always late or rushing not to be late. It all comes down to the difference between men and women, and how their brains are wired up. This startling revelation (to me at least) has taken me two children, three dogs, one husband and at least twenty years of multi-tasking (albeit badly) to work out.

Take for example one of my super busy, successful parent friends from school. We were all rushing around last week trying to shepherd unruly 5 year olds into their swim class (which involves somehow getting the most awkward plastic bright green swim hats onto them without causing tears) when she realised she didn’t have to rush off as usual to pick one of her three boys up as her husband was (unexpectedly) home early.  She paused for all of 60 seconds before rapidly re-calculating what she could do with the unforeseen “spare” 20 minutes in her day. She worked out that she could either fill the car with fuel or pop into the supermarket on her way home, thus saving a job for the following day and freeing up more time…to fill again. Maybe we need to learn to use “spare” time to catch a breath instead?

Another friend (male this time and a successful business man) agrees that we approach things differently. He is forever telling me to “cut the waffle” – apparently I could say everything I need to in an email in half of the words. So what I perceive as a blunt or impersonal message seems to be viewed as assertive and to the point by the men who receive it. I will admit that this has made me re-think how I approach my emails. Don’t get me wrong, I still write long, chatty messages to my girl friends but my BEVA emails are thankfully getting shorter and more succinct. And I’m trying not to read into the tone of text and emails…it is so much better to pick up the phone than second guess a written (often in haste) message.

The same friend also pointed out another reason for my ever-increasing workload. I’m too impatient. If his wife asks him to do a job, she expects it done in five minutes. If he procrastinates, she gets on and does it herself. How many times have we muttered to ourselves “I would be quicker doing it myself” and then borne a slow burning grudge of resentment? Men are the cleverer (or lazier?) species here…they have worked out if they take 15 minutes to procrastinate then their female partners will probably do it for them by minute 10. I guess this is a little like chess…and I need to learn to delegate and be more patient.

And finally I’m easily distracted. Performance coach Andy McCann presented a really thought-provoking plenary lecture at the VMPA/SPVS congress recently. According to a University of Pennsylvania study, male and female brains are wired differently: male brains are wired front to back with few connections bridging the two hemispheres. Women’s have pathways criss-crossed between left and right. So whilst men are better at learning and performing a single task, women are equipped for multi-tasking. But I’m sure it’s only multi-tasking when you are actually performing each task efficiently. I may think I’m multi-tasking listening to a podcast whilst typing an email and eating lunch but I’m sure I’m not doing any efficiently. Perhaps I need to think more like a man and focus on one job at a time. And then I might actually listen to what my husband and dad say?!

I came across this lovely story when researching time management and effective multi-tasking

“Rocks, Pebbles and Sand – The important things in life”…

A philosophy professor stood before his class with some items on the table in front of him. When the class began, wordlessly he picked up a very large and empty mayonnaise jar and proceeded to fill it with rocks, about 2 inches in diameter.

He then asked the students if the jar was full. They agreed that it was.

So the professor then picked up a box of pebbles and poured them into the jar. He shook the jar lightly. The pebbles, of course, rolled into the open areas between the rocks.

He then asked the students again if the jar was full. They agreed it was.

The professor picked up a box of sand and poured it into the jar. Of course, the sand filled up everything else.

He then asked once more if the jar was full. The students responded with a unanimous “Yes.”

“Now,” said the professor, “I want you to recognize that this jar represents your life. The rocks are the important things – your family, your partner, your health, and your children – things that if everything else was lost and only they remained, your life would still be full.

The pebbles are the other things that matter – like your job, your house, your car.
The sand is everything else. The small stuff.”

“If you put the sand into the jar first,” he continued “there is no room for the pebbles or the rocks. The same goes for your life.

So if we multi-task and fill every minute trying to get “stuff done” we may miss the important things in life. As my Dad keeps reminding me “Never get so busy making a living that you forget to make a life”….or the rather priceless “you must find time to sit on you’re a*^e and contemplate”.

Vicki Nicholls


Monday, 6 February 2017

Booze

I’ll let you decide and by the end perhaps we’ll disagree?  I’m not an alcoholic, maybe that’s the first sign I am.  I’m not because I know full well the how and the why it happened and I know what to do to stop. 

There are many vets who accept that complaints, legal accusations and professional questions are just part of the job.  They accept it as part of the 9 to 5 and move on.  I’m not one of them. I wish I was, but each questioning accusation or each occasional loss of a client I take personally.  So much so I question every action I made in the lead up to that moment.  An introspection, a self-examination, a dissection of my personality.  It always results in the same conclusion, “I could have done better.”  But you know what?  It actually doesn’t end there.  “I could have done better, I could have been more thorough, I could have been more professional, I could have been a better person.”  It is this spiralthe snakes and ladders lifestyle of an equine vet that gives us a profession of ozone rich high and calamitous methane lows.   

We are trained to review and evaluate, it is a clinical skill, but it often leaves us feeling that we don’t know enough, didn’t do enough, or now and most fundamentally, do not matter enough. 

The spiral can continue, “is my professionalism sufficient, am I one of the misguided who should leave the profession to ultimately respect primum non noncore, is it right I leave my family in a potentially parlous situation based upon my wit or lack of, to survive in this velvet glove world of cloak and dagger?” 

Booze usually starts as a quiet tipple.  The end of the night wind down.  But for me, when staring into the abyss that is my inner reflection, conscience and consideration of my soul and core, booze becomes a way of shutting out that clarion call of a brain screaming at you – “you’re not bloody good enough!” 

I first recognised this at university.  4th year and exams at the end of every subject or every 4-6 weeks.  Each and every one counted towards finals and the questions we sat in the exam were the very same we had been taught only the previous day.  This may be the norm now but at the time we were the first year to try this, the guinea pigs and no one knew how it would go.  At the end of the first term one friend was in hospital due to stress, another on anti-depressants.  I and most other students hit the bars.   

Second term was more of the same only this time the end of night collapse into bed and finding of anxious sleep was eased by Vodka.  A bottle or two a week, a method of escape by any means.  Luckily within a couple of months I realised the unhealthy spiral and made the active decision not to loose sleep over exams, not to base my health on success or failure.  I decided that if I failed, I failed,  so be it.  Better that attitude than succumb to further booze or follow my colleague into hospital.  Luckily, thankfully or perhaps deservedly I passed and my attitude continued to final year exams with the same results.  In fact excelling and achieving University recognition. 

Time passes and we each gain experience and responsibility.  Sometimes both are thrust upon us without a desire to receive but it is part of “the job.”  Booze hit me again 10 years later due to an RCVS investigation.  Forgive me for not supplying details suffice to say I was not fraudulent, not lying, not unethical, merely na├»ve.  It was ultimately thrown out but the process led to the soul searching each of us does in that situation. 
I remember the letter and I physically shook for 5 days.  Whilst the physical manifestation went, the emotional burden that availed me lasts to this day and during the 18 months it took to resolve I regularly found solace in the bottle.  Whiskey this time.  At it’s worst, half a bottle a night. 

I wasn’t an alcoholic, I didn’t wait for opening time or dive into it the moment I went home but used it only to bestill a mind that shouted even though my personality became mute. 

I was lost in a morass of mental doubt at this point and couldn’t see the dangers.  Out of hours were worst because of the quiet when all you have for company is your mind. 

Ultimately and with a slow return to self I recognised the behaviour.  Perhaps this is the moral or the kicker or where we’ll agree to disagree but I didn’t and still do not consider the behaviour wrong, I needed something to alleviate the mental pain and it did.  This is not wrong but a normal human behaviour to seek respite from a stressor.  Some may drink, some take drugs, some seek physical contact, some self flagellate through physical pain.  All are simply human reactions.   

What, of course, we should do is seek help in a non-damaging way.  Through spouse or partner support, through counselling, through friends and professional aid.  But at that point, when your brain is ablaze and your inner voice is in conflict, you don’t think straight, you don’t rationalise, you look for respite, I reached for the bottle. 

Ultimately I sought counselling to allow me to understand and hence control my emotions and actions.  Even when the case was dismissed I continued to question even more if I wanted to remain as a vet in a profession which would or could expose me to such torment apparently without empathy or personal consideration. 
That is why I carry it today, waiting perhaps for the next circumstance or shift in luck for the pendulum and sword of Damocles to sway back again.  I hope this time I’ll be better equipped to avoid the pitfalls.  Perhaps I will, perhaps I won’t.  Sadly I know I won’t, it is partly my nature, but I will know it is damaging and the phase will be short. 

There by the Grace of God go I and we should all be mindful of the situation of others, do out best to recognise, and do our best to empathise.  Sympathy, understanding and support is all anyone would ask for and it is in the power of all of us to provide it. 

Thursday, 22 December 2016

What is the ethos of BEVA's MumsVet?

Yesterday I had a frank conversation with a veterinary colleague and (male) friend about MumsVet. It was a really thought-provoking and interesting chat as always and I was reminded to be mindful that there are always two sides of every argument.

MumsVet was a concept developed by four female equine vets (our brilliant male committee member joined us later on…) to tackle the headaches and challenges posed by our jobs as equine veterinary surgeons. Despite a huge amount of advice on government websites and the like on safe working in pregnancy the equine field poses its own unique challenges that have historically relied on anecdotal advice from a “phone a friend” network.

MumsVet was launched to provide a support network and one-stop shop for advice and resources for Mums and Dads…and the colleagues that invariably end up stepping in to help support them. But what about employers? How does a pregnant assistant affect an equine veterinary business? Has anyone stopped to consider the effect of multiple maternity leave (s) on the on call rota of a small equine practice? My friend has had his fair share of assistants on maternity leave so knows the score in terms of ensuring his assistants are supported through pregnancy and maternity leave but realistically how does this affect his practice? We are all acutely aware of the fickle nature of equine clients and their “preferred vet” and the long process of ensuring a new member of the team is accepted by all of the equine clients, but what happens when two members of our team simultaneously announce they are pregnant? Suddenly the remaining vets (and often the long standing and already over worked assistants and partners?) have to shoulder the responsibility of calls because the client “won’t have anyone else”. Is this a problem of our own making?

Additionally, what happens when a prospective partner in your practice suddenly announces that she’s pregnant? Where does that leave you in terms of staff/budget/client complaint/workload responsibility for the next 9 (if you are lucky) months? How many potential partners do equine vet practices lose to motherhood? There are clearly some notable exceptions (and none other than our remarkable BumpVet blogger and her amazingly supportive practice) but what happens to private practice owners if the female vets all get pregnant and decide to work part time. Is this a feasible option or is corporate equine practice the only answer? Who is fighting the (male?) senior partner corner?

The answer is BEVA MumsVet. Scratch beneath the slightly misleading name (we liked it and Family Vet just didn’t have the same ring to it) and look at all of the inspiring real life stories, podcasts and resources. Part time working CAN work in practice and if employers embrace the concept of flexible working then they will hopefully be rewarded by experienced, hard working parents who are happy in their jobs and willing to give 100% effort albeit not full time in a traditional 8-6 role. There are plenty of people who have the experience and WANT to stay in the profession but is it possible to combine equine practice with family life?  A debate at BEVA congress 2015 which asked, "does equine practice need to change to be compatible with family life" showed 92% of the delegates voting in favor of the motion. This was reiterated by the 2016 BEVA congress session about alternative careers where Anna Hammond discussed the benefits of part time working... But how can we help employers?!

MumsVet was created both to support employees (mums AND dads) but also employers and we must not lose sight of that. Employers (and specifically small businesses) have a tough time with logistics when considering maternity leave/pregnancy health and safety issues/employing the right vet too. We aren't talking about the multi-national businesses here like Apple and Google; pregnancy/maternity OR paternity leave and the ramifications of covering the subsequent work load with our demanding equine clientele are a really difficult task. We must absolutely support our pregnant equine vets (and those on maternity and paternity leave) but spare a thought for the employers as well. If we want to continue the "family feel" of independent equine practices rather than the cooperate feel of "VetsRus" small animal comparisons then we absolutely need to work together. Part time vets have benefits for employers too (a full share of the OOH rota means everyone does less on-call for instance) so we need to look at opportunities rather than threats of flexible working. BEVA is mindful of supporting ALL of our members as feminization of our profession increases. We are currently working on a "BEVA family-friendly practice" toolkit to support employers and employees and would welcome member comments on this blog or to mumsvet@beva.org.uk 

Friday, 9 December 2016

Maslow’s Hierarchy Part 2 – Your Role

This may be a philosophical view point but in essence I can only describe my personal view on trying to scale the pyramid. As suggested each of us will have a different emphasis and this will depend on stage of life, life experience, and any on any ascertained goals or desires. Whilst this may not be exclusively relevant to veterinary life I hope my view could be translated, bits poached or indeed rejected as fanciful by anyone.


In describing Maslow’s hierarchy I fairly firmly placed the emphasis on how the job or your employers can empower or provide an environment for personal and professional growth. In an altruistic environment this would be ideal but as we know and have experiences of, vet practices are not necessarily geared towards the actual vet. Richard Branson coined perhaps an idealistic view of his companies by saying “you need to train someone so well that they could leave, but look after them better so that they won’t.” If only. But if this isn’t the case, what should you do to keep striving?

There is a book by Rhonda Byrne called “The Secret” which highlights the Law of Attraction. This suggests that we all have the ability to acquire whatever it is that we want as long as we go about it the right way. I’m always extremely dubious of psychobabble but increasingly have the view that my actions, in combination with the right preparation, understanding and conditions means that reaching a defined goal can be achieved or at least pulled a little bit closer. I’ll give you another quote, this time from Henry Ford, “whether you think you can or you can’t, you’re right.”


In any practice, as a team member, you have a big contribution to make. You could define it specifically – conditions to understand, clients and colleagues to communicate with, drugs to order etc. But it is far simpler than that. A true team member will be someone whose behavior feeds positive energy. A strong belief in your ability to get “the job” done will allow you to be assertive, decisive, patient, reflective and supportive.

Your thinking will be empowered and you will find yourself in a position to move forward. Let me give you an example to mull over. In 1954 Roger Bannister broke the 4 minute mile. Medics claimed that running at such speed would make a persons’ heart explode. When Bannister broke the record in1954, thirty seven did it in 1955, and over two hundred in 1956. Belief was all it took.

Again, I hear you shout, what has this to do with the practicality of veterinary life? The answer is in “challenge.” The challenge to attain a better salary, to attain a directorship, to attain a certificate…… That challenge to you should be the challenge to everyone around you. A mutually beneficial relationship of worthy colleagues, substantial people, and recognized characters who gain from their investment in a positive, motivated you and you from them. You work openly toward your defined goal with honesty and positivity, and your associates aid you in that pathway reaping the benefits you bring.


It is true that such relationships can be hard to find, or be easy to lose and that any relationship is dynamic and the nature of give and take can change. Ultimately your input into the role and the output you receive may run its course. This is not failure, but simply a natural conclusion and it is, nor should be, a reflection on either party so long as effort and respect was maintained. Things will not always go to plan but these “things” are often outside of our control and influence. Losing sleep over them will simply make you tired.


The essence of the amble is this: allow yourself to be successful. Set a goal that is worthwhile to you, a goal that will stretch you while still being attainable, and that by reaching that goal you’ll be recognized as a more valuable person by your colleagues and more importantly by you. Relax the “have to” achieve thought process and change it to “allow yourself” to achieve.

Ben Sturgeon

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

What is a good job? Fulfilling your hierarchy (Part One)

It is not uncommon to be asked “why did you become a vet?” And with a certain exasperated sigh and life flashing before the eyes thousand mile stare, your answer will be stock: “I care about animals.” When perhaps really what you actually meant was “all those years ago, I did care about animals, science and medicine excited me, knowledge excited me, I thought the money would be good, vets drove a good car, and…….. there was a certain level of kudos.”

But when asked 10 to 20 years later, you realise it was all smoke and mirrors. You still do care about animals. But do they care about you? Do they **$!

Almost every survey on the veterinary profession returns depressing figures of poor job satisfaction, and with it the unedifying relationship with mental health. In any other profession, this would and should not just set alarms bells ringing but call in the fire brigade.


In 1943 an American psychologist Abraham Maslow presented the theory that human actions are directed toward goal attainment (“A Theory of Human Motivation”). This is a theory of psychological health predicated on fulfilling innate human needs in priority, starting from mere physiological subsistence, to belonging to a social circle, eventually in pursuing your talent and culminating in self-actualization.


Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs has often been represented in a hierarchical pyramid with five levels. The base levels are considered physiological needs, while the top levels are considered growth needs. Vitally, any lower level needs must be satisfied before higher-order needs can occur, and if the deficiency needs aren't satisfied, the person will feel the deficit, with potential clinical results, and this will stifle his or her development.

* Physiological – air, food, water, sex, sleep.
* Safety – security of environment, employment, resources, health, property.
* Belongingness – love, friendship, intimacy, family.
* Esteem – confidence, self-esteem, achievement, respect.
* Self-actualization – morality, creativity, problem solving.

When Maslow's hierarchy is applied to work situations, it implies that managers/partners/directors have the responsibility, firstly, to ensure the deficiency needs are met. This means, in broad terms, a safe environment and proper wages. Secondly, it implies creating a proper climate in which vets can develop their full potential. Failure to do so often results in frustration, poor performance, low job satisfaction, and increased withdrawal from the organization and even within the individual. Achieving it would mean the reverse; a motivated, engaged and happy vet and the practice would be regarded as a more considerate, supportive and interested organisation.

Importantly good leaders/managers need to have this level of understanding if they are to be in a position to motivate. And to be a good leader and manager you need to recognise that people are different and at different stages in their development or hierarchy. Some people come to work to earn money (existence needs) but have no desire either to get on with others (belongingness needs), or earn promotion (growth needs). Others work to meet people and have a personal challenge and sense of achievement (belongingness needs). Others work to gain experience to get promotion (growth needs). For others, it may be a combination of these. How you go about influencing or motivating these needs is up to you and depends upon the person. For example, existence needs may mean simply paying someone enough, belongingness needs may be improved communication, recognition and praise; and growth needs may be training, encouraging creativity, involvement in practice decisions, new challenges etc.


So to return to the title – “what is a good job?” A good job is one which satisfies your needs. Your needs at the time and your potential needs as you develop.

Ben Sturgeon

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

The Five Freedoms: Useful Facts? Or Just Words?

I have a new word for you, “hyper-normalisation”, well maybe not that new (Alexei Yurchak 2006, Everything was Forever, Until it was No More: The Last Soviet Generation) but describes a failing system, a system everyone knows is failing, but as no one can imagine any alternative, the “pretence” of normality is maintained. Over time, this delusion becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy and the “fakeness” is accepted as real.


In 1965, the UK government commissioned an investigation, led by Prof Roger Brambell, into the welfare of intensively farmed animals, partly in response to concerns raised in another book, this time by Ruth Harrison (Animal Machines 1964). The outcome of the report were the five freedoms:


Freedom from thirst, hunger and malnutrition
– By ready access to a diet to maintain full health and vigour

Freedom from thermal and physical discomfort
– By providing a suitable environment including shelter and a comfortable resting area

Freedom from pain, injury and disease
– By prevention or rapid diagnosis and treatment

Freedom from fear and distress
– By providing sufficient space, proper facilities and the company of the animal’s own kind

Freedom to express normal behaviour
– By ensuring conditions which avoid mental suffering

These five freedoms have been adopted world wide and also form the basis of two key pieces of animal welfare legislation in the UK, The Protection of Animals Act 1911 which states “to cause unnecessary suffering by doing, or omitting to do any act and” The Animal Welfare Act 2006 which goes further by introducing a “duty of care” not only to avoid conditions, that may lead to suffering, but also to promote positive welfare.

The sharp among you will note that five freedoms are, in fact eleven and importantly are all outcome measures. The freedoms are not legal precedents either but only represent an ideal or a kind of check list to assess the quality of a husbandry system, realistically the definition “freedom from” should perhaps be interpreted as “free as possible from.” Furthermore the five freedoms cannot really capture the current knowledge of biological processes or predisposing situations which may affect welfare, especially in horses.


A simple example of this would be in the failure of the freedoms to address the potential for long-term problems. Fulfilling freedom from hunger or freedom from thermal and physical discomfort or freedom from pain, injury and disease highlights the shortfall possibilities of a stabled horse. In such circumstances horses will experience periods of effective starvation (usually overnight) as well as generally receive concentrate high energy feed and by nature of their confinement, be exposed to potentially harmful air spaces. Furthermore, a comparison between feral and stabled horses shows feral horses spend 60% of their time eating, 10% lying, 20% standing and 10% in other activities, whilst stabled horses eat 15%, lie 15%, and stand 65%. This is a clear change in normal behaviour as well as potentially predisposing to long term health issues such gastric ulceration, abdominal pain, various stereotypies, and inflammatory airway conditions although it could be argued that such horses receive a high level of “stable management”.


The implication is that any true “outcome-based” guidelines on welfare advice should include or consider chronic indices of a failure to cope with physical and emotional challenge.


This latter point is perhaps highlighted in the fifth freedom: Freedom to express normal behaviour. This is perhaps the most interesting or controversial because this is the only “to” freedom, the others all being “from”. The freedom “to” must bring into question what “is” normal behaviour? Freedom to roam, freedom to compromise the welfare of another horse, complete sexual freedom? Arguably a horse demonstrating behaviours relating to pain such as napping, ducking, refusing to jump, failing to yield are all “normal behaviours” yet they are in response to noxious stimuli to which a horse would unlikely present itself voluntarily. This approach however, leads to sophistry, is best avoided but has led to the evolution of the five freedoms to the Five Domains categorizing nutrition, environment, health, behaviour and mental state. The main change with the Five Domains is the acceptance that animals can express rewarding behaviour or positive experiences as well as negative ones hence determining its overall welfare status, and is the basis for the emerging science
of “equitation”. It highlights for example whip use where a horse is “just being corrected” or “encouraged” and questions whether the benefit outweighs the cost? Importantly it makes us consider the things we do on the mental state of horses under our care.


Let me finish with another new word, in fact according to the news the most used word (thanks to Brexit and Trump) this year, and again from another book (Ralph Keyes 2004, Post Truth). Post-truth refers to the rebuttal of factual evidence with reliance on emotional disconnection from those facts. We as vets see the evidence of a failure to consider or uphold the timeless principles enshrined by the five freedoms; gastric ulceration, inflammatory airway disease, stereoptypies, stress fractures, tendon failures, displacement activities, laminitis to name a few. Acting as the bastions of welfare; physical and mental, is in our remit and as scientists and medics we should not ignore the information at our disposal, what is happening in front of us, nor what is factually emerging.

Ben Sturgeon
BEVA Ethics and Welfare Committee Member

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

The Coming Storm? Horse Genetics and You

The date is significant – 6th of May 2016, this may be the date that horse racing changed, the date equine sports medicine changed, the date that we all changed a little.  What happened? The announcement by Hugo Palmer of his decision to withdraw 2000 Guineas winner Galileo Gold from the Epsom Derby was informed by the results of a genetic test.
Of course the marketing people for the test were pretty happy –
“It is not the first time that a key decision to race a horse in the Derby has been made based on a combination of traditional methods and our genetic tools.”

“Hugo has a clear understanding of how to combine the scientific information with his deep knowledge and understanding of the horse to ensure it is given the optimal opportunity to perform at its best.”

“We firmly believe that equine genetics will enhance the Thoroughbred breed by allowing owners and trainers to understand more about how to get the absolute best out of each individual horse for both racing and breeding.” 
Whichever way you look at it, such tests are here to stay.
The modern Thoroughbred can be traced back some 300 years to the arrival, in England, of 3 stallions in the 17th and 18th centuries, providing the paternal genetic basis for the entire breed.  The natural athleticism has been selected for, and enhanced by breeders ever since, aided by management, nutritional and environmental influences, producing the modern equine athlete.  Whilst calculated environmental influences play a large role (up to 65%) on a horses’ development, a significant proportion then lies in athletic inheritance.  It is however, both damning and interesting to note that winning times in the Classic Thoroughbred races, have improved little in over 100 years.
The successful mapping of the horse genome in 2007 has provided a tool for evidencing apparently desirable traits such as speed and muscle development along with detrimental genes (Webbon 2012).
 Equine Genetics Table
The commercial applications are already evident in some breeds and breed societies such as Foal Immunodeficiency Syndrome in Fell and Dale Ponies, in Lavender Foal Syndrome and Combined Immunodeficiency in Arabs and perhaps most significantly, due to potential numbers involved, in Polysaccharide Storage Myopathy in a variety of sports horses.  The genetic tool then would have a potential influence upon carrier identification influencing breeding &/or upon the long term environmental impact, husbandry, diet and training schedules that may occur in for example, carriers of PSSM genes. As a result, we can only hope to improve their direct welfare and reduce the potential for severe cases of homozygous matings.
This is extremely encouraging and the additional use of SNP (Single Nucleotide Polymorphism) has allowed mapping of single base variations between DNA sequences and ultimately identification of sequences within “phylogentically superior” horses that may be used as markers for their “superiority”.  Most notably this has identified myostatin (MSTN) as a genetic marker and provides the thrust of commercial interest due to performance implications and was the basis for Galileo Gold’s withdrawal. 
As highlighted, despite years of “trained eyes” looking over horses and selecting the best apparent traits, winning times in the Classic Thoroughbred races, have improved little.  Why this is, is hard to say other than be flippant in the skill of the apparent “trained eye”.  Of significance is the use of such genetic tests to influence the breeding program.  Using the gene test to inform stallion selection (selecting for sprinters with homogeneous MSTN foals known as C:C) for each mare, one breeder decreased his proportion of T:T foals (those best suited to longer distances) produced from 18.0% to 6.8% in 1 year (2011), decreasing it further to 4.3% in 2 years (2012). Notably, of the 30 male foals produced in 2012, none had a T:T genotype.  This speed of change is incredibly rapid when compared to simple “eye-ball” or “self-selection” breeding.
The question is are we promoting natural selection or genetic engineering and what does this mean?  How will it impact on horse numbers and their treatment (especially if their “genetic blue print” is not deemed advantageous), on the acceptance of blood screening at sales for example, or in the doomsday scenario on future loss of heterogencity within the Thoroughbred breed especially, leading to more potential cases of “selected” diseases such as laryngeal hemiplegia.
Irrespective, the opportunity to breed horses with greater muscle mass will appeal with the opinion that if “we” provide the apparent best horse, the rest is up to you.  This will influence practical breeding with breeders attempting to optimize progeny to a specific genotype, to breeders with foundation mares and stallions utilising genetic profiles to financial advantage, and importantly to trainers and owners in influencing sales decisions, veterinary pre-purchase examination protocols, as well as then reducing operational costs by introducing tailored exercise programmes for individual horses.
However, a genetic “result” does not make a phylum.  Heritability is variable and highlights that individual differences may be attributable to genetic differences.  This provided me with the dismay I felt as I heard Mr Palmers’ decision.  The heritability variation makes environmental factors very important and emphasizes that the presence of a specific gene or variant, with its proposed advantages, is specific to a particular population in a specific environment and emphasizes the continuing need for appropriate veterinary advice on training, environmental and disease modification aspects.
Interestingly, the heritability of complex diseases are or have also been elucidated:
• Rhabdomyolysis 0.43
• Laryngeal hemiplegia 0.23 – 0.61
• Osteochondrosis 0.24 – 0.52
• Recurrent Airway Obstruction 0.30
• Behavioural traits 0.23 – 0.28
• Conformational traits 0.16 – 1.00
and again these are becoming part of the overall “genetic assessment”, based on a blood sample with increased cost, but should highlight that such conditions do not or are not simply under genetic control and that veterinary advice is still vital.
It is however, not all crazy geneticists and it is quite rightly a principal goal of the Horse Genome Project to benefit the health and welfare of horses and they have many current projects including:
– Athletic performance
– Cervical Stenotic Myelopathy
– Contracted Foal Syndrome
– Congenital abnormalities/infertility
– Fracture and Tendon Injury
– Laminitis
– Lavender Foal
– Osteochondrosis
– Recurrent Exertional Rhabdomyolysis
– Stereotypic behaviour
I certainly feel that whilst this is at least in its relative infancy we need to ensure that we as vets in the field understand or consider our role in this, as advocates for animals, for correct medical procedure and explanation, and as modulators of expectation not only based on the results of a black and white test.